General Dynamics Awaits Army Decision on Stryker Program, Threatens Layoffs
If Army officials delay a decision to purchase more of the 8-wheeled vehicles to outfit a planned third Combat Brigade Team, layoff notices could begin Jan. 1, said Gordon Stein, vice president of Stryker Brigade Combat Team at General Dynamics Land Systems.
“The impact on the manufacturing side is almost immediate if we have to drop below our minimum sustainment rate of production,” Stein said during an Aug. 29 tour of the Anniston Army Depot. General Dynamics executives brought defense reporters to the facility to make their case for the program. Stein declined to say how many workers would lose their jobs if it doesn't move forward.
The Army has ordered a total of 789 Double-V Strykers, of which about 500 have been delivered. The new models all come with the double-V redesigned hull, which dramatically improves survivability against improvised explosive devices.
The Army’s force generation strategy calls for three Double-V Stryker brigades — one deployed, one in reset and one in training at any given time. As company executives understand the situation, the office of the deputy chief of staff for strategy is studying whether a third brigade is actually needed. If it a third brigade is required, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology has the funding in place to procure 243 more Strykers.
It is that purchase that General Dynamics executives are “anxious” about, according to Stein. At a rate of 20 per month, an order of that size would protect the program’s existing workforce through 2014, he said. If that order doesn’t materialize before the end of September, the company will be forced to dial back production to 13 vehicles per month, Stein said. Such a low production rate will trigger the layoffs.
Army leaders favor the double-V version because it has proven to save lives. Comparing killed-in-action figures from similar periods before and after the introduction of the double-V hull Stryker shows a significant decrease with the beefed up vehicle, according to Army casualty statistics.
The double-V hull has other upgraded safety features besides the shape of its undercarriage. The entire hull is stronger and uses a different grade steel. It also features a beefed-up bulkhead protecting the driver and an enlarged egress path for the driver.
Where in flat-bottomed Strykers there is a bench seat bolted to the floor, the double-V features blast-attenuating seats mounted on shock absorbers and with stirrups that elevate troops’ feet off the floor. They “isolate the spine and legs” from the shock delivered by a blast to the underside of a vehicle, and have radically reduced injuries, Stein said.
New Strykers also feature a beefed up suspension that can handle the weight of slat armor and other add-ons that have over-burdened the original flat-bottomed version. The original Stryker’s suspension was rated for 38,000 pounds, but bolt-on armor brought many of the vehicles to 50,000 pounds, which wore out parts and increased maintenance costs. A double-V hull’s suspension is rated for 55,000 pounds.
But the newer Strykers are expensive and General Dynamics officials worry that a shortage of funds could cause the Army to postpone acquisition of the vehicles, which cost $2.54 million apiece. At that price, it would cost $617 million to outfit a third Brigade Combat Team.
To wring savings out of the process, General Dynamics has set up a Stryker “exchange” program at its facilities within the sprawling depot here. By stripping parts, armor and other components off of flat-bottomed Strykers for re-use in building out the new double-V versions, company officials believe they can slash the price of procurement.
The Army spends about $250,000 to reset a flat-bottom Stryker to its original specifications once it returns from war. A program is already in place to reset those Strykers that were used in Iraq. But for a few dollars more, the Army can obtain a fully reset Stryker “and get a double-V hull on the back end,” Stein said.
The vehicles are brought to Anniston, where they are stripped of every part that can be “reclaimed” and reused. Then a new double-V hull is sent from the General Dynamics facility in London, Ontario, and repopulated with the used parts. The process from old Stryker to new takes a little over three months. Final assembly takes 25 days. The exchange program can crank out Strykers at $1.6 million a copy, about 60 percent of what a new vehicle costs. With other performance improvements and efficiencies, Stein said the net cost of outfitting a third BCT could be cut to $370 million. Those figures likely will continue to decrease as engineers find more parts that can be transferred to new vehicles, he said.
“We’ve got some bigger dollar parts we’re now looking at like hatches, grills and doors, which today we don’t take off,” said David Rodgers Jr., General Dynamics' senior director of plant operations here. “Those parts go back into the depot shops where they will be reclaimed.”
There are 47 vehicles currently enrolled in the exchange pilot program being built alongside new Strykers. At this point, the old vehicle corpses are being shrink-wrapped and parked at the depot, Rodgers said. There is no plan for what to do with the leftover hulks, but Rodgers said the company and the Army are searching for “opportunities.” They also are planning to harvest more parts from those vehicles for uses other than on new Strykers, he said.
Photo Credit: Army