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Stryker Problems Highlight Testing Shortfalls

November 1, 2004 

 

(as printed in Defense News, November 1, 2004, p. 29 by POGO's Eric Miller, Sr. Defense Investigator)

Despite a critical need to get more armored vehicles to soldiers engaged in the toughest guerrilla clashes in Iraq, the U.S. Army last year chose instead to deploy its first Stryker armored vehicle brigade to one of the country's more relatively calm, remote regions.

Why? Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor thinks he knows the answer. He believes the deployment plan is by design because the Pentagon knows the Stryker is a flawed weapon.

"The Army's senior leadership wisely decided to keep the Stryker brigade remote from the scene of the action in central Iraq, where the lethal quality of close combat might inflict serious casualties on it," he told a congressional subcommittee in July.

Macgregor, an independent defense consultant and former director of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe's Joint Operations Center for two years until December 1999, is so convinced that the Stryker is a bad choice for the street fighting in Iraq that he recommended the Army not be permitted to buy the last two of the six planned Stryker brigades. Instead, the Pentagon should spend procurement dollars on more promising technologies, he said.

 

Macgregor told the House Armed Services Committee on July 15 that Stryker lacks not only the joint command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance connectivity it needs to operate independently, but also the "firepower, protection, mobility and organic logistical support to be a full-dimensional war-fighting organization, and its operational utility will continue to be limited to peace support or paramilitary police operations."

Macgregor has not been alone in his criticism of the Stryker, an eight-wheeled, 19-ton armored vehicle touted as the first high-tech installment in the Army's fighting force of the future. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a recent report that it barely fits in a C-130 cargo aircraft, can't always defend against a rocket-propelled grenade or a roadside explosive device, and takes too long to get to the battlefield - if it even makes it to the battlefield.

In a high-altitude country like Afghanistan, a C-130 transport may not even be able to take off with a Stryker in its belly, the GAO said.

So why are the Army and Congress in a rush to fund, build and deploy the last two Stryker brigades?

Although it has yet to see extensive battle action, five soldiers have been killed in Stryker rollovers, another by an exploding grenade, and in mid-October a soldier was killed when an improvised explosive device exploded near the vehicle. A few Strykers have been gutted by fires resulting from roadside bombs or rocket propelled grenade hits.

At $4 million a copy and rising, according to a GAO report, the Stryker has become a new poster child for bad weapon development. Like an increasing number of military weapon systems, the Stryker was deployed before first being thoroughly tested in near-realistic battle conditions.

Late last year, over the objections of the Pentagon's top independent tester, the first Stryker brigade was deployed to Mosul, Iraq. Nearly a year later, there is little public discussion or objective evidence as to whether the Stryker is performing up to its expectations.

The Stryker is one in a string of new weapons - the C-130J and an Alaskan national missile defense system are others - that represent a new Pentagon "capabilities-based" or "spiral" development philosophy that basically comes down to this: Aim high, spend a lot of money, but take whatever the defense contractor gives you and rush it to the battlefront.

The taxpayers and our fighting men and women are the losers in this perilous new way of doing business.

Thomas Christie, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, said as much in his most recent annual report, dated February.

First, he warned his boss, the secretary of defense, that the Stryker was not ready for prime time, because he could not guarantee that soldiers inside Strykers would survive rocket-propelled grenade hits. He also singled out the Stryker as an example of a trend in which the military services are committing fewer and fewer resources to test and evaluate their weapons.

In December 2000, a special committee of the Pentagon's Defense Science Board emphasized the need to adequately test a weapon system before it goes into combat.

"The committee believes that the Department of Defense has no greater duty than to ensure that the weapons systems that it puts in the hands of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will operate as intended in combat situations," said a December 2000 report from that committee. "Adequate testing of weapons systems is not an abstract concept: Lives depend upon it."

Lives are at stake, yet program managers increasingly complain that they spend too much time and money testing new weapons. Indeed, Christie also said in his annual report that the Stryker's operational evaluation - a test of how a weapon works in simulated battle conditions - was conducted jointly with training exercises. That meant "test objectives often compete with training objectives," he wrote.

The bottom line, Christie said, is that American and allied fighting men and women may be going to war with weapons without knowing their capabilities and limitations.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Army has been speaking glowingly of the Stryker's performance in Iraq, but providing little proof.

In e-mails from troops stationed in Iraq, the criticisms are numerous: The Stryker has too many blind spots looking out from the inside, the 5,000-pound "bird cage" armor makes it top heavy and prone to rollovers, it breaks down too often and chews up tires at an uncommon rate, and doesn't yet come mounted with a much-touted big mobile gun system.

Cost is a factor, too. Only a few months ago, the Army was saying that the $7.8 billion will buy 2,100 Strykers, but the latest count has declined to just over 1,800. Yet the 2005 Defense Appropriations bill authorizes more Stryker purchases.

Isn't this a little like a parent signing their child's report card before the grades are filled in by the teacher?

Eric Miller is a senior defense investigator with the Project On Government Oversight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, Washington-based watchdog group. 


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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