“Speed saves,” suggests Lt. Col. Ferraro. “See first, decide first, act first.” It’s the motto of the U.S. Army’s Stryker Brigade commanded by Lt. Col. Ferraro. Ferraro embodies the Army’s complete transition into the digital battlefield. From the camouflage on his uniform to the brigade he commands, it’s quickly obvious that the digital age has arrived. At the Stryker training center in Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, soldiers learn how to employ a combination of satellite connectivity, advanced communications and rapid dissemination of real-time information while adjusting to an evolving combat arena. Witnessing the Stryker in live exercises reveals why the GD’s (General Dynamics) vehicle is the most sought after piece of tactical equipment.
A Family Of One
Stryker vehicles combine commonality and proven survivability against IEDs. Appearing similar to new observers, their product line consists of 10 variants ranging from the highly mobile reconnaissance vehicle to the anti-tank model. With more than 40 years of armor engineering experience, integrating feedback from the troops on the ground, General Dynamics Land Systems continues to lead today’s armored vehicle market.
Seeing combat since 2003, the Stryker infantry carrier vehicle has been providing safe transport of an infantry squad with direct fire support in Iraq and Afghanistan. SSgt. Torres, who served with the 1st Stryker Brigade four years ago, now finds himself passing on valuable experience through training of light infantry at Fort Indiantown Gap. “The quiet engine makes little noise. The combination of silence and the vehicle’s speed has caused some Iraqi’s to dub the Stryker the Ghost Rider.”
Stryker’s products have evolved in the last few years from the basic ICV (infantry combat vehicle). A nine-man squad transport, the ICV quickly developed into a direct- fire support vehicle with either a remote controlled M2 .50-caliber machine gun or a Mk19 40mm grenade launcher fixed in a turret on the roof. With the success of the Stryker in the initial phase of combat operations in Iraq, GD has incorporated other weapon systems with the Stryker’s advanced communications to satisfy a rapidly evolving battlefield. One of the first variants was the ATV (anti-tank vehicle), firing a pair of TOW wire-guided missiles from an elevated launch system at hard targets ranging from tanks to buildings. The CV (command vehicle) followed, changing the way senior leadership orchestrated a firefight. No longer will a commander bring up the proverbial rear. Inside the protection of the Stryker’s multi-layer armor system, the command vehicle possesses every necessary type of communications equipment and tracking system to keep up with a an evolving fight, regardless of position in a convoy.
The ESV (engineer squad vehicle) provides mobility to engineering support while the fire support vehicle uses the latest imaging technology to enhance surveillance, target acquisition and identification. The MEV (medical evacuation variant) is an obvious development, providing mobile protection for as many as six patients and a medical team. The MCV (mortar carrier) changes the way mortar crews fight by quickly moving them to employ a readily available 120mm mortar system and ammunition, something that would require a crew of four to do painfully on foot. The RV (reconnaissance vehicle) can push forward of any area of operation to seek out information, designating targets with only necessary communication systems and a protective fire support system. The NBVRR (NBC reconnaissance variant) extends the RV’s capabilities by utilizing the latest onboard chemical detection equipment to provide awareness to the command element and prevent contamination.
The latest addition to the Stryker family is the MGSV (mobile gun system), an intimidating direct-fire infantry assault platform capable of destroying enemy vehicles, tanks and other hardened positions. Being that the Stryker wasn’t designed to actively seek out tank engagements, the threat of coming up against armor or hardened enemy positions drew a need to take a Stryker and place a 105mm cannon on a turret. This is the same gun tube used on the original M1 Abrams tank. “Only a few of these vehicles exist and you won’t see one in training. Since the first one was manufactured, they have been shipped to light infantry overseas where they are trained in theatre on how to use it by Dynamics contractors,” says Randy Boswell, Site Leader for OPNET at General Dynamics.
“When a vehicle is manufactured and deployed, GD sends a team of contractors to go with the vehicles. They offer the soldiers training and on-hand support. You will find a communications engineer, an armor engineer, an engineer ready to work in the drive train or even the fire support systems. The engineers follow the vehicles through their cycle in training and into combat. We have one civilian engineer here that has first-hand accounts of 13 IED attacks in a Stryker with no penetration and no fatalities. They don’t just believe in the Stryker’s survivability, they know it.”
Each Stryker utilizes an advanced armor system consisting of three layers. Ballistic steel surrounds the vehicle in the form of bolt-on armored panels that make repairs or replacement of armor in the field simple. A ceramic layer known as MEXAS is also a key component in the Stryker’s protection. Of the IEDs encountered in hostile environments, many are appearing with a copper or brass jacket that is heated to an extremely high temperature after detonation, melting through steel and allowing a lethal steel penetrator to pass through conventional armor systems. The MEXAS layer is similar to the ceramic tiles used on the space shuttle, protecting the shuttle from burning when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The MEXAS layer counters the molten metal, preventing incursion of the steel penetrator.
