It was supposed to be a temporary fix until the Future Combat System (FCS) was ready for deployment. In fact, the Stryker was initially called the “Interim Armored Vehicle.” It wasn’t even a new design. The Stryker is based on an existing vehicle, the Piranha, designed by the Swiss company MOAG and later adopted by Canada as the LAV III. Yet, today the FCS is only a painful memory while the Army has acquired some 4,000 Strykers and will shortly stand up its 9th Stryker brigade combat team. The Stryker proved its worth in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the new double V hull variant is demonstrating that it is possible to have both survivability and maneuverability in a single platform. The Stryker is also a candidate to replace at least a portion of the obsolescent M-113 fleet in the Army’s heavy brigade combat teams (BCTs).
The character of the Stryker BCT also has had a lot to do with the program’s success. Stryker BCTs had three maneuver brigades rather than the standard two as well as a lot of enablers. These features turned out to be extremely useful in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Stryker BCT is that medium-weight formation that could be employed across the spectrum of missions with greater inherent flexibility than standard infantry or heavy BCTs.
Why is it that a program that was supposed to be a stopgap measure has done so well and the Army’s recent “start from scratch” vehicle programs such as FCS, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and Ground Combat Vehicle either failed utterly or are struggling? Could it be because the program did not receive the same kind of attention, management, oversight and consideration as the others? Perhaps because it was considered an interim solution it did not have to suffer the same weight of requirements that crushed FCS. It was inherently an 80 percent solution. Because Stryker is based on an existing vehicle, there were limits to the features which could be designed into the system. In fact, the effort to develop the mobile gun variant never really succeeded. But the Stryker has been allowed to evolve over time, adding capabilities such as a wire cage to defeat rocket-propelled grenades and the double V hull as IED protection.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Ground Combat Vehicle programs have both been edging closer and closer to the Stryker acquisition model. Requirements have been pared down. In addition, both programs have opened themselves up using existing vehicle designs as the basis for the new platform. These changes may make it possible for both programs to succeed.
Over the decades of the Cold War the Pentagon became wedded to the idea that each new generation of major systems had to be a quantum leap forward in capabilities. This made some sense when the challenge was a rising Soviet military and when major new program starts happened only once a generation. Unfortunately, the effort to test the boundaries of what was possible in terms of physics, engineering and integration too often led to the inability to actually bring a program to the field. Asking the next generation to do less at the start, using existing technologies and systems where possible and allowing capabilities to evolve to fit changing requirements is the place to start in reforming the acquisition system.
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