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Striker Vehicle Controversy

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Strykerwheelfire

A Stryker vehicle on fire in Iraq.

The Stryker family of vehicles has come under intense scrutiny since it was awarded a contract by the US Army. Complaints and concerns have been raised about this vehicle, but there are counter-points to these issues.

The Original ConceptEdit

In the 1990s the then Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Eric Shinseki, directed that the army would transform to meet future worldwide threats. The ultimate goal of this vision became the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS). However, it would be many years before this system would be in place. So, an interim solution using modified current production vehicles was created. This solution was called the Interim Brigade Combat Team (IBCT). (This was later renamed to Stryker Brigade Combat Team, or SBCT, after the Stryker vehicle was fielded.) The original FCS and IBCT goals were that the US Army would be able to deploy a brigade, anywhere in the world, within 96 hours. Also, the unit's vehicles should be transportable by C-130 to a range of 1,000 miles. After the Stryker was deployed, the FCS goal of being C-130 transportable was changed to transporting three vehicles aboard a C-17.

Heavy Armor versus Integrated MobilityEdit

Gen. Shinseki’s vision was met with resistance due to it eventually requiring the replacement of the 70 ton M1 Abrams and the 35 ton M2 Bradley with 19 ton FCS vehicles which could be transported by C130 aircraft. (The Stryker has only replaced HMMWVs.) Their arguments were:

  • To reach the weight target, the vehicle’s armor would have to be made too thin to stop light rapid firing cannons and the ever-present infantry anti-tank weapons like ATGMs and RPGs.
  • To reach the weight target, the vehicle’s armament would be limited in size and/or ammunition supply.
  • M1s and M2s are air-transportable by C17. What are needed are more C17s, and not a vehicle that would fit the venerable C130.
  • It is argued that any C4I technologies to be fitted on the new vehicles, giving purported Situational Awareness advantage, can also be installed on existing, more heavily armored vehicles

Proponents of the FCS countered with the benefits of a lighter force.

  • Massive armored invasions were no longer a threat since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The extra armor an M1 needed to fight a company of T-80s was no longer required.
  • Information is more valuable than armor on a battlefield. Knowing where your friends and enemies are provides better safety than heavy armor. A network of computers in each vehicle, unmanned drones, individual infantry soldiers, and even satellites would provide this information.
  • Lighter vehicles require less logistics to maintain.
  • Aircraft are far more expensive than ground vehicles. One could buy a fleet of Stryker vehicles for the cost of one C17.
  • A C17 can only transport one M1 Abrams at a time due to its heavy weight. But, it could carry three Strykers (or even three M2 Bradleys) and still have extra capacity for troops, equipment, and supplies.

The Stryker weighs inEdit

As the Stryker was the lead vehicle in this transformation, it became the target for this debate. The arguments against the Stryker based on its armor and armaments were:

  • Its armor is ineffective against rocket-propelled grenade attacks, a very common type of attack in Iraq. A 5,000 lb improvised "slat" armor add-on, looking like a fence around the vehicle, was fielded for Iraq operations to give added protection. But a December 2004 report showed that even with the added slat-armor, the Stryker has been only 90 percent effective overall against RPGs during combat in Iraq.[1] The slat armor add-on does not protect all of the large wheels and only defeats RPGs with High Explosive (HE) warheads. Tandem shape charged RPGs have been known to punch through the slat-armor.
  • As with any external, unprotected, vehicle mounted weapon, the vehicle commander must expose himself in the hatch to reload or correct a weapons malfunction. Gunshields would reduce exposure, but a crewman would still be forced to exit the hull to clear or reload. Reloading concerns limit firepower since the magazine only holds 200 rounds. If the weapon is emptied in combat, enemy rifle fire can deter or prevent reloading.
  • As of now, the Remote Weapon Station (RWS) has no stabilization ability. The RWS is considered to be slow, and hard to work with due to its Black and White optical camera system.
  • Instead of using a low-pressure gun like the M8 or the Russian 2S25, the Stryker MGS uses a modified version of the M60's 105mm M68A1 (M68A1E4) cannon. This gun has excessive recoil for the Stryker's weight class.
  • It cannot be heliborne short of using a CH-47.
  • The Stryker MGS autoloader has a carousel with half the capacity on the M8-AGS, thus having less battle endurance.

