Two POGO staffers spent a day at Fort Lewis, Washington, with Stryker Armored Vehicle Brigade soldiers and officers earlier this week for insight into two recent reports by the Army's Center for Lessons Learned (CALL) that raised significant deficiencies of the $4 million-a-copy Stryker. POGO has been monitoring the development and deployment of the Strykers since 2003, but our interest was heightened earlier this year when we obtained a copy of the first CALL report.
While we were very impressed with the professionalism and obvious dedication of the soldiers—and were grateful for their assistance—we frankly came away from our meetings a little perplexed. We're now seeking some answers.
The soldiers and officers all said they were very pleased with the performance of the Strykers, particularly with their ability to move fast and quietly. However, as you Stryker watchers may remember, the December 5, 2004, CALL report noted that the performance of the Stryker's 5,000-pound “slat” armor was “less than expected against certain types of rocket propelled grenades (RPG)” used by the Iraqi insurgency. “In the field, soldiers say the slat armor is effective against half of the RPG attacks,” the report concluded.
However, in a video teleconference with POGO, Colonel Robert Brown, Commander of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team currently stationed in Mosul, Iraq, said his troops had sustained 112 RPG hits, but not one had penetrated the slat armor. Other soldiers and officers in the first Stryker brigade deployed for a year in Iraq also said they had no problems with RPGs penetrating the slat armor. We're asking for Army after action reports to clear up this apparent contradiction.
There were other inconsistencies. The CALL report noted that the Styker's grenade launching system had difficulty hitting targets while the vehicle was moving. The Fort Lewis Stryker soldiers said the system was only intended as an “area” weapon intended to provide cover for the troops, but noted that there are efforts underway to stabilize the system to make it more accurate.
While they admit that driving in darkness is a challenge, the soldiers we met with said they had no problems with drivers becoming drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel due to a limited field of view a driver has when the Stryker's hatches are closed. Once again, the CALL report came to a different conclusion: “When the driver is 'buttoned up' his view is a video screen consisting of a ten degree field of view which creates a kind of myopic visual environment. Consequently, fatigue while operating the vehicle is a common occurrence, even under optimum rest condition.”
There apparently has been some progress in making fixes to Stryker concerns. For example, the CALL report noted that troops were using sand bags to protect gunners who were exposed from the waist up when their heads and bodies poked up above the vehicle's hatches. Colonel Brown said all the Strykers in Iraq now have steel gunner's ballistic shields to protect from explosive devices and gunfire from the ground.
Additionally, none of the soldiers or officers could confirm that there were any serious problems with Stryker computers overheating due to the severe Iraq heat. The CALL report noted that because the Strykers were not air-conditioned the computers “tend to overheat in this desert environment,” and that “the high temperatures and large amount of dust significantly impacted the computer failure rate.” However, POGO was told that the issue of no air conditioning is being addressed.
We also were surprised that Stryker brigade officers seemed to care less whether the Stryker could be transported in a C-130 propeller aircraft. Debate in Congress has centered around whether the Stryker can fit in a C-130, which would allow it to be transported to forward battle areas near short, dirt runways. The Army leadership has said that the Stryker must be C-130 transportable so it can get to any battlefield very quickly. But brigade officers said that this Army doctrine is essentially irrelevant because the Stryker can travel at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, getting them to the action quicker by road than via C-130 transport.
Stay tuned. We're attempting to reconcile some of these very divergent reports on the Stryker's performance and ability to protect our troops.