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Stryker meets Army expectations
Combat vets give feedback on program

Story by Spc. Nikki St. Amant/The Bayonet
Photo by Staff Sgt. Fred Minnick

FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, April 15, 2005) – In response to recent press coverage criticizing the Army’s Stryker program, the Fort Benning Stryker manager said the negative perspective is being played up by those in the defense world who have been against the Stryker program since its beginnings.

“There have always been two schools of thought about combat vehicles,” said Col. Don Sando, chief of TRADOC Systems Management-Stryker/Bradley. “Tracked vs. wheeled vehicles. There is a requirement on the battlefield for both. The problem is those who oppose the program will always focus on the negative.”

The Stryker platform was born in 1999 at the direction of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. With an evolution from concept to development, testing and fielding spanning only four years, Stryker’s launch in 2003 made it the most rapidly produced and fielded system in the Army’s history.

Sando said he thinks the Army balanced the need to test and refine the equipment while providing a critical capability to Soldiers on the ground as quickly as possible.

“No matter how good your development and testing is, until it’s used in combat, you’ll never have it exactly right,” he said. “From Day One, we have identified problems and worked to correct them. You always want to refine and make the system better. The development always continues.”

Sando cited the Bradley fighting vehicle as a perfect example of the progression of a platform from raw first fielding to fine-tuned reliability and functionality. The Bradley has been on the ground for more than 25 years but has gone through four or five generations. Each generation improved on the previous.

The negative points cited in the Washington Post’s story published March 31 were almost all problems the Army and Sando were already aware of and have either been corrected or are actively in the process of being corrected.

Sando stressed that the Army has researched the Stryker extensively and taken feedback directly from combat veterans, which shows the benefits clearly outweigh the developmental challenges the fledgling program is handling.

“We have taken surveys and conducted debriefings of Stryker units immediately upon redeployment in an effort to identify anything we can improve. The majority of the feedback is extremely positive, and we have acted on needed improvements,” he said. “We have had a conference, which included all the Stryker brigades and all the TRADOC schools, where we discussed the good, but we focused strongly on what needed to be fixed. That is what we owe to the Soldiers.”

He said he is confident the complications – electronics malfunctions, armor and weight concerns and seatbelt issues – are part of the normal evolution of any new system.

The Army is in the process of producing a crew ballistic shield which will protect Soldiers in the hatch from rocket-propelled grenade fire not currently stopped by standard slat armor, and the seatbelts are being replaced.

The weight issues, it turned out, were not as serious as the Washington Post story initially reported. It said 11 tire-and-wheel assemblies had to be replaced a day because of excessive armor weight, implying that was for one vehicle. In the April 4 Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, Lt. Col. Perry Caskey, Stryker system synchronization officer with Army force development, G-8, said that statistic was actually based on an entire Stryker brigade combat team and represented less than four-tenths of 1 percent of a total of 2,480 tires and assemblies.

Sando stands behind the Stryker and is determined to continue development and improve on already impressive statistics.

One Stryker in Iraq over the course of six months was hit by a suicide car bomb, nine improvised explosive devices, eight direct RPG hits and a barrage of small-arms fire. The crew sustained six wounded but no deaths. All the Soldiers are still fighting in Iraq, and the Stryker either continued to fight or was repaired in 48 hours.

Sando said the 1st Cavalry Division in 1970 in Vietnam was responsible for 4,500 square miles. One Stryker brigade in Iraq is responsible for four times that area. After 18 months of continuous use, Strykers are showing a 95 percent operational-readiness rate, even after average mileages have far exceeded the initial anticipated workload.

“The Stryker is doing a lot more than we ever expected it to,” he said.

That is being backed by the most reliable source there is: the guys on the ground.

“In urban combat, no better vehicle exists for delivering a squad of infantrymen to close in and destroy the enemy,” according to Lt. Col. Michael Kurilla, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, in a letter to the Washington Post editor April 5. “The Stryker is fast, quiet, survivable, reliable and lethal. Most important, it delivers the most valuable weapon to the battlefield: a Soldier.”

A Stryker moves through Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 14, 2004, during a combat patrol through the city to seek and destroy or capture anti-Iraqi forces. The Ninevah Province governor requested Multinational Forces and Iraqi Security Forces to conduct operations throughout the city after heavy fighting with insurgents Nov. 11.

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