Stryker proponents have countered with the following points:

  • Its armor makes the Stryker more survivable than a Humvee, which was the vehicle it originally replaced.
  • Reports say the Stryker has proven highly effective in protecting troops against Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks,[2] the most common cause of fatalities among US troops in Iraq.
  • The RPG threat was underestimated during the initial selection process, and none of the proposed vehicles for the IBCT were capable of withstanding an RPG.
  • The Stryker's advanced communication systems gives it excellent situational awareness, letting crews coordinate fast raids and missions almost in real time, even in unfamiliar territory, and expect that they will be successful. This was in fact the purpose of fielding the Stryker in the first place.
  • Standard machine guns for vehicle commanders are manually controlled and cannot be stabilized for firing on the move. To add this ability, one would have to upgrade the vehicle mount to an RWS-like system.
  • The RWS already has two improved variants in the pipeline. The M151E1 (Block I Upgrade) will incorporate increased ammo storage, optics, and user controls. The M151E2 (Block II Upgrade) will incorporate improvements designed at engagement ability including system skew rate and on-the-move capabilities.
  • Neither of the US military's frontline personnel carriers, the M2 Bradley and the AAV-7/A1 are transportable by helicopter. Heliborne assault of armored vehicles of this class is also not a commonly practiced maneuver by US forces. A standard M113A3 has a combat weight of 12.25 metric tons, which is 0.45 metric tons more than the external lift capacity of a CH-47 (for example), and is greater than its internal carry capacity. It is likely that proposed extended variations of the M113 and current uparmored M113s in service are also not helicopter transportable by the primary heavy lifter of the military service in question [the US Army].
  • The Stryker can be airdropped, as it is within the weight limits of high altitude parachute systems [1], and low altitude extraction systems [2].
  • While the Stryker MGS only carries 18 rounds for its main gun, this is 4 more than originally requested by the US Army.

Air TransportabilityEdit

One main aspect of the FCS and IBCT concept was that the unit was to be rapidly deployable by air. Some critics have raised the points that the Stryker cannot air-assault as it takes a few minutes to be made ready after its arrival. These critics are proponents of mechanized air assault, as developed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s. However, this was not part of the US Army’s concept for either the IBCT or for FCS. After the Stryker was fielded, the GAO reviewed the unit’s ability to meet the 96-hour (4 days) requirement. While it did show nearly a 50% reduction in C-17 flights to move over that of a heavy brigade (equipped with M1 Abrams and M2 Bradleys), it still required between 5 to 14 days to deploy by air.[3] Since this report, the US Army has added a Stryker base in Germany. This should reduce the maximum deployment times since they were to destinations in Africa. However, the report shows that the 96-hour target could not be reached, as it would take as much as 7 days to air deploy a Stryker unit to, for example, Venezuela. The GAO also reviewed the ability for a Stryker to be deployed by a C-130. Results were inconclusive, as the Army’s weight vehicle target to meet the 1,000-mile range was 38,000 pounds, and this was found not to be entirely true. The GAO recommended that the US Army further clarify the requirement.[4] The following are points cited by the GAO in their report:

  • The reviewers witnessed a Stryker company deployed by C-130 to an airbase 100 miles from its origin.
  • An armored C-130-H could transport a 38,000 pound load 860 miles under ideal or near ideal take off conditions.
  • There are some airports where an armored C-130-H loaded with 38,000 pounds, would not be able to take off. This is due to runway conditions, temperature, and altitude above sea level, among other factors.
  • An armored C-130-H could transport a Stryker MGS less than 500 miles under ideal or near ideal take off conditions.
  • Strykers make up approximately 300 vehicles of the 1000 vehicles in a Stryker brigade. Some of the other vehicles, such as fuel trucks, are too big or heavy to be airlifted by C-130. Therefore, the entire brigade cannot be air deployed by C-130.

Tracked Vehicles versus WheeledEdit

Strykerstuckinmudiraqtn

Freeing a Stryker Combat vehicle from mud.