The last layer is a spall liner that captures fragments in tightly woven fibers. In combat zones a familiar steel “cage” is added and surrounds the vehicle. This add-on armor was designed shortly after the deployment of the 1st Stryker Brigade where frequent rocket attacks came against the Strykers in the spring of 2003. Today, a grille-like protective barrier is added to Stryker’s shell upon arrival overseas. This barrier is specifically designed to counter attacks from shoulder fired weapons like the RPG-7. Although the vehicle’s weight and handling characteristics change, the rocket is pre-detonated before impact with the vehicle’s hull, thereby decreasing the effectiveness by deflecting the explosion off of the angular panels.
A 350-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine pushes the 16-ton vehicle and up to nine passengers to a top speed of more than 60 MPH. A 53-gallon fuel capacity at 6.2 miles per gallon illuminates one of the few faults of the Stryker bringing the average fuel consumption nearly two miles per gallon less than the industry average. However, the torque transmitted through the Allison automatic transmission allows the Stryker to cross a 78-inch trench, climb over a two-foot vertical obstacle or up a 60 percent grade.
A unique feature of the Styker is the fuel system. Fuel storage is located externally to the rear of the vehicle and is distributed equally between two tanks. If an enemy projectile penetrates and sets off one of the fuel tanks, the explosion follows the path of least resistance and does little harm while the driver flips a switch on his control panel to switch his source of fuel, never having to stop.
U.S. Army Goes Digital
The FBCB2 isn’t a personal cipher on someone’s license plate. It’s the heart of the Stryker’s digital capabilities. It works off a GPS, sending a satellite signal through space providing instant tracking capabilities to any level of command. Quantum Research International’s John Prendergast supervises the installation of all state-of-the-art technology at Ft. Indiantown Gap’s installation yard. He notes that, “This technology would have prevented the capture of American soldiers taken prisoner like Pfc. Lynch in 2003. The moment her truck veered away from the convoy she would have been noticed and recalled before it was too late. If we would have pulled out of Iraq after the initial phase of the war, we wouldn’t have the advanced capabilities we are installing today. The Stryker would just be another armored vehicle.” The FBCB2 plots paths and passes information regarding potential dangers, locations of friendly vehicles and discriminates between old and new data. The operator can view either a topographical or a satellite map on any grid.
The vehicle commander or gunner may choose to view the Stryker’s DVE (driver visual enhancement), a heads up display from the driver’s perspective presenting an image based on thermal dynamics. “We’ve actually used the Stryker’s DVE to identify bomb makers in Iraq,” says SSgt. Brower, a veteran of the 1st Stryker Brigade. “When the insurgent carried an IED and placed it alongside a road his body’s temperature was lowered by the metal artillery shell and his core temperature was passed on to the shell. This transfer of heat enabled us to identify the insurgent in a crowd by using the DVE’s technology.”
At the brigade operations center, Lt. Col. Ferraro and an ensemble of communications specialists and intelligence officers review action reports and plan many steps in advance. The operations center is the source of receiving and distributing satellite feeds to the Stryker’s FBCB2.
Training The Ghost Riders
Seven Iraqi nationals were on hand serving as advisers and working as interpreters bringing cultural and immersion language skills to the soldiers of the Stryker Brigade. A mixture of Iraqis and role players gathered in a simulated town square. Absent of facades and the element of danger, used shipping containers and wrecked vehicles worked as training aids. A platoon of ICVs (infantry combat vehicles), FSVs (fire support vehicles) and RVs (reconnaissance vehicles) charged through the kicked up dust. The noise of the gravel churning was heard long before the low grumble of the Caterpillar diesel. “That’s what makes these vehicles special. An insurgent can be waiting to set off a road side bomb but they rarely hear a Stryker approaching,” says SSgt. Brower.
The vehicles break out of a fatal funnel and surround the settlement’s perimeter. The Strykers come to a stop and rear hatch doors drop spilling out soldiers that take positions around the outskirts of the training area. The Iraqis and role players scatter. Some take up arms and begin engaging the dismounted troops. The firefight increases everyone’s adrenaline. Two young PFCs identify an Iraqi trying to escape and charge the man with their M4s. One skillfully places his boot across the chair where a man speaking Arabic sat, firmly knocking him to the ground. “Whoooah!” says SSgt. Torres, as he intervenes. “These are volunteers trying to help you learn.” As the soldier takes back his position in the skirmish, SSgt. Torres tells me, “I hate to tell a young soldier not to be aggressive, but wow!”
The Stryker’s Role In A Digital Age
Back at a remote operation center, Humvees with satellite dishes are gathered around air conditioned tents on what I hear described as an “Antenna Farm.” I enter and notice that all are carrying rifles, loaded with a magazine. Lt. Col. Ferraro indicates, “We are training as if we are deployed. Developing good habits that simulate those expected will only help these soldiers. The Stryker doctrine is constantly evolving,” he says. “We integrate feedback from our veterans, asking them to validate or discredit theories. Then we incorporate the evolving technology. Everyone is on board with adapting the equipment and the crew to perform to the highest standards and needs of the Army.”
With the proven reputation of the Stryker’s survivability and the intimate knowledge of the collective information systems, these soldiers are arguable the best prepared element on today’s digital battlefield.