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Stryker Light Armored Vehicle III (LAV III)
The Stryker Light Armored Vehicle III [LAV III] is at the center of the Army's Interim Brigade Combat Teams. The IBCTs will be lighter and more mobile, yet offer firepower no enemy can hope to match. Strykers are being deployed to units at Fort Lewis, WA. In all, six brigades will receive the vehicles. Each brigade will have more than 300 Strykers apiece.

In February 2002 the Army named its new interim armored vehicle after two soldiers who received the Medal of Honor. The Stryker is named in honor of Spc. 4 Robert F. Stryker, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War, and Pfc. Stuart S. Stryker, who received the award for his actions during World War II. Both men were killed in action. They were not related. This is only the second Army vehicle named after enlisted personnel. In the early 1980s, the service named the Division Air Defense gun for World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York. The system was plagued with problems before then- Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger cancelled it.

The Army's LAV is being produced in two major variants: the Infantry Carrier Vehicle and the Mobile Gun System. The Mobile Gun System will have a 105mm cannon, the same gun tube as the one on the original M-1 Abrams tank. This is not a tank replacement, but it gives a direct fire capability to support the infantry elements. Before the Mobile Gun System is fielded, units will get the Anti-tank Guided Missile Vehicle which will have a TOW system capable of blasting through reinforced concrete bunkers.

All of the LAVs will be deployable by C-130 and larger aircraft. As of September 2002 the Army was flying Stryker in C-130s under a temporary waiver issued by the Air Force. The waiver was necessary because the vehicle is too wide to accommodate the 14-inch safety aisle around all sides that is required by the Air Force for the loadmaster. Additionally, only a portion of its crew may fly in the same aircraft. Yet, the Army disputes claims that Stryker -- the centerpiece of its new Brigade Combat Teams -- is not transportable via C-130. During the Millennium Challenge exercise the Infantry Carrier Vehicle variant required multiple alterations to fit into a C-130: The crew removed two smoke grenade launchers, all antennas, a left rear bracket that blocked egress over the top of the vehicle, the Remote Weapons System and the third-row wheel's bump-stop. Reassembly upon landing took as long as 17 minutes.

They will have a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour and a range of 300 miles on a tank of fuel. The vehicle will be swift, easily maintainable and include features designed for the safety of soldiers. The LAV's armor protection will stop 50-caliber bullets and protect against 152 mm airburst shells. The LAV's tires can be inflated or deflated from inside the vehicle to adapt to surfaces ranging from deep mud to hardtop, and it has run-flat tires, a built-in fire-suppression system and self-recovery winch. The vehicles also run quieter than the current armored personnel carriers, increasing their "stealth," and they will reduce logistics costs, making the IBCTs an affordable alternative to today's heavy brigades.

One of the Army's transformation goals is to be able to deploy brigade combat teams anywhere in the world within 96 hours, a division in 120 hours and five divisions within 30 days, according to Army Chief of Staff GEN Eric K. Shinseki. The LAV III is considered an "interim armored vehicle" because it is not the final vehicle that will equip the transformation "objective force" of the future. This is not an experimental force, rather it represents a force capable of meeting the needs of regional commanders in chief, while concurrently assisting the Army in developing doctrine to meet 21st-century threats.

In November 2000 the Army took another step into its Transformation Initiative when it announced that GM GDLS Defense Group had been awarded the contract to supply the Army with the Interim Armored Vehicle. GM GDLS in a joint venture between General Motors, Electro-Motive Divison, and General Dynamics Land Systems Division and is based in Sterling Heights, Mich. The majority of the work on the project will be done in the United States and Canada.

Army officials signed a $4 billion contract to produce 2,131 LAVs over six years. The contract's first iteration calls for enough LAVs to equip the first IBCT at Fort Lewis. Each brigade will have more than 300 LAVs, and the six option years of the contract should produce enough LAVs for the first six Brigade Combat Teams.

A number of subcontractors will be used to produce the different LAV configurations and equipment. The prime contractor - GM General Dynamics Land Systems Defense Group LLC -- will conduct work in four primary locations. Structure, fabrication and final assembly of the LAVs will take place in both Anniston, Ala., and London, Ontario in Canada. Engineering will take place in Sterling Heights, Mich., and upper hull structures will be produced at a plant in Lima, Ohio.

The contract will provide the Interim Brigade Combat Team with two vehicle variants that are deployable anywhere in the world in combat-ready configurations. The two variations of the LAV III that will be produced for the Interim Armored Vehicle program are the Infantry Carrier Vehicle and the Mobile Gun System. The IAV will have eight configurations besides the basic infantry carrier model - mortar carrier, reconnaissance vehicle, anti-tank guided missile vehicle, fire-support vehicle, engineer support vehicle, command-and-control vehicle, medical-evacuation vehicle and the NBC reconnaissance vehicle. The IAVs are not a replacement for the M1 Abrams tank or the M3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The IAVs will be used in places, such as urban areas, where the heavy armored vehicles are not suitable for the mission.

The Infantry Carrier Vehicle is swift, easily maintainable and most importantly includes features designed for the safety of soldiers. The LAV has armor protection all around, even on top. The armor will stop 50-caliber bullets and protect against 152mm airburst shells, and the armor is twice as thick as original contract specifications called for. The tires of the LAV can be inflated or deflated from inside the vehicle to make it safer for different surfaces ranging from deep mud to hardtop, and the vehicle has run-flat tires. The LAV has a built-in fire suppression system and self-recovery winch.

