It was distressing to open yesterday’s Washington Times, a newspaper that I believe provides some of the best coverage in the country of defense issues, and find an article on the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle full of inaccuracies, half truths and just plain silliness. It would not warrant a comment here were the issues not so serious and the criticisms so misdirected.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) pose a continuing, serious threat to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon is sending in modified MRAPs and the so-called MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) as fast as they become available. There are multiple systems deployed to detect and neutralize IEDS. But, as the article rightly points out, some Taliban IEDs weigh as much as 2,000 lbs. There is no vehicle in the world, be it a tank, MRAP, M-ATV or Stryker, that could survive such an attack.
It is understandable that soldiers who have known only Strykers and who have seen some vehicles destroyed would have anxiety about their safety. But the Stryker has a better survivability record than all but the most heavily armored vehicles in the U.S. inventory. Moreover, it has growth potential, including for counter-IED technologies that the others do not. The Stryker’s speed and maneuverability gives it an advantage compared to slower but more heavily-armored vehicles against other threats such as rocket-propelled grenades.
To buttress its assertion that the Stryker is inadequate to the job in Afghanistan, the article quotes retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor. What does Macgregor suggest as an answer? He says we need a tracked vehicle that mounts a large gun; in other words a tank. That’s just what you don’t need in Afghanistan with its poor roads, weak bridges and narrow village streets. His big gun could fire a round in one side of an Afghan village and out the other. How many vulnerable fuel trucks that cannot go off road will be required to support all those tanks Macgregor wants to deploy? Just try to sneak up on the Taliban in a noisy, slow, heavy armored vehicle.
To accept at face value Macgregor’s assertion that the United States should follow the Canadian example of deploying 40-ton Leopard II main battle tanks to Afghanistan is to demonstrate complete ignorance about the vehicle, the terrain of that country, the missions of our forces in Afghanistan or the nature of the Canadian deployment there. The Leopard can carry three people including a commander and a driver, leaving room for one passenger. So what do all the other Canadian soldiers do, walk? A little fact checking by the Times would have uncovered the fact that the majority of the Canadian armored vehicles in Afghanistan today are variants of the Piranha wheeled vehicle which — what a surprise — is the basic platform from which the much maligned Stryker is derived.
The reporter who wrote this story would have served the interests of the soldiers she interviewed and theTimes readership better is she stopped even for a moment to wonder why, with all the resources being expended on the IED defeat mission, that they still constitute such a problem. Instead of focusing on the not unreasonable anxiety of our soldiers in harms way about the vulnerability of their vehicles to IEDs, the reporter could have asked such questions as why is there not adequate ISR, something mentioned by one of her sources? Or why aren’t there robots operating out ahead of our convoys? The Army has demonstrated an unmanned version of the Stryker which could be deployed to Afghanistan today. Or how about this question: why isn’t the Army moving to fund the Stryker modernization program that would dramatically improve that vehicle’s survivability against the IED threat?
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