The Army is working on a new and improved version of its Stryker wheeled vehicle, given the designation Stryker A1, intended to boost its performance with a more powerful engine, beefier transmission and suspension, better brakes as well as adding a new sensor suite, high-tech shot detection and location system, an upgraded communications network and an improved remotely operated weapons turret.
The Army plans to spend $134 million on the upgraded eight-wheeled vehicle in 2011, according to service budget documents, and nearly $880 million over the next five years. The designation A1 is typically added to Army vehicle names as they go through various iterations and improvement packages such as the M1A1 Abrams, the M1A2, etc.
One of the major enhancements to the Stryker A1 will be to lift the vehicle higher off the ground so that it’s better protected against IED blasts. The Stryker has gained a lot of weight since its initial rollout when it was realized that its thin armor, intended to provide protection only up to 12.7mm machine gun rounds and high-explosive fragments, did not provide sufficient protection against the two most omnipresent anti-armor weapons in irregular wars: the IED and the rocket propelled grenade.
To protect against RPGs, the Army added “steel cage” bolt-on slat armor (and then aluminum) around the Stryker’s hull. The cage either deflects or prematurely detonates the rocket’s warhead before it can punch a hole through the hull and into the crew compartment. As IEDs became the insurgent weapon of choice in Iraq, the Army added a 2 inch think belly plate to the Stryker.
The armor packages added nearly 2 ½ tons to the 20 ton Stryker’s weight, severely taxing the engine and transmission and weighing it down. Ground clearance was much reduced. Battlefield experience has shown the importance of getting as much clearance as possible between a vehicle’s belly and the IED or mine blast so that blast effects are absorbed by the suspension and drive train rather than the crew compartment. The vehicle’s off-road mobility was also challenged as it added weight.
These serious teething problems with the relatively new Stryker led retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales to write in Armed Forces Journal that it’s the wrong vehicle for Afghanistan. “The vehicles have proven to be too thinly armored to survive the very large explosive power of Taliban IEDs and too immobile to maneuver off road to avoid them.”
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the Stryker brigade operating in southern Afghanistan has been pulled off its original mission of clearing an insurgent infested rural area and instead relegated to patrolling hard top roadways, there are plans to convert two of the Army’s heavy brigades to Stryker brigades. Army budget documents say the A1 variant will be designed to solve “current and evolving survivability concerns.”