- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The Stryker combat vehicle destined for Iraq next month is being reinforced with thousands of steel plates after new Army testing showed some of its ceramic armor failed when shot at by heavy machine guns.

Workers for prime contractor General Dynamics Corp. are attaching nearly 6,000 of the steel plates to bolster certain sections of the 132-tiled surface of the family of Strykers, the Army’s showcase system for its 21st century transformation.

The Army began the 11th-hour testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland earlier this month, and said it had discovered that the ceramic armor’s manufacturer, the German firm IBD, had been sending “non-standard” tiles. The armor did not fit specifications for one of three reasons: the wrong size; a different chemical mix; or was made by a subcontractor not approved by General Dynamics and the Army.

An Army official yesterday called the entire incident a “pain,” but said all the Strykers will meet survivability standards before they leave Fort Lewis, Wash., next month for Iraq. The contract calls for the Stryker to repel anything up to a 14.5 mm round.

By adding steel plates where needed, “We now have assurance we have 14.5 mm protection,” said Col. Mike Cannon, assistant deputy for systems management at Army headquarters in the Pentagon. The test ended at Aberdeen Sunday.

Kendall Pease, vice president for communications at General Dynamics in Falls Church, said more than 20 two-man teams are now at Fort Lewis affixing the steel, at the corporation’s cost. “This vehicle is designed to provide fast, mobile, lethal, deployable transportation for the troops and that’s exactly what it’s going to do,” Mr. Pease said.

The Stryker family of infantry, gun, mortar, reconnaissance and other type vehicles is the Army’s first major step toward creating a lighter, more mobile force. It plans six brigades of 3,600 soldiers and some 300 vehicles, costing about $12 billion. The 1st Brigade going to Iraq by ship will have 309 Strykers.

The Stryker has attracted an array of critics, including lawmakers and retired generals who say it is too heavy and vulnerable to enemy fire. But the Army has persevered in winning budget approval.

The problem arose last winter, when the Army discovered ceramic tiles provided by IBD were not the right size. In the summer, technicians X-rayed samples and found conformation problems.

The Army selected 39 tiles representing each category of tiles deemed “nonstandard.”

Of the 39, 27 qualified against machine gun fire. Seven failed. Another five were deemed failures before testing because they were of the same configuration as the seven. The 12 failures represented a total of 5,800 tiles on 309 vehicles — 14 percent of a total 40,788 tiles — that must be reinforced with steel plates.

IBD issued a statement last week defending its techniques. It said: “In a large program such as the Stryker, the production of armor is an iterative process that often requires numerous tests and adjustments to the original design before it is accepted into service. … We are confident that people who understand this process realize that the IBD 14.5 armor is a sound design.”

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