In anticipation of extended peacekeeping duties in Iraq and future contingencies
in urban areas, the Army is stepping up efforts to field its first Stryker light-armored
Despite a string of controversies that plagued the program in its early going,
Army officials strongly support the decision to move forward with the $4 billion
A critical test took place in April, when a Stryker Brigade Combat Team participated
in a series of mid- to high-intensity exercises at the National Training Center
in Fort Irwin, Calif. Following that, the brigade was transported by rail, sea
and air to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., where, for
two weeks in May, it conducted operations, primarily in urban terrain.
The first SBCT—the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at
Fort Lewis, Wash.—is now entering the Initial Operational Testing and
“The IOT&E Strykers are the configuration that we want to get to,”
said Steven Campbell, the Stryker systems coordinator for the Army.
The Stryker is a 19-ton, eight-wheeled armored vehicle with two variants—the
Infantry Carrier Vehicle (which comes in eight configurations) and the Mobile
Gun System. The configurations for the ICV are: mortar carrier, reconnaissance,
commander’s vehicle, fire support, medical evacuation, engineer squad,
anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) and the NBC reconnaissance vehicle, which is
going to go into low rate production this December. The other configurations
will enter full-rate production, once the program achieves Milestone III, said
Campbell. Milestone III is a go-ahead to enter full-rate production.
The SBCT has 3,614 soldiers. In addition to the headquarters, it has three
infantry battalions—each with 65 Stryker vehicles; a cavalry battalion
in charge of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition—with
53 vehicles, and an artillery battalion equipped with M198 155mm howitzers and
counter-fire radars. The brigade also has a support battalion, a military intelligence
company, an engineer company, a signal company and an anti-tank company.
The Army is planning to write an Operational Evaluation report to Congress,
which is due this fall. The service is looking at converting five more brigades
into SBCTs. The Army budgeted for six brigades.
The Stryker’s high-tech sensors and communications systems would have
proved invaluable in operations in Iraq, said Col. Robert McClure, chief of
war plans at the Army Staff. “It would have been phenomenally useful in
those populated areas,” McClure said at a Pentagon news conference.
The vehicle also would have been useful, “wherever you wanted to bring
in more capable forces than light infantry and airborne,” said Col. William
Grisoli, deputy director for Army transformation.
The Stryker brigades are designed to be “fast-entry” units. The
vehicle can travel 300 miles at 60 miles an hour before needing refueling.
It is also transportable on a C-130 cargo aircraft. It was not clear earlier
in the program whether the Stryker would be able to meet the 38,000-pound weight
After some modifications to the vehicle by contractor General Dynamics Land
Systems, the Stryker is light enough to load inside the C-130 cargo bay, but
it can’t fly very far without air refueling. Campbell said the farthest
the Stryker has flown in a C-130, without refuelling, was 200 miles. But during
a recent congressional hearing, Stryker critics complained that the range is
only 60 miles.
Several factors affect C-130 transportability, said Campbell. One of them is
the armor protection that the Air Force added around the crew compartments,
which ups the weight of the cargo plane itself.
“The Air Force will say, ‘depending what the mission is, we’ll
give you the kind of aircraft to meet your mission requirement,’”
“Most people that I have talked to will say that they can’t see
a C-130 going that far [1,000 miles] to drop off the Stryker. You fly it in
a C-17,” Campbell added.
How far the Stryker can fly in a C-130 also is a function of air temperature,
elevation and runway, said Brig. Gen. Jack Gardner, the Army’s deputy
commander for transformation.
“If it is a lot of weight, high elevation, short runway, it may be 100
miles. If it is different elevation, different runway and different temperature
it may be 700 miles,” he said.
It ultimately becomes an operational decision to figure out how far the Stryker
could be flown versus how far it would have to drive. “It may go into
a runway that has better protection,” Campbell said.
