A few months ago we had an inside look at the Stryker Ground Vehicle. But setting aside all the facts and figures, does it have enough to take over for the M113 APC? Here's a special report on that very question.
By John HiggsSoldier of Fortune MagazineMarch 2nd 2004, Baghdad.
The Stryker is taking a shot at becoming the prime armored vehicle in the U.S. military.
A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded when Islamist terrorists attacked a convoy and threw an incendiary device into their armored M1114 High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV
).March 25th 2004, Fallujah.
A Humvee was burned and destroyed by a rioting mob after a shootout between Islamist terrorists and a U.S. Army convoy. March 28th 2004, Mosul.
Islamist terrorists fired two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) at a U.S. Army
Stryker armored vehicle as it patrolled a side street. Despite the Stryker's additional anti-RPG slat-armor, one RPG ignited the external 5-gallon fuel cans. The resulting fire and ammunition cook-off destroyed the vehicle, without injury to the occupants.
March 31st 2004, North of Fallujah.
|Stryker Vehicle: Fast Facts|
Stryker Vehicle (General Motors Defense, General Dynamics Land Systems)
Type of Equipment:
- Capable of speeds up to 62 mph
- Light enough to be transportable by C-130, C-5, C-141, and C-17 aircraft
- Basic frame can be configured into ten variants with different mission requirements
- Commonality of parts cuts down on maintenance
- Centralized tire inflation and deflation system helps vehicle adjust to different terrain
Hell on Wheels: The Stryker
Full Stryker Specifications
More Tanks & Ground Vehicles
An armored Humvee was up-ended by a powerful explosion, killing the five U.S. soldiers inside.
Is the Army's newest armored vehicle -- Stryker -- sufficiently well protected for duty in the dangerous neighborhoods of Iraq's
cities? Or should U.S. troops be riding in Vietnam-era Armored Personnel Carriers (APC)? Our troops are being killed and wounded as they patrol the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Fallujah, in soft-skinned unarmored or under-armored Humvees, trucks, and up-armored M1114 Humvees.
Terrorists in Iraq have adopted the tactic of throwing grenades through the windows of cars, SUVs and Humvees to kill the occupants before dousing them with fuel and setting them on fire. In an attempt to mitigate such a serious problem, the Army is beginning to up-armor Humvees, and medium and heavy trucks, by bolting or welding on armor plate and bullet resistant glass kits, at costs of up to $150,000 per vehicle (The Humvee itself costs around $62,000).
But the program will not be complete until 2005 at the earliest. In the spring of 2004, another part of the Army's solution was to deploy to Iraq the first of six Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT). The Stryker, a version of the General Motors Canada manufactured LAV III 8x8 Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) is an eight-wheeled armored vehicle designed to carry nine troopers in addition to a crew of two.
It certainly sounds like an improvement over the four-wheeled Humvee, so why is it mired in controversy, and why do the Stryker's opponents - who range from Vietnam
vets to some members of Congress - champion the forty-something-year-old M113 "Gavin" APC instead? First, we have to understand the Army's plan to revamp our forces to fight a three-dimensional war instead of the traditional two-dimensional format.
Shock and Maneuver
This requires rapid aerial deployment of mechanized armor to support ground troops. This Rapid Deployment concept of combining Infantry, Aviation, and Armor for shock and maneuver originated in Russia before WWII
and was later championed by US General James M. Gavin.
Jump forward thirty-four years and we come to [then] U.S. Army Chief of Staff (CSA) General Eric K. Shinseki's 1999 vision: "The Army will develop the capability to put combat forces in Brigade Combat Teams anywhere in the world ninety-six hours after liftoff for both stability and support operations, and for warfighting. We will build that capability into a momentum that generates a warfighting Division on the ground in 120 hours and five Divisions in thirty days."
For the Shinseki Initiative to become a reality the Army must be able to transport a large number of armored vehicles and their troops and support infrastructure rapidly by air to almost any location in the world. This requires a fleet of U.S. Air Force C-130 tactical airlift aircraft. It also requires fighting vehicles that are armored heavily enough to survive on the battlefields of the world, be it jungle, desert, temperate forests, or urban settings, and that the vehicle must be able to roll into combat directly from the aircraft. This last requirement means that the vehicle has to fit into a C-130
without having to be partially disassembled.
Does the Stryker have enough protection to ward off terrorist anti-tank RPGs?
Back to Iraq. Who is our enemy and how do they fight? In places like Fallujah, our enemy seems to be largely a mix of Iraqi and non-Iraqi, anti-coalition Islamist militants, former regime holdouts, and common criminals. Followers of Shiite Muslim Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have attacked occupying troops in Baghdad and Najaf. Other enemies include politically motivated insurgents from countries like Syria and Iran.
As Mao said: "A terrorist is a fish in a sea of humanity." In Iraq, Islamist terrorists organize crowds of supporters to surround an army or civilian vehicle, and then attack it with grenades or incendiary devices, sometimes turning it over. The ubiquitous RPG-7 is often used to fire on Army and coalition patrols as they drive through narrow streets and similar choke points.