Once the Stryker was chosen for the IBCT, the old tracked versus wheeled argument was revitalized. Track proponents claim that a wheeled vehicle suffers many disadvantages versus a tracked vehicle:

  • Inferior cross-country ability due to higher ground pressure. A track distributes vehicular weight over an area equal to the width of the tracks multiplied by its length on the ground, which tends to be comparable to the vehicle's length. Tires distribute weight only over the relatively small areas of tire contact with the ground. Thus tracks can go over terrain where wheels would sink. This also means wheels are more likely to set off pressure-detonated mines.
  • The performance of a wheeled vehicle suffers more with excess weight than a tracked vehicle due to the higher number of axles a tracked vehicle has.
  • Wheels are high and vulnerable targets for even small arms. The wheel wells cannot be protected by track-style armored skirts, for that would interfere with the vehicle turning.
  • Wheels can turn the vehicle, but tracks can pivot the vehicle. Thus large wheeled vehicles have larger turn radii and inferior maneuverability.
  • Wheeled vehicles find it very difficult to surmount obstacles (such as barricades) that a tracked vehicle would easily climb over.
  • A wheeled vehicle is not really faster in field conditions when one takes into account the tracked vehicle's superior maneuverability and off-road performance.

In addition, they have raised mobility concerns specifically about the Stryker:

  • The Canadians have had quite a bit of trouble with the LAV IIIs (on which the Stryker is based) getting stuck in the mud in Afghanistan and rolling over.[5]
  • Iraq's many paved roads and very dry climate make a number of criticisms less significant in the current conflict, yet no less valid overall.
  • A lack of amphibious ability. M113s and BMPs can swim either by using their tracks or (when so equipped) with waterjets. The wheeled BTR-90 of similar weight can swim using waterjets, and other wheeled vehicles like the LAV-150 can even swim (slowly) on wheels, but not the Stryker.
  • It is larger and taller than comparable tracked vehicles.
  • High tire usage is a problem due to the vehicle being overweight.
  • The lack of a winch means the Stryker MGS can not perform a self-recovery.

Wheel proponents have countered with other points of the Stryker:

  • The Stryker’s tire pressure can be adjusted by the crew inside the vehicle, allowing the tires to have low pressure for travel through deserts, or higher pressure for travel down roads, without soldier leaving the protection of the armor.
  • The LAV3/Stryker is fast by infantry fighting vehicle standards. Though the advantage of heavier armor available with some other vehicles, such as the Bradley, is more visible to the eye, in practice speed can be just as valuable a defensively. The advantage of speed, however, is harder to measure than that of armor.
  • The raised hull of a Stryker, which increases the chance of a roll-over, has been shown to reduce land mine damage when compared to tracked vehicles with lower ground clearance.
  • The roll-over LAV3 incidents reported by the Canadians have been attributed to the turret that is not present on a Stryker, and the increased ground clearance for superior IED resistance.
  • Wheeled vehicles are quiet in comparison to those with conventional steel track.
  • Wheeled vehicles consume less fuel than tracked vehicles, reducing logistical demands and the number of fuel convoys required to sustain a force. With fuel costs being so high, the GAO rated the heavier Stryker ICV as more fuel-efficient than the smaller M113A3.[6]
  • Wheeled vehicles can travel long distances on their own tires and generally have lower life-running costs, lasting longer between maintenance cycles than tracked vehicles. Tracked vehicles suffer excess track wear unless tank transporters carry them over long distances. This capability, to put mileage on a wheeled vehicle that could wear out an M2 Bradley, makes Stryker very mobile in theater.
  • Wheels give the Stryker the speed to engage in mid to high-speed chases through traffic. Strykers can reach speeds in excess of 70 mph.
  • Wheels don't destroy roads or curbs when driven over them, making them friendlier for counterinsurgency and stability missions.
  • The Stryker ICV variant w/o RWS is 104 inches tall, compared to the M2 Bradley which is 118.8 inches tall, and is only 6 inches taller than the M113 (98.28 inches tall). The Stryker ICV variant w/o RWS is also shorter than the USMC AAV-7A1. The Stryker ICV is not significantly taller than other armored vehicles currently in US service, and is in fact shorter than most.
  • Wheeled vehicles can limp to safety if one or more of their tires are destroyed or damaged. Tracked vehicles, however, are disabled by track damage until they can be towed to safety or repaired on the spot. Thus, the crew of a disabled vehicle must either disembark to carry out lengthy, dangerous repairs or abandon their vehicle altogether. Damaged tracks can take more than two hours to repair on the battlefield.