Lt. Col. Mick Nicholson, a military assistant to the secretary of the Army,
explained that the C-130 metric is a basic transportation requirement, “but
it is not always the preferred way to go. ... The Stryker can also be deployed
by ship to a certain point of entry and be driven for hundreds of miles to the
Once they get to the battle, the Stryker brigades only can operate for a short
time without additional logistics support. The General Accounting Office raised
this issue in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“The brigades by design do not have the level of supply and transportation
support personnel or the necessary equipment to move and distribute the fuel,
water and other materiel [they] would need for extended operations,” William
M. Solis, the GAO director for defense capabilities and management, wrote in
the letter. “External logistics support personnel are needed to configure,
transport and distribute these supplies to the brigade.”
The brigades’ support battalion, as currently designed, has about one
third of the maintenance support capability of an Army heavy brigade, said GAO.
The brigades also rely heavily on contractors to service and maintain the vehicles
and their complex digital suites.
The letter was meant to bring to Rumsfeld’s attention that the Army was
not planning to formally assess external logistical support as part of the operational
evaluation. Instead, the Army would conduct separate, informal assessments of
support concepts, said Solis.
Army officials briefed GAO on its logistics support plans. “The officials
assured us that the results of the assessment will be included in the Army’s
final report on the operational evaluation,” said Solis. “If the
Army executes its plan as now envisioned it will meet the intent of our recommendations.”
The bottom line is that the Stryker will not be deployed this summer, as Chief
of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has hoped. A more realistic goal is to have the
Stryker fielded by fall, at the earliest.
Soldiers who participated in tests at JRTC generally gave the Stryker favorable
“The reason they have designed [the Stryker] is for us to get closer
to the fight quicker,” said Sgt. John Noel, from the 520th Infantry Battalion
of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “Once you get in the urban
fight, the vehicles for the most part will stay on the outside until we get
more or less cleared.”
But he cautioned that even though the Stryker offers more protection than other
armored vehicles, such as the M-113, crews are still vulnerable. The Strykers
now being evaluated have 14.5 mm armor protection. Starting with the third brigade,
add-on armor plates will be provided to protect against rocket propelled grenades.
The previously fielded brigades can be retrofitted.
The extra armor would add 8,000 pounds to the Stryker, but Army officials said
the armor would be transported separately from the vehicle. The first 50 armor
sets are scheduled to arrive in July 2004, said Campbell.
Maj. Nick Mullen, with the brigade coordination cell, noted there are more
infantry soldiers in an SBCT than in a heavy brigade or a light brigade. “This
increases the lethality of the SBCT,” he said.
The companies are combined arms teams that consist of a mobile gun platoon,
mortar platoon (120-mm, 81 mm and 60 mm mortars), forward observers, a sniper
team and three infantry line platoons. Eventually, they will also have TOW anti-tank
missile launchers, said Campbell.
For urban combat, the plan is to have a bunker buster weapon, said Campbell.
This type of round would be able to go through double reinforced concrete walls.
Urban combat was one of the main focuses of the operational evaluation at JRTC’s
Gordon-Shughart training center, a site specifically designed to simulate operations
in urban terrain.
The Army also is building a new urban warfare training facility at Fort Lewis.
The Stryker brigades are intended to work closely with Special Operations Forces,
who typically would be the first to arrive to a combat zone.
Col. Bob Brown, the commander of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, said
the SOF would give the Stryker brigades “situational understanding.”
One of the problems that SOF teams encounter as a first entry force is limited
maneuverability. “We would come in as an early entry, and we would be
able to maneuver and expand the area with the Stryker,” said Brown. The
Strykers would bring “more communications capability, bring more fighting
capability. ... There is a liaison with the SOF, and they are constantly sharing
info back and forth,” said Brown.
At the JRTC tests, SOF teams had to collect information and pass it on to the
SBCT. The Stryker brigades also had to operate under SOF command, said Gardner.