Since it first appeared in 1962, the Soviet designed hand held RPG-7V (Ruchnoi Protivotankovy Granatomyot) Rocket-propelled Anti-Tank Grenade Launcher has appeared in almost every war zone in the world from Vietnam in the 1960's, to Afghanistan in the 1980's, to Iraq in 2004. The launcher is simplicity itself, comprising a tube with forward mounted pistol grip and trigger assembly, second handgrip, and a stadiametric optical sight.
The rocket or booster motor section of the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fits inside the launcher tube while the warhead protrudes from the muzzle of the weapon. This feature allows warheads with various diameters greater than the bore size of the launcher to be used.
To load and fire the RPG typically takes a two-man team comprising the operator and his Assistant Gunner (AG). After firing, the team will quickly relocate to another firing position before the heavy cloud of smoke from the launch gives away their position. Teams who fail to shoot 'n scoot often don't live long enough to regret it. The RPG is simple enough for almost anyone to use, and for its size and portability packs a huge wallop. And thanks to Saddam there are lots of them in Iraq.
The innards of the M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier.
Unofficially known as the "Gavin" after WWII General James M. Gavin, a longtime proponent of Airborne Warfare, the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier
(APC) is a tracked vehicle designed in the late '50s to carry troops and supplies cross-country over rough terrain, along highways at higher speeds, and on amphibious operations in lakes and rivers. The latest version of the M113 Family Of Vehicles (FOV) is the A3, equipped with the RISE (Reliability Improvements for Selected Equipment) package.
This features an improved drive train with 275 HP turbocharged Detroit Diesel 6V53T, upgraded electrics, new power brakes, and conventional steering controls which allow the vehicle to turn in its own length by making one track turn forward while the other track turns in reverse (neutral steer).
The M113A3's fuel tanks have been relocated externally to the rear of the vehicle giving an additional sixteen cubic feet of space inside while also reducing the risk of fire in the crew compartment. Composite Spall suppression liners for additional crew protection are fitted inside the lightweight aircraft aluminum armored hull.
An additional (14.5mm thick) bolt-on armor kit is available.
This is not your father's M113. The M113 cannot be driven if it breaks a track. Emerging Band Track technology would replace the segmented metal tracks with a continuous steel reinforced rubber band - think of it as a single steel belted radial tire stretched over the sprockets.
The Band track is only 50% the weight of a traditional steel segmented track, which translates to better acceleration and braking, lasts about 4000 miles, reduces noise and vibration, and creates less wear and tear on roads. There is little or no maintenance, although changing the band in the field takes longer than the standard track. One drawback to rubber, however, is that it burns just like tires. The Gavin's original manufacturer, United Defense Corp (formally United Defense Limited Partnership), has prototypes of modernized hybrid (electro-mechanical) M113A4 Gavins that are even more capable than the A3.
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The current Gavin is small and light enough to be transported in a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft; it is also amphibious, and can be air-dropped onto the battlefield. The Army's Modernization Plan requires computerized communications and data transfer systems to enable battle command on the move. The current M113A3 digitization program will apply installation kits for hardware and software into the A3's by 2006 to bring them in line with other vehicles.
There are approximately 13,000 Gavins in the Army's Operational Inventory, of which about 3-4000 are A3s. The M113 is much cheaper than the Stryker, which means the Army can put more of them in country quickly. Some strategists advocate more technologically complex vehicles like the Stryker, with advanced electronic communications packages even if the high cost dictates that fewer of these vehicles will be available to go into battle.
But in the Normandy campaign of WWII, the technically superior German Panzer V Panther and Tiger tanks were overwhelmed by the large numbers of less capable U.S. Sherman tanks. On the other hand, Operation Desert Storm demonstrated how well a technically superior tank, the M1 Abrams
, could do against massed groups of Iraqi T62
tanks. The Stryker
The U.S. Army defines the Stryker's mission as: "[To] fulfill an immediate requirement in the Army's current transformation process to equip a strategically deployable (C-17
) and operationally deployable (C-130) brigade capable of rapid movement anywhere on the globe in a combat ready configuration. The armored wheeled vehicle is designed to enable the Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) to maneuver more easily in close and urban terrain while providing protection in open terrain."
The Stryker specializes in speed and stealth.
Modeled after the Light Armored Vehicle-3 (LAV), the Stryker comes in two main variants: Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) and Mobile Gun System (MGS). All vehicles are equipped with a central tire inflation system. The ICV has a Kongsberg Remote Weapon Station with four M6 smoke grenade launchers and a universal soft mount cradle for either a MK240 7.62mm belt-fed machine gun, .50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine gun, or a MK19 40mm Grenade Launcher.
A digital communications system - the FBCB2 (Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below) allows vehicle commanders to communicate with each other and with the Battalion using text messaging and a video map system where commanders can mark enemy positions on the map for the other commanders to see. This "tactical internet" utilizes a Raytheon AN/TSQ-158 Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS).
