The U.S. Army’s newest armored vehicle is fraught with operational problems and physical limitations that make its predecessor not only a much better choice for soldiers, but one that may be more deployable and have better battlefield survivability, say weapon-systems analysts and military critics who have studied the issue.
According to sources familiar with the Army’s “Stryker” Interim Armored Vehicle the vehicle is too heavy to be transported fully combat ready by the Air Force’s most numerous transport aircraft, the C-130, despite numerous attempts to lighten it, and despite an initial congressional mandate the vehicle be C-130-deliverable to the battlefield combat ready.
Stryker IAV, in its heavy armor role, fires its main gun.
Also, critics claim, the Stryker’s eight large rubber wheels make it more vulnerable to weapons fire and less maneuverable in rough or mucky terrain than its predecessor, the M-113 Gavin, the U.S. military’s most prevalent tracked armored personnel carrier.
Army officials deny such allegations, but analysts who have studied and used both wheeled and tracked armored vehicles during operations – such as the Marine Corps’ LAV-25 vehicles – have discovered wheeled vehicles have difficulty transiting soft sand, mud, snow and other rough terrain, a problem that makes them more vulnerable to enemy fire.
At the same time, critics point out, tracked vehicles like the Army’s Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the Gavins have far fewer mobility problems and, taking into account the differences in firepower, are more survivable on the field of battle.
M-113 Gavin pulls out an Army Humvee stuck in deep mud.
“It would be fine if we could park [the Stryker] on a highway and have our enemies come to us to fight,” says Lonnie Shoultz, a former member of the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division, a retired U.S. Treasury Department special agent and an established military historian. “But if you can’t get to the battle, you can’t win the war.”
“From a super highway to dirt roads to chewed-up and muddy terrain, the Stryker is at a disadvantage” to the Gavin, Shoultz told WorldNetDaily.
Such discrepancies were even noted during field-testing at Fort Irwin, Calif., last fall, according to an Army Times report.
“The biggest problem was difficulty loading the 107-inch-wide vehicle on a C-130 Hercules transport plane,” said the Times, a conclusion also reached in an August 2002 document entitled “Stryker Findings,” which was produced by observers from the Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, in Alexandria, Va.
Stryker rolls off a C-130 transport plane.
“Very little can be stowed in its proper place due to C-130 loading restrictions,” said the findings. ATEC is monitoring the Stryker’s weapon-system acquisition and development.
Also, the military paper said, a total of 13 tires on the 16 Strykers involved in the 96-hour war games needed replacing. The ATEC team also noted that troops inside the Strykers were so cramped they “found it difficult to drink from their canteens,” said the Times.
Army officials nonetheless have dismissed the problems, saying the vehicle is performing well and will serve U.S. ground forces acceptably during combat.
“We’ve been able to fly [the Strykers] on combat missions across a full spectrum of potential threats and operational scenarios [during testing] at Fort Irwin and Fort Polk, Louisiana,” Maj. Amy Hannah, an Army spokesperson, told WorldNetDaily. “Part of the certification process encompassed the different types of exercises and evaluations.”
For instance, she said, in California the testing focused on “a desert environment under mid- to high-intensity combat conditions,” while at Polk, “testing focused on mid- to low-intensity … including urban operations.”
Throughout the process, Army brigades that will be accepting the new Strykers were “able to deploy strategically by rail, sea and air,” Hannah said.
But critics maintain staying with the Gavins is a much better choice for the Army’s new lighter-forces vision, even though they have been around for more than four decades.
For one, they say, the Gavin is proven and has an established line of supply. The M-113s are also in use with U.S. allies most likely to take the field alongside U.S. forces in the near future.
Also, sources said, the newest version of the Gavin, the M-113A3 – which is manufactured in York, Pa. – will more reliably carry troops and equipment into a fight anywhere, regardless of the terrain. And, they said the tracked Gavin with its upgrades is more battle-worthy, maneuverable and cheaper to procure. Plus, its tracked configuration and better armor make it more survivable on the battlefield.
Finally, says Shoultz , the M-113s now can be fitted with “band tracks,” rubberized track fittings that make for a smoother ride and less wear and tear on the tracks themselves.
The Gavin, which was introduced in 1960 and has been upgraded a number of times, has been proven in action in over 50 countries. The Stryker, meanwhile, is little more than an “oversized armored car,” mounted on large inflated tires “that make great driving vehicles on super highways but cannot traverse a bog or rough terrain to get to a fight,” Shoultz said.
“You cannot overemphasize that,” he added.
“The Stryker program has been a fraud. Billions have been wasted on a vehicle that can’t do the job as well as the vehicles that the Army has had in its inventory for over four decades,” said Don Loughlin, a former Army ordnance specialist, in an October 2002 critique of the Stryker. “It is time to pull the plug’ on it.”
One report said there was no difference between the Stryker and the Gavin.
“There is no significant performance difference between the Stryker and M113 armored personnel carriers, according to the Pentagon official who oversaw testing between the two U.S. Army vehicles in September,” said the Feb. 7 report in Defense News.
“Based on our review of the data from the Medium Armored Vehicle Comparison Evaluation, we conclude that the Stryker and the M113A3 were equally effective and suitable,” said Tom Christie, the Department of Defense’s director of operational test and evaluation. “The operational portions of the MAV CE showed no differences in unit effectiveness, weapon-system lethality or operational suitability.”
