The Army will almost certainly add more Stryker brigades to its future force, by converting existing heavy armor brigades to the medium weight Strykers, service leaders told the House Armed Services Committee.
The specific make-up of that force, in terms of how many heavy, medium and light brigades it needs, is being scrutinized in the QDR strategic review, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told lawmakers on Thursday. While not wanting to prejudge the outcome, he said the Strykers will likely have an increased role in that future mix.
“We want available a mix of capabilities, that’s the thinking we’re doing as part of this QDR, to build a versatile mix,” of different types of units, consisting of Stryker brigades, heavy brigades and light infantry units that will rely primarily on the MRAP IED resistant vehicles for mobility, he said. The Army chose not to buy any new Strykers in its 2010 budget, compared to the 765 it bought over the last two years, but it did include $479 million for survivability improvements and other modifications and to keep the production line warm, service officials said.
The Army had originally planned to build 48 total active combat brigades by 2012, to include: 19 heavy BCTs, 23 Infantry BCTs, and 6 Stryker BCTs. In budget decisions made in recent weeks, Gates directed the Army to stop its expansion at 45 brigades, forcing the service to rethink its optimal mix.
The Strykers proved “extraordinarily successful,” in their Iraq combat deployments, Army Secretary Pete Geren told lawmakers. Stryker brigades are considered particularly well suited for irregular warfare because of the eight-wheeled vehicles’ ability to range over a vast area, their advanced communications networks and the large number of foot soldiers in an SBCT. The Strykers will see their first combat tour in Afghanistan this summer as the 5th Stryker brigade is en-route as part of the Obama administration’s troop build-up there.
For those of us who have covered the Army in recent few years, it was odd to hear an Army budget hearing where the FCS program was mentioned only in passing. So, when the chance arose during a break, we peppered Casey with questions about the recently cancelled ground vehicle part of the program. He repeated his desire to have a new armored vehicle plan charting the way ahead for the Army’s entire vehicle fleet, including MRAPs and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Humvee replacement, out by Labor Day.
No decision has yet been made on whether to continue with the effort to build a family of vehicles sharing a common chassis or individually designed vehicles to fill specific roles, much as the Abrams, Bradley and Paladin howitzer do today, Casey said. Vehicle survivability has moved up in importance, reflecting SecDef Gates’ concerns that FCS vehicles were too vulnerable on modern battlefields, but Casey said vehicle speed is also important, as speed can entail survivability.
Rapid deployability, one of the original requirements for FCS, remains important, and any future vehicle must fit on C-17s, the Air Forces’ major cargo lifter (that’s not a real big challenge as the M-1 will fit on a C-17, the bigger issue is how many of a certain kind of vehicle will fit on a C-17), but rapid deployability by aircraft will not necessarily be the number one priority in vehicle design, Casey said.
While vowing to start with a clean sheet of paper and even to consider wheeled vehicles for the future armored fleet, Casey said the service will leverage what its learned from the money already invested in FCS vehicle development. “We know where the state of technology is for ground combat vehicles, we pushed the envelope there with industry… we’re not going to walk away from that.” To be able to field a new vehicle in the Army’s stated goal of five to seven years means the service will build on what it’s already learned. Casey said the new vehicle design will feature a blend of lessons learned from current wars, meaning mostly greater protection against anti-armor weapons, and new vehicle technologies such as lightweight composite armor and a hybrid motor.