The Stryker: US Military`s Great White Hope against Iraqi RPGs

At Camp Udairi in Kuwait, US armament technicians are working extra-hard in giant hangars on a Christmas gift for US troops plagued by guerrilla attacks in Iraq. It is the Stryker, an eight-wheel drive armored combat vehicle, the first new armored carrier to enter service in the US army since the Abrams tank was introduced in the 1980s.
debkafile‘s military sources quote US civil administrator Paul Bremer as informing the emergency White House consultations last month on the mounting guerrilla war in Iraq that soldiers of the US 2nd division fighting in the Baghdad area and the 4th division under constant attack in the Sunni triangle, “can’t wait to get their hands” on the Strykers.
These innovative vehicles are destined to eventually replace the heavy Abrams M1 battle tank and the Bradley M2 fighting vehicles in Iraq. They are more mobile and agile, have a far greater turn of speed, superior night visibility and unmatched high-tech instruments.
US military chiefs in Washington and Baghdad believe the Stryker, built by General Motors Defense of Canada and General Dynamics Land Systems Division of the United States, will provide American troops with a better response to the ubiquitous rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), favorite weapon of Saddam Hussein’s loyalists. They are expected to show their rapid- response mettle against the guerrillas’ agile RPG pick-up trucks, which turned up for the first time in the Samarra battle of November 30 after an absence of several months.
In that battle, heavy Iraqi casualties – the exact number is in dispute – were inflicted against pro-Saddam fighters dressed in Fedayeen uniforms.
Closely resembling a large green armadillo (see photo), the Stryker’s slat armor “cage” is designed to trap an RPG and defuse it inches away from the vehicle’s skin – much in the way a baseball catcher’s mask protects his head from a 90-mile-an-hour fastball. The US military took its most state-of-the-art combat vehicle – already equipped with 14.5 mm-thick armor against machine gun rounds, mortars and artillery fragments — and dressed it in a “crinoline” skirt, a green-painted steel grill bolted on to it sides. Only the Stryker’s roof and wheels remain exposed. Stryker tests have been underway for three years at Fort Lewis, Washington, where a dummy Iraqi village was built a year before the US invasion last March and where the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division trained and re-formed into the US Army’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Teams.
A vanguard force arrived in Kuwait in October and crossed into Iraq for the first real battlefield tests of the vehicles. The last of the Stryker Brigade`s 5,000 soldiers arrived in Kuwait from Fort Lewis in mid-November. The brigade has 300 Strykers.
Named after Stewart Stryker, killed in action in World War Two, and Robert Stryker, a soldier killed in Vietnam, the 19-ton vehicle has eight giant tires, a range of 500 km (300 miles) and a maximum speed of 60 mph (100 km). In addition to its two-man crew, the Stryker can carry eight infantry troops or commandos.
One feature that arouses controversy among military experts is the comparatively mild punch packed by the novel contraption’s M2 0.50 caliber machine gun, 21.7 mm grenade launcher and 7.62 mm MK240 machine gun. It is also fitted with four smoke grenade launchers and a stabilizer system that enables on-the-move accurate fire.
But the vehicle is not designed for heavy combat, say its advocates. Its function is to race on its eight huge wheels to the edge of a battle zone, including urban areas, drop off infantry soldiers and lay down covering fire.
One of the Stryker’s most outstanding tools of war is its state-of-the-art digital communications system, the FBCB2, that keeps the entire fleet connected by text messaging and a GPS map network. The system – effectively a “tactical Internet” — enables the commander of one Stryker vehicle to mark the position of enemy forces on a map for the benefit of all his fellows.
Each vehicle commander has the use of seven M45 periscopes and a thermal imager display by video camera that can identify enemy forces, including hidden snipers and RPG-toting ambush units.
The Stryker Brigade will be the first unit in history to be engaged in this way in computerized warfare. The unit coming closest to this is the “digitized” US 4th Infantry Division. A commander can click on a blue icon and electronically pinpoint for everyone else on the battle network the position of friendly forces. A click on a red icon marks the position of the enemy. No time is wasted on description and explanation. A commander does not need to go into the field and personally deploy his troops at their most effective combat points. He simply moves his resources around on a screen.
Each new brigade is furthermore equipped with a reconnaissance-intelligence battalion which consists of three times as many spotters as a regular battalion, four drones and a large array of sophisticated sensors.
The US army does not intend, in the first stage, to replace all its tanks in Iraq with Strykers. But it does want the new vehicles to back up its heavy armor on the battlefield. The army is also considering whether to use Strykers on rapid-response policing missions for urban flare-ups or spot roadblocks on intercity highways.
The novel contrivance has its critics. Some US commanders are saying that no sensor in the world, no matter how advanced, can tell the difference between a friendly civilian and a guerrilla – until the insurgent whips out a hand grenade and stares into the eyes of the Stryker’s 11-man contingent. There are military engineering experts who suggest that steel spikes should be fitted to the outside of the “cage” to deflect flying grenades or projectiles away from the vehicle. US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is less than pleased with the vehicle. Nonetheless, Congress poured another $35 million into the defense budget in September to speed up preparations for the deployment of the 5th and 6th Stryker brigades.
And the troops in Iraq are eagerly awaiting the deployment – only weeks away – of the first Stryker brigade in Iraq. They expect casualties to rise initially when the new system is first tested in battle. Further improvements will inevitably be called for. But running-in problems aside, the shift to Strykers marks the beginning of the end of the historic role heavy tanks, such as the Abrams and Israel’s Merkava 3 and 4, have played on the battlefield. Experts believe these 70-ton behemoths-on-tracks are being reduced to the dinosaurs of modern combat and that the 19-ton, eight-wheeled Stryker is poised to leap into the breach.

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