Article published in Defense News
A new century requires a new military. This is what the transformation of the U.S. Army is about. Within a few decades, the U.S. Army will be almost unrecognizable. The key first step in this transformation is a new, lightweight, wheeled combat vehicle with the unusual name, the Stryker. The Stryker is the name of the medium-weight armored vehicle intended to be a bridge between the Army of 70 ton main battle tanks and the light forces such as the 82 Airborne.
The choice of a wheeled vehicle for the Stryker sent a shock wave through an Army that had relied almost exclusively on tracked armored vehicles for more than fifty years. The Stryker can move faster than tracked vehicles, consumes less fuel, requires fewer man-hours of repair, needs a smaller logistical support base, and is more flexible in the complex terrain that is fast becoming the Army’s new battlefield. At one-half to one-third the weight of existing armored vehicles, Stryker-equipped units can be moved using fewer transport aircraft. Equally important, its size and weight means that the Stryker can be transported by C-130 tactical transports ready to enter combat when it arrives.
. The Stryker will be deployed in eight variants, including a 105mm mobile gun system. The current plan is to procure more than 2,000 of the 18 to 20 ton vehicle over the next few years to equip six strategically mobile and tactically agile brigade combat teams. These brigades will provide commanders in the field with a new capability to rapidly deploy medium-weight, mobile units that have real combat power. These new units will possess the mobility of Army light infantry with greatly enhanced the survivability and fighting power. With the Stryker, the Army will be able to deploy a fully effective medium-weight combat brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours and a full division in five days.
These new units will also drive a transformation of the Army’s culture, tradition and doctrine. The new doctrine is based on the realization that in many future scenarios there will be no secure base of operations, no time for a build-up of forces, and possibly no-force-on-force engagement. The Army of the future will need to be fast and maneuverable, able to seize a base of operations, operate with a minimum of infrastructure and support, and engage a broad range of potential adversaries, often in complex environments. Stryker-equipped brigades will enable the Army’s vision of a non-linear battlefield on which it will outmaneuver its less agile adversaries.
The war in Afghanistan demonstrated the wisdom of the Army’s decision to acquire a fleet of lightweight, agile, wheeled vehicles. When the Marines deployed to Camp Rhino, they brought with them a number of wheeled combat vehicles. The Marines were able to block the movement of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces and even drive north to Kandahar and seize its airport. These proved to be highly effective in the difficult terrain of southern Afghanistan. The Army, lacking an equivalent unit equipped with light vehicle, was restricted in its ability to maneuver once on the ground.
The Army’s problem is about to change. Some 200 Strykers have already been delivered and the first Stryker-equipped units are undergoing field trials. In recent exercises in the United State, the Stryker demonstrated that it could be readily transported on C-130 aircraft. On the ground, Stryker companies moved through otherwise impassable terrain, successfully engaging hostile armored forces and achieving their objectives by relying on speed, maneuverability and stealthiness.
Despite these successes, a serious effort is underway to kill the Stryker program. Initially it came in the form of a smear campaign in which false and misleading information was about the Stryker was leaked to the media. When the real story came out, opponents then switched to an attack on the process by which the Army selected the Stryker and the official requirement for a medium weight vehicle. This is not only an effort to do away with the program but to discredit the U.S. Army as well.
Opponents of the Stryker would take the Army backwards. Going backwards means that a combat commander needing to put forces on the ground rapidly would face a choice between light units that are mobile but not survivable or heavy units that are survivable but very slow to reach the fight and require massive logistical support. As the nation continues to prosecute the global war on terrorism and faces the possibility of a major conflict with Iraq, it cannot afford old thinking. The combat commander needs units able to fight a new kind of war. It needs the Stryker.
– Dr. Daniel Goure is Vice President of the Lexington Institute.
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