- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

The Army’s new state-of-the art infantry vehicle slated to make its combat debut in Iraq in October is vulnerable to the kind of rocket-propelled grenades now being used by Saddam Hussein’s guerrillas, a consultant’s report charges.

The Army, which rebuts the report’s findings, plans to send 300 Stryker armored vehicles and 3,600 soldiers to Iraq. This first Stryker brigade will help put down the resistance that has killed more 60 American troopers since May 1. It will also be a preview of a lighter, more mobile Army for the 21st century.

But a report prepared for Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, says the vehicle is ill-suited for such warfare.

“Poorly armored and entirely vulnerable to RPGs,” states the glossy, 108-page report prepared July 18 by consultant Victor O’Reilly.

An Army spokesman, however, said the Strykers are being fitted with added armor. This will “drastically increase their protection against kinetic energy weapons and increase RPG protection,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Barger, spokesman for 1st Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash., where the brigade is being developed.

As part of an accelerated development, the Army did not require Strykers to immediately feature anti-RPG armor. The brigade going to Iraq is now being fitted with slat armor. It works like a big catcher’s mask, stopping a grenade before it reaches the Stryker’s main body, thus keeping the explosion at a distance. Eventually, the Strykers will be fitted with more permanent armor now being tested.

The Stryker has successfully passed live-fire tests against rifle and machine-gun fire. The slat armor system has also shown in tests that it protects against grenade blasts.

Mr. O’Reilly, who said he did the report at his own expense, says even with the added armor the Stryker’s top and wheel wells are susceptible to RPGs that could kill all 13 soldiers inside the Stryker’s infantry carrier version.

The Pentagon this year signed off on a plan to procure enough Stryker vehicles to equip the first four of six brigades, which would become the vanguard of a lighter, quicker deploying Army. Despite Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s program approval, a number of Stryker skeptics remain within the active Army, and among former soldiers and members of Congress.

None is more vocal than Mr. Saxton, a House Armed Services Committee member. He succeeded during debate on next year’s defense budget to “fence” $300 million in procurement funds until the Army answers operational questions.

Mr. Saxton fears the Stryker is not only vulnerable to RPG fire, but is also overweight and cannot easily fit into a C-130 transport plane — a feat that is supposed to be one of its best selling points.

The Stryker is actually a family of 10 vehicles that gets around on wheels, not the traditional rolling tracks. They include the infantry carrier vehicle, the mobile gun system, the anti-tank guided missile, the mortar carrier and the reconnaissance vehicle.

After the Army took weeks to deploy a relatively small Apache helicopter unit on the Kosovo border in 1999, Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the chief of staff, moved to lighten the force. One of his answers was to develop a family of light, wheeled vehicles that eventually became the Stryker family.

Mr. O’Reilly’s report, “Stryker Brigades Versus the Reality of War,” is being circulated on Capitol Hill and among the active force and retirement community. Among his conclusions on the eight-wheel, 20-ton infantry carrier version:

• “Poorly armored and entirely vulnerable to RPGs.”

• “Wheels & wells extremely vulnerable to small arms.”

• “Bought to be C-130 deployable but too heavy.”

Mr. O’Reilly is an author and counterterrorism authority who has written about military affairs. He said much of his information on Stryker comes from within the Army itself.

“I have a passion for the Army, and when I see it going in the wrong direction, I get upset,” he said. He said the Stryker is fine for light peacekeeping duty and policing, but he contends it is too vulnerable for land combat.

Col. Barger, the Army spokesman, rebutted these criticisms. He ticked off a list of Stryker tests and exercises. These included loading the system on the C-130 and C-17 transport planes, as well as on ships and trains. The vehicle also has cleared readiness training at Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La.

“For the past three weeks, in California’s barren Mojave Desert, the Stryker Brigade Combat Team proved its speed, versatility and lethality against a world-class opposing force at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin,” an Army press release said earlier this month.

Built by General Dynamics, the Stryker is designed as a medium-weight armored system to fill the gap between light infantry units such as the 82nd Airborne Division and heavy armored units that can take weeks to get to battle.

“It does fit on a C-130,” said Kendall Pease, vice president of communications for General Dynamics in Falls Church. “It’s been on a C-130. They have deployed it on exercises in a C-130. It fits. It meets all the requirements that the Air Force has given. Yes, it’s true that it is fast, mobile, survivable, deployable and lethal. It meets all the expectations of the young soldiers that are required to use it in battle.”

Gen. John Keane, the Army vice chief of staff, told reporters last month that the Iraq-bound Stryker brigade faced “the toughest opponent our forces have ever faced” at combat training centers. “We’ve put them through their paces and they’re ready to go,” he said.

The Army plans to buy 2,100 vehicles, enough to put about 300 in each brigade. Mr. O’Reilly says it will cost between $12 billion and $15 billion to equip six brigades. The Pentagon has funded the first three and made a down payment on the fourth. The Stryker is a pathway to the Army’s ultimate transformation goal: a family of high-tech vehicles and aircraft called the Future Combat System.

The objective is to get a Stryker brigade any place in the world in four days. But a June General Accounting Office report said that benchmark is not being met.

The GAO credited the Army with reducing the logistics load, as compared with a 68-ton M-1A1 tank. “However, meeting the 4-day worldwide deployment goal of a brigade-size force would require more airlift than may be possible to allocate to these brigades; at present, it would take from 5 to 14 days, depending on destination.”

The Army announced last month it was sending the first Stryker unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis to Iraq.

The Stryker unit will join the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in October. The regiment will leave Iraq in April and May, leaving the Stryker Brigade in Iraq until October 2004.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely said he has been following development of the Stryker for several years.

“It’s been a very controversial issue,” said the Fox News military analyst in an interview. “This report really calls in to question whether this is the combat vehicle for the Army in the future.”

Gen. Vallely said the Stryker seems designed more for peacekeeping operations than for combat. He noted that the Army still has not decided what size gun to deploy on the Mobile Gun System variant.

“The other thing is that it does not appear to be as efficient and effective as a tracked vehicle in combat operations,” said Gen. Vallely, an infantryman. “It is also very vulnerable to [rocket-propelled grenades] and sniper fire at its wheels.”

Gen. Vallely said retired Gen. Shinseki initially wanted the 19-ton Stryker to be lighter and more mobile than current combat vehicles.

“But it’s a heavier vehicle and harder to move than what is required for very speedy mobility and transportability to areas of combat operations,” he said.

Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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