“We think that all the future fights will be very joint, and it will be
a combination of conventional and unconventional SOF, and we wanted to make
sure that the SBCTs, and the Army can work effectively in that environment,”
One of the most significant technical advances that Stryker brigades bring
to the fight is the RSTA (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Targeting Acquisition)
“It is what every Stryker leader always wanted, the eyes and ears,”
Brown told National Defense. “You have 450 soldiers that are your eyes
and ears gathering info all over the battlefield.”
For the first time ever, he said, the Army used the Shadow 200 unmanned air
vehicle for targeting, including indirect-fire calls. “We have had UAVs
before, of course, but we have never had them in the brigade,” Brown said.
An organic UAV enhances the brigade commander’s targeting options, he
added. “Before, the UAV was flying for us, but 50 units have access to
it, so I couldn’t tell it where to go.”
The Shadow worked better at night, he said, because it has infrared sights.
“When you are looking through the Predator it’s like looking through
a soda straw,” Brown said. The Shadow offers better angles. “When
I used a Predator in Bosnia, I had a lot of trouble figuring that out, I needed
an expert to tell me what was going on the ground,” he said.
Traditionally, artillery has been called in by voice. “They would call
in a coordinate by voice and then would start the chain,” said Spc. Richard
Munroe, who manned the Shadow ground station at JRTC. “Now we have the
capability to detect the target, sending an e-mail” to the fire-control
operators. “Then it comes back to me saying, ‘Verify the variable,
because we are going to shoot at the target,’ and they would shoot at
the target as I am watching it. ... I do not have to worry about calculating,”
Soldiers still need to improve their ability to quickly write e-mails with
the targeting information. “Speaking is a lot faster than typing, in my
opinion,” he said. “But you can get more pertinent data in those
e-mails compared to what I would be able to say in the voice transmission.”
The Shadow has remote-viewing terminals, so soldiers on the ground can “look
at exactly what it sees,” Brown said. “You have three remote viewing
terminals, so if I want to send it to a company, if I want to give it to a captain—say
he was going to a attack a village—I can give him the remote viewing terminal.”
The availability of multiple sensors, meanwhile, makes information processing
a challenge, said Brown. “Just because you have the technology you get
lots of info, [but what] you need is lots of useful information.”
The abundance of information makes soldiers train differently. “In the
past, ... nobody was going to second-guess you,” said Brown. Now, the
situation has changed, because the same lieutenant gets 100 pieces of information
that he needs to analyze. “When he goes to attack the hill, everything
from his company commander to a four-star general can second guess him and say
‘wait a minute,’” Brown noted.
“Some folks will just be overwhelmed by the information,” he said.
Stryker brigade commanders want to train soldiers how to decide what is useful.
“You have to teach folks priority of messages,” Brown said. They
also are taught how to take the initiative, and “know that your chain
of command supports you and backs you.” That way, he said, initiative
Mobile Gun System
The MGS is the piece of the Stryker program that is farthest behind in development. General Dynamics had to modify the original design of the MGS to make it C-130
transportable. Now, the company is dealing with other MGS problems, such as
the ammo handling system for the 105mm gun, according to Campbell.
“The requirement is that we should be able to recycle 54 rounds ... broken
up in three groups of 18” while the vehicle goes through a bumpy ride,
Campbell explained. “Now we have got to a point where we are able to go
through a complete 54 cycle of rounds, and it is starting to work.”
The ammo handling system has a complex alignment, said Campbell. “So
you transfer the rounds from one level to another level, and then you transfer
it into the gun,” he said.
Another problem was with the muzzle break, designed to soften the recoil of
the gun, said Campbell. “Initially on the 105, you have openings on the
edges of the barrel to let the blast go out,” he said. “What was
happening though is that the blast was going out and damaging a part of the
The solution is a lightweight tube and the elimination of the muzzle break
at the end. “Because the way the vehicle was built, it could still take
the additional recoil,” Campbell said. “Without the muzzle break,
there is about a 3 percent increase in recoil but the system is able to handle
that without additional problems.”
