- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

This is the second in an occasional series of editorials on the state of the American military.

The roll-out of the 1,000th Stryker vehicle in Anniston, Ala., went mostly unnoticed in Washington three weeks ago, which is not surprising. But the inattention obscured a measuring point of sorts for the Army’s ongoing transformation and restructuring, and should inform congressional thinking about the $25 billion boost for the Army in the Pentagon’s 2006 spending request, headed shortly for consideration.

The transformation underway is touted in military circles as “the most significant Army restructuring in the past 50 years.” Rightly so. The Army is breaking its divisions down into smaller, more agile combat units, and will soon scrap the division as an organizational concept and downsize armor, artillery and air defense. That’s what the $25 billion is to pay for, as well as staffing the new units with more military police and civil affairs and psychological-operations specialists.

Military analysts emphasize the necessity to build more agile and adaptable forces for the war on terror and beyond, something the Iraq campaign has demonstrated as crucial. The Stryker — the Army’s first new land-combat vehicle in 20 years — is a key part of that effort. The new “modular” Army centers in large part on it. The performance of the Stryker gives a glimpse of how the Army is moving toward its goals. The five new Stryker brigades the Army will field by 2007 will constitute a third or more of the 10 to 15 new active-duty brigades the Army intends to create by then.

Few commanders in Iraq have filed complaints about the 300 or so Stryker vehicles deployed there over the last year. Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker calls their performance “extraordinary.” The Government Accountability Office reviewed Strykers last year and found them to have significant firepower capabilities and good mobility, and that they meet survivability requirements. Iraqis call them “ghost riders” because they appear from nowhere with little noise or warning. Soldiers are pleased with the gadgetry and they’re impressed with the safety features. Strykers are lighter, faster, quieter and more mobile than tanks, have better intelligence capabilities and are designed to utilize the element of surprise. The Humvee was the occasion of the dramatic exchange between a complaining Tennessee National Guardsmen and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in December, but nobody has made such a complaint about the Strykers.

Strykers are not perfect, of course. They’re not deployable within 96 hours, as had been hoped, because their weight limits the range of the C-130 aircraft transporting them. They also cost more than expected. But Strykers are helping to shape the Army into the smart and agile force envisioned by Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Schoomaker. They’re a step toward what Col. Douglas Macgregor advocated in his seminal 1997 book, “Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the Twenty-First Century,” which called for reorganizing the Army into mobile and agile combat groups of 4,000 to 5,000 men.

Some items in the 2006 spending request will get past Congress only with difficulty, if at all, like the large cuts to prized Navy and Air Force weaponry. Where weapons are manufactured is important to certain congressmen, too.

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