Remember the legend of the Phoenix, the mythical creature that is consumed on its own funeral pyre only to be born anew and rise again from the ashes? A new Phoenix has arisen in the Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2004 defense budget. This creature is the Stryker, the U.S. Army’s new medium-weight armored vehicle system. Despite persistent reports that the program was in trouble and would be cancelled or cut back, the new defense budget provides initially for four brigades. Additional funds are programmed in the FYDP for two more brigades. Perhaps the Army should consider renaming the Stryker the Phoenix?
>From the time the U.S. Army made its decision to procure the wheeled Stryker in November 2000, opponents sought to destroy the program on a bonfire of lies, half-truths and innuendoes. First it was the allegation that the Army’s evaluation process that led it to choose a wheeled vehicle over a traditional tracked platform was unfair. Second, there was the story that the Stryker’s armor was inadequate to defeat 14.7mm rounds. Third, the rumor started that the Mobile Gun System variant couldn’t use standard 105mm ammunition. Finally, there was the accusation that the Stryker was too heavy and large to be carried in a C-130.
In each case, the rumors and misrepresentations were rapidly shown to be false. The Army even had to load a Stryker on a C-130 and fly it to Washington to demonstrate that the vehicle is transportable. Where a problem did exist, as in the case of the Stryker’s armor, the solution was already being implemented even as critical reports were appearing in the press.
Not only did the Stryker defy its critics, it met virtually all the expectations of its supporters. In Millennium Challenge, the massive joint exercise conducted last year by Joint Forces Command, a company of Stryker vehicles demonstrated a unique combination of mobility, agility and situational awareness. The ability to move across difficult terrain at high speed is one of the most important characteristics of the Stryker that was demonstrated in this exercise. Overall, the Army demonstrated the value of a mixed force of both traditional, heavy, tracked tanks and APCs and also new, mobile, wheeled medium-weight wheeled vehicles.
The entry of the Stryker into the Army’s inventory may have come none to soon in view of the multiple crises confronting the United States. The Army has begun to convert the first of its new medium-weight units, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry division. With the possibility of U.S. ground forces being deployed into Northern Iraq in the event of war, there could be the opportunity for an important early demonstration of the Stryker’s effectiveness in combat. Even a battalion of medium-weight vehicles could add substantially to the combat power of light U.S. forces such as the 101st Air Mobile Division, if that unit were deployed into Iraq.
The success of the Stryker should be appreciated as a demonstration of the Army’s determination to innovate. The decision to move ahead with at least four, and more likely six, medium-weight brigades will provide the Army with both real capability and a stepping-stone towards the Objective Force. It is also a vindication of General Eric Shinseki’s vision of Army Transformation. Come to think of it, isn’t the Phoenix legend a metaphor for transformation? The Stryker, like the Phoenix, is transformational.
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