Band TracksEdit

In addition to conventional tracks, there are proponents for band tracks. These proponents claim that any advantages a wheeled vehicle has over steel tracked counterparts can be reduced or eliminated by using new band tracks [7] and electric-drive technology. Conventional tracks consist of linked solid metal segments with rubber pads attached; a rubber band track consists of coils of steel cables coated in rubber. While rubber band tracks cannot support the weight of heavy tanks, they have been tested on light and medium tanks up to weights of 30 tons and were used on US Army half-tracks in the Second World War. The M113 APC and its upgraded MTVL form, the most often proposed alternatives to Stryker, could easily be fitted with these tracks. Between the band tracks and an electric-drive motor, it can actually match the Stryker's theoretical road speed of about 62MPH. Counter-points band tracks include the following:

  • Current and past vehicles equipped with band tracks are very lightly armored. Typically, only heavy machine guns like the M2 50-cal machine gun would be needed to destroy them. This kept band tracks from being targeted “weak points” as they have been on heavier tracked vehicles, like tanks. So, they have not been combat proven in heavier armor roles.
  • Attacks that a standard track could shrug off would break a modern band track.
  • Standard tracks can be shortened to allow a damaged link removed, but band tracks have to be replaced taking considerably more effort
  • Band tracks are made of similar materials to tires. This means that band tracks can burn, just like tires. Conventional steel tracks cannot.
  • While band tracks and electric drives have shown promise, they did not meet the off-the-shelf requirements for the IBCT proposal. However, band tracks are being developed for the FCS program.[8]

Proposal and ProtestEdit

In 1999, the US Army requested proposals for vehicles to equip the recently conceived IBCT. [3]. The Stryker ICV (the GM/GDLS Proposal) won this competition against different wheeled (4-, 6-, and 8-wheeled variants) and tracked competitors (Bionix ICV, from Singapore; M113 variant, from Turkey; and MTVL, IFB, and M113A3, from UDLP). The Stryker MGS (the GM/GDLS Proposal) won its competition against two wheeled competitors (one from Cadillac Gage Textron, and the other from GDLS without GM) and only one tracked competitor (M8 Armored Gun System from UDLP). The Source Selection Authority (SSA) established the following criteria for evaluation, listed in order of priority:

  • 1) Schedule and Performance
  • 2) Supportability and Price/Cost
  • 3) Management.

Since the IBCT is an infantry unit, the choice for the ICV award was made first. Since the Stryker ICV won, this had a major impact on the MGS award. When the awarded contracts were announced, UDLP filed a protest. In the company's view, the tests subtly favored wheeled vehicles due to the choice of a road scenario for the mobility evaluation, that different data and assumptions will improve their proposals' relative position in terms of reliability and that GD was given many subtle advantages throughout. As per procedures, the protest was judged by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Of the three ICV proposals from UDLP, the M113A3 was determined to be the best. So, the GAO compared the M113A3 versus the Stryker ICV, and the M8 AGS versus the Stryker MGS. The GAO felt that the evaluation had been done reasonably, and estimated that, while UDLP did have some potentially valid points (especially over the MGS, which may not even have passed a Band 2 requirement), they probably were not influential enough to have affected the outcome. Accordingly, the GAO rejected UDLP’s protest in this 36 page report. Since the competition, GDLS has bought out GM’s defense subsidiary, and became the sole supplier of the Stryker. Also, UDLP has since been acquired by BAE.

AdditionalEdit

Beyond the points listed above, there are additional anti- and pro- Stryker points that have been raised.

