The Stryker vehicle has adapted to the fast-evolving warfare of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Birdcage-like slat armor was added early on to lessen damage from rocket-propelled grenades. Heating coils on a pole jut from the nose of the vehicle to set off heat-sensitive bombs. Sniper screens create a canopy and protect the gunners.
But the largest change yet could come with the introduction of a double-V-shaped hull, which an Army acquisition official wrote could give the Stryker the same survivability rates as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
The new hulls also should lower the center of gravity, reducing the chance of a rollover, General Dynamics officials say.
In an internal Pentagon memo dated March 2 and obtained by The News Tribune, acting Army acquisition executive Dean G. Popps asked the Department of Defense to allow for the production of about 450 Strykers with the new hull design for “urgent operational needs in Afghanistan.”
“The double V-hull design has shown promise of significant performance improvement,” Popps wrote.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee, told The News Tribune he thinks there’s a good chance the military will adapt the new technology.
“I think the idea of having more protection for the soldiers is very good, and it’s something that we’d obviously support,” the Belfair Democrat said.
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, testified at a Senate hearing March 3 that such a change should be coming soon.
“I can’t tell exactly how long it’s going to take, because we’re in the early design stages of it,” he said. “But we are moving rapidly to get it built, tested and into the hands of the forces.”
The new hull was already a part of the Stryker modernization program, which began in 2008 and will develop the next generation of vehicles with improved survivability, power, suspension and mobility.
Such improvements include a more powerful engine, an upgraded suspension system to carry a 60,000-pound payload, larger tires and a new braking system. The vehicles’ computers and communications also would get upgrades.
An Army spokesman did not return calls for information about any cost increases associated with the modernized Strykers.
The modernized vehicles are supposed to be in the field within the next eight years, according to an unclassified briefing from last October.
The military, meanwhile, appears sold on the Stryker vehicle for the future.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a big-picture report issued every four years, called for the conversion of a heavy brigade into an eighth Stryker brigade by the 2013 fiscal year. Military officials have indicated they would like to stand up a ninth Stryker brigade as well.
A widely released draft version of the Quadrennial Defense Review called for as many as six more Stryker brigades. That idea likely ran up against proponents of the Ground Combat Vehicle, the Army’s next generation of infantry fighting vehicles that should be fielded by 2017.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, said he thinks the Stryker vehicle is the right system for the Army today and into the future. But the idea of nearly doubling the number of Stryker brigades seems like an overreach to him.
“Going out five, 10 years in the distance and saying we’re going to build six new Stryker brigades – there are just too many variables at this point to make that big of a commitment,” said Smith, who chairs the House armed services’ air and land forces subcommittee with oversight into many Pentagon weapons programs.