Defense News reported that ATEC “compared Stryker to the M113 from April to October, using primarily instrumentation and computer modeling. The comparison evaluation culminated in the live field study in September and October, where a platoon of soldiers used both vehicles to conduct reconnaissance and attack missions.”
So why spend $1.4 million on each new Stryker when the M-113 costs $300,000 per unit, has a distinguished battlefield record, a well-established supply line, is familiar to troops and has interoperability with scores of other armed forces with which the U.S. could deploy?
“The Stryker family of vehicles are considered less vulnerable to small arms and weapons fire than the M113 family of vehicles,” said the Army, in an official written response to questions posed by WorldNetDaily.
“The crew and engine compartments of the Strykers are fully protected up to 14.5mm armor piercing (AP) rounds while the crew and engine compartments of the M113s are protected only up to 7.62mm AP rounds,” said defense officials. “Although a 14.5mm armor design was developed for the M113s, the armor was never produced and fielded.”
Also, said the Army, “in addition to greater small-arms protection, an add-on armor is currently being developed for six of the 10 Stryker vehicle configurations to protect the crews against RPG-7 munitions. Although a study was conducted to investigate the application of the Bradley RPG armor tiles to the M113s, mounting provisions and RPG armor designs were never developed for the M113s.”
Finally, the Army said while Gavin tracks “are less vulnerable to small arms fire,” the Stryker’s wheels contain “a run-flat device consisting of a solid core of rubber that allows the tire to be driven 30 miles without replacement when punctured.”
Regarding its mobility, the Army admitted that “for vehicles weighing 10-20 tons, tracked vehicles have better cross-country mobility in sand, mud and snow than wheeled vehicles,” while “wheeled vehicles were found to have much better speed and ride quality over primary and secondary roads than tracked vehicles.”
“To improve its overall mobility, especially for cross-country operation, the Stryker employs a Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) to increase its tire pressure for operation over primary as well as secondary roads and to reduce its tire pressure for improved mobility over soft and sandy soils,” Army officials said.
But critics were unfazed.
Stanley Crist, a former tank crewman, armor training NCO and author who served in Vietnam, said General Dynamics was developing armor for the Stryker that would repel RPGs – rocket propelled grenades – but “I imagine it will only cover the hull above the wheels, in front of the front wheels and perhaps behind the rear wheels, since the front four wheels are used for steering.”
“It is unlikely [the front wheels] could have armor skirts, but it is possible to design armor skirts to protect the four rear (non-steering) wheels,” he told WorldNetDaily.
“It is true that add-on armor of various protection levels has been developed for M113, but not fielded by the US Army,” Crist said. However, he said such “appliqu?” armor “is used in Israel, New Zealand, Switzerland and some other armies” that use the Gavins.
And, he said, “the Army’s claim that RPG armor has not been developed for M113 is definitely not true. The Israeli company Rafael developed reactive armor several years ago that was seen fitted to some IDF M113s during the 1996 incursion into Lebanon.”
Israel Defense Forces M-113 with reactive ‘appliqu?’ armor.
Shoultz also questioned the Army’s deployment requirements for the Stryker. He says the mandate was to “deploy the [Stryker] brigade in 96 hours by C-130s.”
“Using choo-choo trains cannot do that,” he said.
Mike Sparks, Army Reserve officer and co-author of the book “Air-Mech-Strike: Asymmetric Maneuver Warfare for the 21st Century,” told Defense News, “Twenty-four Army programs will be canceled in 2004, all for wheeled peacekeeping brigades the service doesn’t need and are too impotent to play a vital role” in the war against Iraq.
The Pentagon also confirmed April 1 that weight is still a problem for the Stryker, though officially the Army is denying it, according to an Anniston Star newspaper report last month.
In March, the Air Force certified eight versions of the Stryker to fly in C-130s, said the paper, but Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and another committee member said those versions can only be transported by C-130s under a narrow range of altitude and weather conditions. Shoultz confirmed that.
And Pete Aldridge, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, acknowledged April 1 the Defense Department was aware of that problem and was working to get it solved.
“I think the most important thing here is that we can move the Stryker with the C-130 under certain conditions,” Aldridge said. “We can also move the Stryker – three Strykers – with C-17s under other conditions. So, depending on where you want to go and what mission you want to accomplish, we will have to adapt our deployment to that capability that will exist.”
The Anniston paper also said the C-17 transport can carry three Strykers but needed a longer, paved runway.
Hunter said the Stryker’s advertised ability to be transported by C-130 aircraft was a big reason why Congress went for it.
“When Saddam Hussein came marching south with seven Iraqi divisions, we had only a light infantry, that is the 82nd Airborne, to throw in his way, and we needed to have something that was semi-hard to get in there quickly. And we were sold a good deal of this on C-130 transportability,” he said last month.
“It did not start out to be the same weight that we have now,” Aldridge said. “It still is on a diet, as a matter of fact. The Army’s still looking for ways to carry it.”
In a recent military exercise, “the Infantry Carrier Vehicle variant required multiple alterations to fit into a C-130,” said an assessment of the Stryker by GlobalSecurity.org. “The crew removed two smoke grenade launchers, all antennas, a left rear bracket that blocked egress over the top of the vehicle, the Remote Weapons System and the third-row wheel’s bump-stop. Reassembly upon landing took as long as 17 minutes.”