Against the StrykerEdit

  • The interior is limited with a squad of fully combat equipped soldiers, to include body armor with ballistic plates and a second load of ammunition that is also carried on the vehicle.
  • The rear-sentry hatches allow for only two soldiers to engage targets prior to dismount. The rest of the squad cannot fight from within the vehicle and are essentially passengers until dismount.
  • The M113A3 had superior cross-country mobility (and thus smaller no-go zones), especially in "Germany-Wet" (as defined by NATO standards) terrain, can potentially carry an extra soldier, was cheaper, had already met all the listed requirements, and had higher commonality with the existing fleet.

For the StrykerEdit

  • Proponents claim soldiers are less cramped than in M2 or M113 vehicles. The firing ports needed to allow fire outside require sacrifices in protection by creating weaknesses in the armor, which may reduce passenger survivability. Note that current Bradley Fighting Vehicles (both the M2 IFV and M3 CFV) retain only two of the original six firing ports, both in the rear doors as is the case of the Stryker, because the utility of these firing ports was not substantial. Thus these vehicles also prevent all but two troops from engaging the enemy prior to dismount, and troops riding in Bradley vehicles cannot fire forward without dismounting. Furthermore, these ports are specifically designed for the M231 Firing Port Weapon. The M113 series has no firing ports whatsoever, nor can its troops engage forward without exposing themselves through a large top hatch. From this one might say that the Stryker is no more deficient than any other vehicle currently in service in this role, or that the deficiency is negligible which was the rationale for deleting the side firing ports from the Bradley in the first place.
  • 'Proposed' Stryker variants mimic almost all variants of the M113 platform except for air defense, dedicated smoke generation, unarmed utility, mobile flamethrower, and as a fitter vehicle. An air defense vehicle based on LAVIII chassis has already been proposed in Canada.[9] Armored flame throwing vehicles have largely become a thing of the past, and the Stryker could easily be modified to deploy a smoke screen. The fitter vehicle based on the M113 chassis was not deployed by the United States military. Lastly, it would appear that there is no need to supplant or otherwise replace or improve existing unarmed utility options available to the US Army or other services.
  • The M8 Armored Gun System is heavier or lighter than the Stryker MGS depending on the M8’s level of armor.
    • The M8’s base protection is Level I. This gives it armor protection similar to an uparmored HMMWV. In this configuration, the M8 is 1.4 short tons lighter than the Stryker MGS. Also, it can be airdropped, and can be transported farther by C130 than an MGS due to the reduced weight.
    • The next higher level of protection is Level II. This gives the M8 armor protection similar to the Stryker MGS. In this configuration, the M8 is 1.6 short tons heavier than the MGS. The M8 cannot be airdropped with this level of armor, and it cannot be transported as far as the MGS by C130 due to the increased weight.
    • The maximum level of protection, without RPG protection, is Level III. At this level, the M8 has similar protection to the M2 Bradley (also without RPG protection). However, the M8 would be 4.1 short tons heavier than the MGS, and it could not be transported by C130.
  • Equipping a Stryker unit with a tracked assault gun, like the M8 AGS, instead of the Stryker MGS, would reduce the unit’s capability. The unit would be limited to the slower tracked speed on road, and it could not take full advantage of any off-road superiority the tracked vehicle may have. Also, the unit would have to carry around with it many more spare parts to keep the tracked alternative moving.
  • The Stryker, on the other hand, had a faster road speed and a better ride and was more heavily armored than the M113A3. The tires' run-flat function allows for better degraded self-extraction than the tracks. Further, GDLP made the MGS and ICV share the same basic structure, improving its commonality in this regard. Based on the LAV-25's performance record, it was estimated that it would be more reliable than the M113A3.

Field reportsEdit

Since the Strykers have been in the current Iraqi conflict, many reports have come back on their performance. These reports have mostly been favorable. Stryker critics caution that any positive testimonial must be evaluated against the fact that five of the six planned Stryker brigades were previously foot-infantry units, hence the Stryker (or any armored vehicle) provides a great improvement on their former mobility and protection. Defense Industry Daily: M1126 Strykers in Combat: Experiences and Lessons. Addresses both the Washington Post article and POGO's honest but puzzled publication of its surprise at the positive reviews it got from soldiers who had used the Strykers in combat. It includes extensive additional quotes and experiences from soldiers and reporters who have served with Strykers in Iraq, and even a Russian analyst review. It concludes by discussing the broader lessons from these experiences that apply beyond the Stryker itself. Source: Stars and Stripes, testimony & analysis in DID article. Soldiers and officers who use Strykers defend them as very effective vehicles; an article[citation needed]in the Washington Post states:

"But in more than a dozen interviews, commanders, soldiers and mechanics who use the Stryker fleet daily in one of Iraq's most dangerous areas unanimously praised the vehicle. The defects outlined in the report were either wrong or relatively minor and did little to hamper the Stryker's effectiveness, they said."