The LAVs will run quieter than the current armored personnel carriers, increasing their "stealth." They will also give the new brigades a reduced logistics footprint, and make the units cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades. The Interim Brigade Combat Team should be about 25 percent cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades.

The LAV engine is a Caterpillar engine, which is common to the Army's family of medium tactical vehicles. That means some of the same repair parts can be used. Commonality of equipment reduces the brigade's logistical footprint and support costs and makes the entire vehicle fleet easier to maintain. This will allow the use of the same support structure for all of a unit's vehicles, including mechanics and parts.

Beginning in October 2001 the Stryker underwent coupon testing, which is taking small squares of armor and firing at it with various caliber weapons and munitions at varying distances. After the tests, officials discovered that the initial armor proposed by the contractor was not suitable and changes in the armor were ordered in early 2002. When modifications are made to the armor, the vehicle will be able to stop 7.62mm and 14.5mm armor piercing ammunitions. GM Defense delivered a new, denser ceramic-skin armor for Stryker in May 2002.

Stryker's half-inch-thick steel body and ceramic-skin armor shields the vehicle from 14.5mm and 7.62mm armor-piercing bullets. United Defense Industries, Arlington, Va., received a $7.9 million contract from GM Defense 04 November 2002 to develop and test add-on applique armor that will stop RPG-7 rounds. The contract requires United Defense to develop and test the applique armor by February 2004. If it passes, the company could build 1,600 add-on armor kits by 2006.

Reducing its weight is another modification the Stryker will undergo before the vehicles arrive in May at 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, both located at Fort Lewis, Wash. The Stryker was reported to be 4,000 pounds more than the 38,000-pound requirement. However, officials expect that the vehicles will meet weight limits, which will allow them to be loaded and transported on a C-130 cargo plane.

In September 2002 the Army Test and Evaluation Command started the 16-day field-testing portion of a formal comparison between the new Stryker Armored Vehicle and the M113A3 Armored Personnel Carrier at Fort Lewis, Wash. Formally dubbed the Medium Armored Vehicle Comparison Evaluation, the test was required by the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act. The comparison started with a 50-mile road march, and the first two mission vignettes are schedule to begin Sept. 13. A wide variety of data was be collected from a platoon of four M113A3s rebuilt by Anniston Army Depot, Ala., and a platoon of four new Strykers delivered to Fort Lewis.

The first interim brigade combat team will contain three substitute vehicles, because the mobile gun system and support systems for the nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicle, and the fire support vehicle, would not be ready by May 2003. The Army will not field an interim brigade combat team supported by all configurations of the Stryker IAV until 2005.

The Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team was set to conduct its operational evaluation exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Lousiana. The exercise, named Arrowhead Lightning II, was set to assess the SBCT's ability to conduct early entry and combat operations in a mid- to low- intensity environment against an unconventional enemy. The exercise was set to take place from May 15-27, 2003. Following a month-long training event at Fort Irwin, CA, that ended in mid-April, the brigade transported 1,500 vehicles -- including 293 Stryker vehicles -- by air, land and sea to ports close to Fort Polk. Upon completion of the operational evaluation exercise, the Army was to prepare a report to the Secretary of Defense, who would in turn then have certify to Congress whether the results of the evaluation indicate the design of the SBCT is operationally effective and fully trained before it can be deployed on missions worldwide.

The 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, (SBCT 2) is deployed their equipment and personnel to Fort Knox, KY, to participate in the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) from June-September 2003.

Add-on armor for the Stryker adds approximately 7,000 lbs to the vehicle weight and approximately 12-14 inches to each side. To accommodate the increased weight, the tires were inflated to 90 psi and the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) was disengaged. As the vehicles moved from a hard surface to a softer one (in a grove of trees) the vehicle's tires sank into the soft ground. The winch on the Stryker is not sufficient to recover a Stryker with add-on armor mounted; therefore, some other vehicle recovery asset must be used.

Another challenge was the problem moving the vehicles down narrow two-lane roads while they had the add-on armor on the Strykers. The vehicles were unable to pass side by side. One driver had to pull off the road to make room for the other vehicle to pass. When he did this, the vehicle would sink into the dirt and require another vehicle to recover it. This made it important for the battalion staff and company-level leaders to ensure that they did detailed mission planning and route selection to reduce the possibility of two vehicles passing. While this does not appear to limit maneuver, it could cause temporary loss of momentum.

The battalion also discovered that while the Stryker vehicle can easily ford streams and shallow rivers, Soldiers must take care not to exceed certain speeds. They found that if they entered the water at fast speeds, then water would splash up over the front of the vehicle, filling the engine compartment, causing the vehicle to stall. When the vehicle slowed down, the water would not splash over the hull, and allowed the vehicle to move through the water without stalling.

For the first time since World War I, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed overseas. The brigade's Stryker vehicles and other equipment arrived 12 November 2003 in the port of Kuwait on board the USNS Shughart and USNS Sisler after a three-week voyage from Fort Lewis, Wash., via the Port of Tacoma. The deployment marks the second time that Stryker vehicles have landed on foreign soil though. In August a platoon from the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat team conducted a capabilities demonstration in South Korea.

Three block improvements are planned for the Stryker. A crew-installable add-on armor kit that provides 360-degree RPG-7 protection, an internal recoil-mounted 120mm mortar system, and embedded training that will be provided beginning with the third SBCT. Block improvements will be retrofitted to SBCTs 1 and 2 in subsequent years.

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Copyright 2003 Tony Rogers