ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. — General Dynamics has unveiled the first model of a program to upgrade Strykers with more protection and a better engine using parts harvested from older Strykers.
The “Stryker Exchange” program — which will upgrade 47 Strykers to the double-V-hull configuration (DVH) at Anniston — is something General Dynamics hopes to make a fixture of Stryker modernization. Company officials say the harvesting program will give the U.S. Army more durable combat vehicles at a far lower cost than new-construction DVH vehicles, while saving jobs at the depot that would be lost in January if the DVH work isn’t picked up.
If the company doesn’t receive an order from the Army by the end of September for another brigade set, or about 243 Strykers, its operations at Anniston will drop below the minimum of 20 reset vehicles to service per month. This will result in layoffs and a disruption of the supply chain, said Gordon Stein, vice president of Stryker Brigade Combat Team at GD Land Systems, during a tour of the facility.
Once the current run ends in January, the minimum sustainment rate drops to 13 vehicles a month, Stein said. If the contract for a brigade set of 243 DVH Strykers is awarded, however, the plant could ramp back up to about 20 vehicles a month and the line would be able to remain functioning through 2014.
The Army so far has ordered 789 DVH Strykers, and about 500 new-construction DVH vehicles — not reconfigured ones — have been delivered from the Anniston facility. Several hundred of those new-construction vehicles have been sent to two Stryker brigade combat teams deployed to Afghanistan.
There are still 2,941 flat-bottomed Strykers in the fleet, and GD executives are eager to show the Army their plan for converting as many as possible to the DHV configuration as the service decides where to go with the program as a whole.
Army Ground Combat Systems spokeswoman Ashley Givens said the DVH exchange pilot program was undertaken in direct response to a requirement for additional DVH vehicles for operations in Afghanistan. The service is looking to “validate if Stryker flat-bottom hull components could be expeditiously refurbished and installed on a new DVH hull at less cost than producing a new vehicle,” she said, adding that as the program progresses, the Army “will then be in a position to make informed decisions as to the benefits of further DVH exchange production should additional vehicle requirements emerge.”
The idea behind the DVH is simple. Designed to look like a “W,” the sloped sides deflect an IED blast away from the bottom of the vehicle, while the concave center gives the vehicle more distance from the source of the blast. The GD team has also replaced the bench-style seating on the old model with individual blast-reducing seats with stirrups for soldiers’ feet to keep them off the bottom of the vehicle, greatly reducing leg injuries from underbelly explosions.
By reusing parts from flat-bottomed Strykers for the DVH conversion program — and shipping the new hulls from the GD plant in Lima, Ohio — company officials say they can drive the cost down from $2.4 million for a new DVH to $1.6 million, which in turn would reduce the cost for a third brigade set from $617 million to as low as $370 million if the Army agrees to other cost-saving measures the company has identified.
The whole process can be completed in about 25 days per vehicle, and David Rodgers, General Dynamics’ senior director of plant operations at Anniston, said the team “is finding new ways with each new vehicle to reduce the cost” by deciding which parts to harvest and which might be better left alone.
Part of this program includes giving the DVH model a new suspension system. Flat-bottomed Strykers were built to handle 38,000 pounds but have been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan at up to 55,000 pounds. (When this reporter embedded with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Iraq in 2008, soldiers stacked layers of heavy sandbags on the floor of the vehicles to protect against underbelly IED blasts, adding thousands of pounds of extra weight.) The new Caterpillar C9 engine will boost horsepower from 350 to 450. But better acceleration is just the start. The armored vehicle will have more speed on grades and maintain maneuverability with the increased weight of survivability kits.
The Army also wants to give the vehicle wider tires to enhance off-road mobility and add a smart power management system and replace the 570-amp alternator with a 910-amp to support the increasing amount of electronics the vehicle must handle, including the Army’s new battlefield network.
As for the flat-bottomed Strykers, once they’re stripped for parts, Rodgers said the hulls are shrink-wrapped and parked in a yard at Anniston until the Army decides what to do with them.