Also, without the muzzle break, the Stryker is 200 pounds lighter, he added.
Another concern in the MGS is the space available for the crew. In the earlier
design, “the areas were too small for the average soldier,” said
Campbell. “The intent is to have you want to get above the 90-percentile
soldier to get into the vehicle. We are finding that out now, because we are
in testing. We have taken several corrective actions to fix the problem.”
The Army must have all these fixes completed before next year’s user
test, scheduled to begin in May. According to Campbell, in January, the Army
will brief the Defense Acquisition Board and recommend limited procurement of
the MGS. The Army is moving into full-rate production for the eight Stryker
basic configurations and is going to ask for limited rate production on both
the MGS and NBC version.
Some performance shortfalls in the Infantry Carrier Vehicles surfaced last
year, during the Millennium Challenge exercise at the NTC. Campbell said several
problems have been fixed, while some still need attention, such as the Remote
Weapons Station. The RWS operates the .50 caliber weapon.
“We have got three improvements already on Remote Weapons System from
different variations of software they have put in it,” said Noel. He was
a squad leader at the NTC exercise last year.
“We had a lot of problems last year. The heat would freeze up the RWS,”
he said. “When they revised it, they had another problem with it. It was
freezing to the rear. [Now], with the third version, we had no problems at NTC
He said that the RWS has been reinforced with extra beams, “so that it
does not come down on its own,” he said.
Despite the extra hold, “the RWS has not been stabilized enough,”
said Spc. Scott Borowski. “Every movement the vehicle makes, it makes
as well, so you can’t really effectively shoot on the run and the picture
isn’t that good.”
He said that he was not impressed by the images from the thermal sight. And
he complained the vehicle lacks a range finder. Several soldiers interviewed
at the NTC last year had complained about the thermal sights in the RWS (National
Defense July 2002). However, according to Noel, changes have not been made to
“Some of the changes come sooner, some are later,” he said. “Thermal
and stabilization are very expensive, so whether that ever happens I do not
The antennas on the MGS have been moved around for better placement, said Noel.
“They have reinforced a lot of things down and it is a little bit better.”
During the operational evaluation, both at the NTC and the JRTC, the tire damage
is still very high, soldiers said. “The outer wall is still thin, there
is not much they can do about it,” said Noel.
Additionally, the squad leader’s digital display needs a keyboard rather
than have a touch screen, which “just isn’t phenomenal,” said
Sometimes, there are communications problems, he said. “On a lot of these
communications, we are on line of sight and they are very temperamental. If
you do not have line of sight, then you do not get communications.”
Among the novel devices on the Stryker is the Force XXI battle command computer
for brigade and below, called the FBCB2. It displays the location of every vehicle
in the brigade. “It runs pretty decent, but we have software problems.
Overall, the small bugs need to be worked out. Nothing major,” he said.
In hot-weather exercises, it is common to hear soldiers say they would like
better air conditioning systems in the vehicle. “That is something that
would be nice to have but not necessarily readily available today,” said
Campbell. Modifications to the air conditioning would cause a change to the
engine. “That is not programmed in the funding right now,” he said.
As the first SBCT gets closer to deployment, the second brigade is scheduled
to be operational in 2004. That will be the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division
at Fort Lewis. The third SBCT is slated for the 172nd Infantry Brigade at Forts
Wainwright and Richardson, in Alaska, to become operational in 2005.
The fourth SBCT, slated for 2006, will be the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based at
Fort Polk. The 2nd Cavalry regiment has helicopters and a huge reconnaissance
organization, said Lt. Col. Kathy Jennings, a program officer on the Army Staff.
“We are not going to take that away from them,” she added. Tankers
that were stationed at Fort Polk will have to change location, because none
of the tank units will be converted to SBCTs, she said.
The fifth brigade is planned for the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division
at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in 2007, while the sixth SBCT will be the 56th
Brigade of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard,
“At any given time, we’ll have two Stryker brigades in transition,”