The commander can also access seven M45 periscopes and a combination video camera and thermal imaging display screen. The driver has access to a Raytheon AN/VAS-5 Driver's Vision Enhancer (DVE) and three M17 periscopes. In Iraq the Strykers are being fitted with add-on slat-armor for protection against RPG attack.
The slats are designed to detonate an incoming warhead before it contacts the vehicle's half-inch thick steel hull. But there is a limit to how much weight (armor) can be added to a wheeled vehicle before it begins to sink into soft terrain such as sand or mud. At 38,000LBS the Stryker is 11,000LBS heavier than the M113A3. This is due in part to the basic design of the armored vehicle, which requires wheels, axles, suspension, and a transmission.
The hull is fabricated from steel instead of aircraft aluminum - as used in the M113 - and this also adds to the weight. Space must be provided for the front wheels to turn in order to steer, and for all the wheels to travel up and down on the independent suspension. This prevents the use of armored skirts to protect the wheels from incoming ordnance, which means that the areas of the hull behind the wheels are vulnerable.
Oddly enough, while the South Africans fielded various armored vehicles in the '70s and '80s such as the Casspir and Wolf, both of which had a v-shaped armored hull to deflect the blast from driving over a land mine, the floor of the Stryker's hull is flat. Critics charge that the Stryker's additional weight also prevents it from meeting the Army's requirement of being transportable by C-130 where it can be immediately driven off the aircraft in a battle-ready condition, including its full complement of crew and troops. Lightly Armored
Although faster than the M113 APC, the Stryker has been criticized by some as being too lightly armored, unable to cope with tough terrain, and too expensive. Contrast that opinion with the vehicle's performance in Summer of 2002 at The National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California, during the Millennium Challenge. Four Strykers with their infantry detachments deployed to Ft. Irwin by C-130. Each vehicle was unloaded and prepared for action in less than twenty minutes.
In this exercise, and others like it at the National Training Center, various army units are pitted against other army units known as Opposing Force (OPFOR) that have been specially trained and equipped to simulate the battle tactics of some of our potential enemies. This is what the OPFOR force had to say about the Strykers: "The Stryker went places at greater speeds, quieter, with more agility than any vehicle the OPFOR has ever encountered. We had to adjust our tactics."
Speed and Stealth are two of the Stryker's strengths. It is best suited to fast travel on open highways and unrestricted terrain. In restricted terrain and the urban setting of buildings, narrow streets and alleys it loses its advantage. It's overall length and turning radius can often require many forwards and backwards movements in order to negotiate a ninety-degree turn in a narrow street.
Even the M1 Abrams Main battle tank is somewhat vulnerable to attack in such an environment. Unlike the M113, the Stryker's remote weapons station and camera system does allow the gunner to fire from within the vehicle rather than having to expose himself to incoming rounds. But the remote weapon station is handicapped by its narrow field of view and slow slew rate (the camera takes up to 60 seconds to rotate through 360 degrees) to scope the area in all directions. Multiple RPG shooters in a concerted attack from different directions could get off several rounds before the camera can pick up the first attacker. In its APC configuration, the Stryker is really a lightly armored bus or taxi to take troops to the front line. But on a non-linear battlefield like Iraq there is no front line and every building or alley may be hiding a tango with an RPG. Is the Stryker better than an up armored Humvee? Probably. It doesn't have open windows through which grenades or Molotov Cocktails can be thrown or dropped. It may be equipped with slat armor for some level of protection against RPGs.
It has twice the number of wheels that a Humvee has, and it is less likely to be tipped over by a crowd. In order to provide some safety in numbers, Humvees typically patrol in groups of four or more, a wise precaution for any lightly armored vehicle in an Iraqi city.
Is the M113 APC the answer? Not entirely. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) can, if it is big enough, and placed appropriately (particularly directly underneath) blow off a wheel or a track, leaving the crew immobilized in their vehicle. However, in at least one instance in Iraq, a Stryker has continued to maneuver on the remaining seven wheels. We are talking here about increasing the odds of surviving, not eliminating the risk altogether. So where should the Army spend $3.3 million? Buy one Stryker, convert eight M113A2 Gavins to M113A3, or up armor twenty-two Humvees?
The Stryker does have an obvious reconnaissance or support role on hard roads and trails, and where the terrain is fairly open and not too extreme. In fact, the Marine Corps
limits its LAVs to a reconnaissance role. Incidentally, due to unforeseen transmission problems, Strykers will eventually undergo a planned $111 million refurbishment.
With its sophisticated communications systems and high speed, the Stryker can transmit battlefield intel rapidly and haul ass out of hotspots. But its armor has been criticized as being too thin, and any additions will just add to the problem of trying to deploy it by C-130, which was the original requirement stipulated by General Shinseki.
So is the Stryker better than the M113 in Iraq? Or has it been deployed to a theater of operations that may become increasingly unforgiving, in a peacekeeping role to which it may be unsuited? John Higgs is a graduate of Gunsite, DTI and Yavapai firarms schools and is an NRA firearms instructor.