One colonel said that the Strykers saved the lives of at least a hundred soldiers deployed in northern Iraq. See Soldiers Defend Faulted Strykers This article states that the bolt-on slat armor is effective ballistic protection, which, at the time of the article, was the main flaw cited by critics. This same style of armor can be added to an M113 series vehicle, with presumably the same results. Significantly, though, this article does not have any soldiers who compare these two potential rivals. (The Congress-ordered comparison can be found here.) They are all soldiers who have been given the mission to integrate the Stryker into the force, not to compare it side-by-side with an M113A3 similarly outfitted. This article acknowledges that the suspensions are a mobility limitation in wet conditions, especially with the added weight of the slat armor. So one point of the M113 Stryker controversy, the superiority of tracked suspension in specific situations (offroad, wet, overweight), is not addressed by this article and none of the suspension or weight based criticisms are otherwise dispelled. Reports from military personnel and analysts indicate the Stryker is superior to other light military vehicles regarding survivability against IEDs (improvised explosive devices).[10][11] However, due to large IEDs being used in Afghanistan (some as large as 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of explosives), some soldiers are referring to Strykers as "Kevlar Coffins."[12] Field tests conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces, IDF, however, sharply contradict these assessments: Israel has received three Stryker variants for trials, the first of which were vehicles from early production and did not include add-on armor. Later models featuring various add-on armor suits and different upgrades.[citation needed] So far, the Stryker has been unable to meet the IDF's requirements, and no purchases are planned. Israeli military sources said that the idea of purchasing the Stryker was effectively "buried for good." (...) "It's a piece of junk," said one former senior IDF field commander intimately involved with the Stryker. Instead of the Stryker, Israel has opted for the Namer, a native-built Israeli IFV.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Pogo.org. "LEAKED REPORT: Stryker Armored Vehicle". US Weapon Systems. http://www.pogo.org/p/defense/da-050304-stryker.html. Retrieved 2006-05-14. 
  2. washingtonpost.com (2005-04-05). "Strykers Get the Job Done". Stryker. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26535-2005Apr4.html. Retrieved 2006-05-15. 
  3. "GAO Report – 96 hour". http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03801.pdf. Retrieved 2003-06-23. 
  4. "GAO Report – C130 Transportability". http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04925.pdf. Retrieved 2004-08-09. 
  5. Canadian American Strategic Review. "Reviewing the LAV III – Rollovers and Suicide Bombers". LAV III. http://www.sfu.ca/casr/ft-lav3rollover.htm. Retrieved 2006-05-14. 
  6. "GAO Compares Stryker to M113A3". http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03671.pdf. Retrieved 2003-05-13. 
  7. "Band-Track". http://www.defensespareparts.com/leso.html. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  8. "Band-Track Development". http://www.baesystems.com/ProductsServices/l_and_a_gs_band_track.html. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  9. www.ciss.ca. "Setback for army transformation". LAVIII MMEV. http://www.ciss.ca/Comment_Transformation.htm. Retrieved 2006-07-15. 
  10. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan: Effects and Countermeasures, Congressional Research Service, Sept. 25 2006.
  11. Stryker increases troops’ survivability, U.S. Army 40th Public Affairs Detachment, Jan. 3, 2007.
  12. Carter, Sara A., "'Kevlar Coffin' A Dangerous Ride: Armored troop carriers unsuited for Afghan duty", Washington Times, November 5, 2009, p. 1.

External linksEdit

A widely distributed online report by author Victor O'Reilly, to the ranking Congressman of the House Armed Services Committee initially blasted various points concerning the vehicle, only to have soldiers in the field exonerate its performance in a report by the US Army.

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