This article was originally published March 1 at 9:22 a.m.; minor edits were added March 3.
WASHINGTON — The Army is looking beyond carrying out an urgent request to equip Stryker units in Europe with a medium-caliber cannon by scouring industry for capability upgrades, the Stryker Brigade Combat Team program manager said.
The service released a market survey Tuesday “intended to reach out to industry and involve them in the dialogue,” Col. Glenn Dean told a few reporters in an interview Monday. “What capabilities should we be considering beyond the things that were already sort of on our menu.”
The deadline to respond to the solicitation is April 1.
The Army will look at different sensors, better ways to integrate capabilities and ways to make vehicles more survivable beyond its efforts to upgrade flat-bottom Strykers with a Double-V Hull (DVH) and adding a 30mm cannon to flat-bottom vehicles in Europe.
Adding the 30mm cannon to some Strykers and the Javelin anti-tank missile to others is “at the top of the list,” Dean said. “I am pretty confident in saying that no matter what plan we come up with those are going to be part of it.”
But future plans sought through the market survey are intended to go much further and align with the Army’s combat vehicle modernization plan released last year. “The formation level of performance is more than just guns and missiles on individual platforms, and while those things” — the cannon and Javelin — “are certainly major contributors to lethality of the formation, they may not be the only thing,” Dean said.
The market survey is really intended to look at mission equipment packages on each of the individual platforms, but will not go beyond the set Stryker requirements, he added.
The Stryker has a range of performance parameters. It has to carry a nine-man squad, Dean said. But there are still requirements in the books that have yet to be met such as the range of the remote weapons station to detect and identify targets. “We haven’t met that requirement today, so that leaves us room for incremental improvement,” he said.
In the near-term, the Army approved the upgrade for 81 vehicles in July 2015 in response to urgent requests from the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment to replace its .50-caliber machine guns with a 30mm gun and turret amid fears the eight-wheel vehicles were being outgunned by their Russian counterparts. The plan is to start fielding the new vehicles in fiscal 2018.
The initial tranche of funding from Congress — $9.8 million — arrived in September, allowing the Army to start early design work and pay for a competition, led by Stryker's prime contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, to select a gun and turret. GDLS received $8 million of that to conduct the competition.
GDLS selected Kongsberg Defense Systems as the turret provider and ATK’s XM813 30mm cannon for the gun in December, Dean said.
More funding — $75 million — which arrived in January, will take the program through designing and building a prototype, according to Dean.
A little more than $300 million is allocated for the eight prototypes and upgrades to 83 production vehicles, plus spares, Dean said.
“We are actively looking for efficiencies in how we do business in order to reduce cost,” he noted, adding the Army has already reduced the initial cost of the gun and turret system over what was initially estimated.
“It remains to be seen as we get through the design if estimates will hold, but we think we reduced the cost of some of those components by about a third in the developmental phase,” Dean said. “Some of that savings should carry over into production.”
This week the Army is conducting the preliminary design review for the integrated systems, such as modifications to the hull, to be able to accept the turret and cannon, he said.
Next up, in April, the service will begin buying components that take longer to produce for production vehicles. By December, the Army expects to take delivery of its first prototype, which will then go through an abbreviated test period next spring before giving the final green light on the production phase of the program, Dean said. And by the end of next year, the service will take delivery of the first production vehicle.
An operational test is planned in early fiscal 2018 as the Army begins building the full production lot, according to Dean.
He said that while the Army is looking at what its options are to shorten the fielding schedule, “we think the Army struck the right balance between wanting increased capability, and we are pushing the envelope a little bit on this for what you ... would think of as a nondevelopmental capability.”
Dean said it might be possible to increase the production rate, but there are other factors such as the time needed to order certain parts.
He also mentioned there are technical challenges: “It’s an unqualified gun, it’s unqualified ammunition, it’s an unqualified turret. We are doing it all very quickly, and the last time the Army qualified a new ground, direct-fire weapons system was when we put the M256 cannon on the M1 Abrams tank back in the '80s, so we are exercising a muscle that hasn’t been exercised in a while.”
One major challenge is integrating the turret without trading off any of the requirements the Army holds “sacrosanct” in the Stryker platform such as carrying a nine-man squad with all of its gear, Dean said, which is why the Army chose a remote turret rather than a manned turret. The service is compensating by adding capability like periscopes.
“We are ultimately going to have to trade some things like what secondary equipment gets carried or taken off in order to add ammunition,” Dean said.
Another significant challenge is making sure all the new components work in concert to hit targets.
“The turret we selected, while technically pretty mature, hasn’t been fielded in other systems yet, so although it’s being considered for a number of other solutions, we may be the first one to field it,” Dean said.
The Army has worked out a robust and fast-paced test schedule that leverages some previous work done under the defunct Future Combat Systems program, the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program and the Navy’s amphibious transport dock (LPD 17).
The service is also involving the 2nd Cavalry, who will receive the up-gunned Strykers in Europe, in the design reviews and the testing process, which is “unique,” Dean said.