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Army plans radical upgrade of Stryker brigades

Jan. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Army hopes to transform all of its Stryker vehicles into the double V-hull configuration.
The Army hopes to transform all of its Stryker vehicles into the double V-hull configuration. (Army)
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WASHINGTON — If the Army can manage to keep its future budgets in line with current projections, the service will transform all nine of its Stryker brigades into the heavily armored “double V-hull” (DVH) configuration.

The Army already fields two DVH brigades while a third is in the works to be fully equipped by the end of fiscal 2016. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that the remaining six brigades remain unfunded in fiscal 2016-2020 budget projections obtained by sister publication Defense News.

According to slides of a Dec. 6 briefing given by Stryker program manager David Dopp, in March 2013 the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G3/5/7, issued a memorandum stating that “the objective is to ultimately equip all nine SBCTs with DVH Strykers,” though no time frame was given.

Once the third brigade is equipped in fiscal 2016, the Army is expected to begin working on the next brigades to be up-armored.

That 2016 date also marks the year that currently funded Stryker production wraps up, after which “the prime contractor’s manufacturing facilities will be placed in a layaway mode for the ability to maintain production capability for potential future production of battle losses and Foreign Military Sales,” according to the slides.

Army spokeswoman Ashley Givens said the third DVH brigade will be produced using the Stryker Exchange Program, a partnership with Anniston Army Depot, Ala., and General Dynamics, “in response to an Army requirement for additional DVH vehicles at a reduced overall cost [up to 40 percent of building a new vehicle]. This procurement will be made by exchanging one flat-bottom hull brigade for a newer DVH. So while the fleet as a whole will be more modernized, the total number of Strykers within the Army’s inventory will go unchanged.”

The government already owns Stryker unique tooling facilities at the General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada plant; the co-operated GD plant in Lima, Ohio; the Anniston Army Depot; as well as facilities in Scranton, Pa., and Tallahassee, Fla.

The slides said that “Stryker unique tooling is prepared for long term storage and relocation,” and that the Army is preparing for “recurring requirement for lease and storage costs at Anniston and Lima.”

The documents are part of the annual Weapons Systems Review that all programs endure when officials put together the Program Objective Memorandum budgets that look out over five years.

The Stryker documents detail fiscal 2016 to 2020, but the numbers will likely change as budgets and priorities shift in subsequent years. They do, however, provide a snapshot of thinking in the Pentagon, and offer clues as to where managers are trying to drive their programs after absorbing guidance from Army leaders.

The slides do not appear to take sequestration into account, however.

The first DVH brigade earned high marks from soldiers for survivability against roadside bombs during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. The “V” shaped hull helped deflect underbelly blasts, while the original flat-bottomed Strykers were found to be vulnerable to buried roadside bombs.

The third brigade to be given the new DVH Strykers is identified for the first time here as 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

In other previously undisclosed decisions, the slides state that in October, the Army decided to reduce the number of nuclear, biological, chemical and reconnaissance Stryker vehicles from 417 to 307.

The service also is looking for a place to store the 600 flat-bottomed Strykers that will be displaced by the third DVH brigade, and funds to keep them in storage.

The push for the DVH improvements came from many corners, but the bloody experience of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which deployed to Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in 2009, was significant. In just the first few months, the brigade lost 21 soldiers with another 40 wounded as buried roadside bombs tore through the flat-bottomed vehicles. By the end of its year-long tour, the brigade lost 37 soldiers killed and 238 wounded. The unit was moved away from its direct combat role after its bloody first several months.

In September, General Dynamics Land Systems was awarded a $118 million contract by the Army to convert 66 flat-bottom Strykers to the DVH design. The Army will eventually need 337 Strykers to equip the brigade, but plans to award the rest of the production contracts during fiscal 2014-2016, funding permitting.

In December, the Army also awarded General Dynamics Land Systems a $228 million contract to kick off another round of upgrades, including to the chassis, electrical power generation, and communications and network capabilities.

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