View Full Version : Tanks out, Strykers in

10-05-2009, 11:18 AM
Two heavy brigades will trade their tracked tanks and Bradleys for lighter, faster, wheeled Stryker vehicles by 2013.

“We will convert one HBCT to a Stryker brigade in the near term and another in the next three to four years,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, deputy chief of staff for Army programs, told Army Times. The Stryker brigade, he said, “has been one of the most flexible, adaptable and successful units; the vehicle itself has been a key part of that formation.” The 1st Armored Division’s 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team will make the switch first, following its return home from Iraq in late 2010.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment will begin converting to a Stryker brigade in late summer 2011, after returning from its next scheduled deployment to Iraq. The conversions will each take two years to complete¬ł according to an internal decision paper obtained by Army Times.

At the same time, the 3rd ACR’s Longknife aviation squadron, consisting of 24 AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopters, will be used to build a new combat aviation brigade. Tanks and Bradleys from the two units will be used to upgrade other heavy units, the document says.

The conversions will take place during the reset period after the two brigades’ redeployments, a period of time when a flood of new soldiers comes in and others move to different units.

Stryker brigades are built around a command and control platform that is lighter, more quickly deployable on the battlefield, and more versatile, with close to 2,000 infantrymen, a reconnaissance squadron and enablers most other brigades don’t have.

Stryker BCT formations typically have 300 Stryker vehicles, each carrying nine infantrymen and are able to barrel down highways at up to 60 miles per hour.

“It can self-deploy in theater,” said 1st Sgt. Marc Griffith, a former Ranger who served for 15 months with 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. “An HBCT would need to be shipped in and an [Infantry BCT] needs to be flown in. A Stryker brigade can basically drive itself from Kuwait to Mosul and back in two days.” The shift to the wheeled vehicle formation signals a reversal of plans for the Army, which had sought to add heavy brigades as recently as April, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates nixed that plan and held the service to 45 brigade combat teams, instead of the 48 it had been building toward. The last three of those brigades were to have been heavy armored BCTs.

The two new Stryker brigades will bring the total of active SBCTs to eight.

One source said up to three more brigades could be converted to Strykers, but Army officials refused to speculate on other future plans. These could be converted from either light or heavy BCTs, or could be created from scratch.

Stryker brigades are better suited to the near free-form modern battlefield, rather than the matched force scenarios envisioned during the Cold War. What’s more, the Stryker vehicles, which are lighter than mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and tanks, can go into areas those vehicles cannot.

“We went down streets that other vehicles couldn’t fit into, into areas where there were canals or across bridges that heavier vehicles couldn’t cross,” said Col. John RisCassi, former commander of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. RisCassi’s unit spent most of 15 months in Iraq in and around Baghdad, sometimes slicing off battalions to work with other brigades that sought their capability.

“We had the ability to transfer from hardball road to off-roadquickly and deploy the infantrymen where they were needed on the battlefield,” said RisCassi. “You may not want to have an M1 Abrams roll down a street. It could destroy a street and that may do more damage in a counterinsurgency environment than having a wheeled vehicle roll down.” The elimination of two heavy brigades will have implications for tankers.

“It upsets the apple cart for NCOs in the armor community,” said an officer familiar with the planning process, “because unless you convert those tanker military occupational specialties and upper ranking enlisted guys to infantry guys there’s not much potential for upper mobility.” Reclassifying armor MOSs to infantry MOSs could work for lower enlisted soldiers in the ranks of specialist and below, but for sergeants, who have spent their careers boosting their specialty in that field, it could mean limited options, and it could affect recruiting and retention.

“If you don’t need that many armor guys you’re not going to reup nearly as many because you don’t need them anymore. And you have to recruit more infantry guys and that has to happen now because you can’t make them overnight,” the officer said.

Strykers first deployed to com*bat in 2003 in northern Iraq; the vehicles made it to Afghanistan for the first time this past June.

The Stryker ’s ability to deploy more infantrymen on the battlefield than any other type of brigade and its wheeled configuration are key advantages over conventional armor formations. Strykers also feature a sophisticated communications package that consists of Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below, the Army’s tactical Internet, GPS and radio systems, which give leaders multiple ways of communicating on the battlefield.

The Army announced a contract award Oct. 1 for 352 Strykers worth $647 million to General Dynamics.

The House Appropriations Committee added $255 million to the 2010 budget request to fund additional Stryker vehicles, but that bill has yet to be approved by the congressional conference that will follow.

Stryker vehicles will be among those used to replace at least 6,000 1960s-era M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, a senior Army source said. Bradleys, MRAPs and the still-to-be-developed Ground Combat Vehicles could also be among the replacements, he said, as part of the Army’s evolving Combat and Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Strategy.

Some observers caution that it will decrease the Army’s combat capabilities.

Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division from 2002 to 2005 and took the division to Iraq in 2004, said the Stryker brigade is an effective formation for the current fight, but he cautions against losing the armor capability.

“What’s going on is that we’re fixated only on the counterinsurgency fight, we’re working in power plants and sewer systems for all the right reasons,” Batiste said. “But God help us if we lose the skills that we had in the late ’80s and early ’90s to deal with a conventional adversary. Right now, with our focus on Iraq and Afghanistan for the last eight years, that skill has eroded, it’s completely gone away. And if I were the chief of staff of the Army, that’s what would keep me up at night.”