- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

The Army has been forced to conduct a new round of live-fire tests on its Stryker infantry vehicle headed for Iraq, after learning a German company had delivered armor plating not previously approved.

The tests against rounds from heavy machine guns began Labor Day weekend at the Aberdeen, Md., Proving Ground. At least one sample ceramic tile — which makes up the Stryker’s exterior armor to protect soldiers inside — failed, Army officials said.

The problem arose last winter when the Germany firm I.B.D., which makes the ceramic armor called Mexus 2, changed the way it manufactured the tiles, but did not tell the Army. The change meant the company was sending different types of tiles that had not been certified as bullet-resistant by the Army.

Further tests and X-rays this summer confirmed the abnormality. Army officials told The Washington Times last week the tiles are of a “nonstandard confirmation” in three areas: ceramic ingredients were changed by I.B.D.; the sizes of some tiles differ from the original design and/or, a manufacturer was chosen by I.B.D. without prior approval by General Dynamics Corp., the Stryker’s prime contractor.

While Army officials told The Times they will not send any vehicles to Iraq until they meet required protection levels, news of the armor problem will surely feed the Stryker’s numerous critics. Retired officers and some lawmakers contend the vehicle already is susceptible to rocket-propelled grenades, such as the ones used with deadly effect by Saddam Hussein guerrillas in Iraq.

The Stryker stands as the Army’s most important transformation program. It symbolizes an attempt to meet Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s goal of a lighter, quicker-deploying Army to meet 21st century threats. The Pentagon has approved the first four of a planned six Stryker brigades of some 300 vehicles and 3,800 soldiers each. A Stryker brigade is scheduled to make its combat debut in Iraq next month as part of the Army’s complex plan to rotate troops in and out of the post-Saddam country.

The Army is subjecting 39 ceramic tiles to machine gun fire. Each tile represents a category of tile that, because of I.B.D. changes, did not meet Army specifications. As of Friday, the Army had tested 11 of the 39, with one getting a failing grade because a round was able to penetrate it.

The Army will fix that side-panel tile by either reinforcing it with a steel plate on each Stryker or replacing it altogether with newer tiles from the I.B.D. assembly line. The Army has shipped steel plates to Fort Lewis, Wash., where the brigade is based, just in case the steel-plate option is chosen.

“We will fix anything we find wrong with those vehicles before they leave the United States,” said an Army official at the Pentagon. Each vehicle is fitted with 132 ceramic tiles. The Army requires each Stryker to withstand up to a 14.5 millimeter round.

Kendall Pease, vice president for communications at General Dynamics in Fairfax, said the company and the Army are jointly working with I.B.D. to rectify the tiles.

Mr. Pease said that just because some tiles have been judged not compliant with the contract does not mean they do not provide the needed protection. He noted that of the 11 tested so far, 10 met specifications of 14.5 mm protection.

“We’re just as concerned as the Army because protection of our soldiers is paramount and we are working closely with the subcontractor and with the Army to ensure they’re protected,” he said.

Mr. Pease said that, next to the 70-ton M1A1 tank, the Stryker will provide the best protection of any vehicle in Iraq. He said some critics have the wrong idea of what the Stryker is supposed to do.

“This is not a tank,” he said. “The mission of this is to carry troops. The alternative to this is troops marching, and people keep forgetting this. This is an infantry carrier vehicle, with variants, to supply support for those troops when they go into battle. The soldiers come out of this vehicle fresh and ready to fight.”

The armor problem comes as an author and military consultant is circulating a report in which he asserts that the Stryker has a number of operational shortcomings and that it should not be inserted into a combat zone. Victor O’Reilly, who wrote the report for Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, said the Stryker’s wheel wells are particularly vulnerable targets.

General Dynamics counters that all vehicles have some vulnerability to rocket-propelled grenades. Once in Iraq, each Stryker will be fitted with slat armor — sort of a big catcher’s mask — to deflect grenades.

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