WASHINGTON — Amid fears that Stryker-equipped US Army units in Europe are outgunned by their Russian counterparts, General Dynamics Land Systems is pressing ahead with fast-track efforts to mount a medium-caliber cannon on a portion of the fleet, company officials said.
Though the Army has announced the upgrade for 81 vehicles in response to requests from the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment, company officials anticipate the Army will eventually replace the .50-caliber machine guns with a 30mm gun and turret for the entire active fleet, about 1,000 of the eight-by-eight wheeled vehicles.
"What the Army wants is a weapon with a longer range, greater accuracy and more punch than the .50-caliber machine gun, and a 30mm will give you a lot more in all three of those areas," General Dynamics Land Systems business development manager, Timothy Reese, said.
The Army plans to field the larger gun in Europe by 2018. Because the GDLS-led procurement is evaluating existing cannons and involves replacing the vehicle's suspension with suspensions already in the Army's inventory, the process is expected to move quickly, Reese said.
"We're looking for complete systems right away, and the Army is looking for that from us," Reese said.
The defense policy legislation passed by both houses of Congress funds the Stryker "lethality upgrade," and in lawmakers have asked that the program to be managed "with dispatch and efficiency." The defense policy bill’s conference report also cautions the Army to "reduce the unit cost of the Stryker lethality upgrade program and evaluate ways to more efficiently pursue upgrades to the Stryker vehicle fleet."
Brig. Gen. David Bassett, the Army's program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems, said the effort would be hit particularly hard if Congress adopts were to fund the government under a continuing resolution that extends beyond December. Such stopgap funding measures allocate funding at the previous year’s level, and there was no dedicated funding for the upgrade in 2015.
Budget issues aside, Bassett said he was proud of how fast the Army has sped ’s speed of approvals for the program. thus far.
"At this point, we're waiting on money, but we're continuing to do things on program to move it forward with the recent release this week from General Dynamics," Bassett said.
The fast-paced plan accounts for long-lead items such as the cannon barrels and includes tests in Germany, where the 2nd Cavalry is based.
"So, 2018 is the time we're looking at, but like all the rest of our programs, we're looking for opportunities to move a little quicker," Bassett said.
GDLS, which is running the competition, issued a competitive request for proposals on Sept. 30 and plans to complete a source selection process, guided by the Army, by year's end. The fast-tracked schedule calls for a production-ready capability, ready for tests.
"Just like the Army would, we're evaluating the vendors based on the criteria, schedule, performance," Reese said. "We'll go immediately into test, its going to be a very quick transition."
The 30mm cannon will be able to fire an air-burst round that will explode above a target, a technique used to hit people hiding behind walls. The 25mm round — fired by a Bradley — is not large enough to allow for such a fuse, Reese said.
"That will be a game-changer for the crew [of a Stryker]," Reese said.
Among other requirements for the gun and turret procurement, the interior of adapted Strykers would still have to be able to retain the ability to carry a nine-soldier squad, so — unlike a Bradley — the turret cannot take up space inside the vehicle. Instead, the gunner would operate the cannon from right-front of the vehicle, as he does for its .50-caliber machine gun.
The upgrade process will involve cutting the top off of a Stryker, a process familiar to the company from its battle-damage repair work, Reese said. The Stryker will gain a new top with a ring to accommodate the turret, and an upgraded suspension to carry the additional weight.
"We don't think there's a lot of technical risk at all," Reese said.
Although GDLS is upgrading Strykers to a double-V hull, designed to deflect underbelly bomb blasts, the Army's announced upgrade plans only mention flat-bottomed models already in the inventory in Europe.
"My understanding is that eventually the Army is going to apply this to all its brigades, so some of the brigades that have the double-V Stryker can get the upgrade," Reese said. "The DVHs already have the new suspension on them, so in some sense it will be easier and less expensive to upgrade those brigades."
The suspension, meant to accommodate 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of additional weight on V-hulled variants versus flat-bottomed variants, would easily accommodate 2,000 to 4,000 more pounds for the gun and turret, Reese said. The original flat-bottomed Stryker weighs about 38,000 pounds.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.