The vehicle is known as the Stryker, and 311 of the lightly armored, wheeled vehicles have been ferrying U.S. soldiers around northern Iraq since October 2003. The Army has been ebullient about the vehicle’s success there, with Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, telling the House Armed Services Committee last month that “we’re absolutely enthusiastic about what the Stryker has done.”
But the Army’s Dec. 21 report, drawn from confidential interviews with operators of the vehicle in Iraq in the last quarter of 2004, lists a catalogue of complaints about the vehicle, including design flaws, inoperable gear and maintenance problems that are “getting worse not better.” Although many soldiers in the field say they like the vehicle, the Army document, titled “Initial Impressions Report — Operations in Mosul, Iraq,” makes clear that the vehicle’s military performance has fallen short.
The internal criticism of the vehicle appears likely to fuel new controversy over the Pentagon’s decision in 2003 to deploy the Stryker brigade in Iraq just a few months after the end of major combat operations, before the vehicle had been rigorously tested for use across a full spectrum of combat.
The report states, for example, that an armoring shield installed on Stryker vehicles to protect against unanticipated attacks by Iraqi insurgents using low-tech weapons works against half the grenades used to assault it. The shield, installed at a base in Kuwait, is so heavy that tire pressure must be checked three times daily. Nine tires a day are changed after failing, the report says; the Army told The Post the current figure is “11 tire and wheel assemblies daily.”
“The additional weight significantly impacts the handling and performance during the rainy season,” says the report, which was prepared for the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “Mud appeared to cause strain on the engine, the drive shaft and the differentials,” none of which was designed to carry the added armor.
Commanders’ displays aboard the vehicles are poorly designed and do not work; none of the 100 display units in Iraq are being used because of “design and functionality shortfalls,” the report states. The vehicle’s computers are too slow and overheat in desert temperatures or freeze up at critical moments, such as “when large units are moving at high speeds simultaneously” and overwhelm its sensors.
The main weapon system, a $157,000 grenade launcher, fails to hit targets when the vehicle is moving, contrary to its design, the report states. Its laser designator, zoom, sensors, stabilizer and rotating speed all need redesign; it does not work at night; and its console display is in black and white although “a typical warning is to watch for a certain color automobile,” the report says. Some crews removed part of the launchers because they can swivel dangerously toward the squad leader’s position.
The vehicle’s seat belts cannot be readily latched when troops are in their armored gear, a circumstance that contributed to the deaths of three soldiers in rollover accidents, according to the report. On the vehicle’s outside, some crews have put sand-filled tin cans around a gunner’s hatch that the report says is ill-protected.
Independent groups and a loose-knit group of retired Army officers who dislike the Stryker vehicle have alleged that the Stryker’s 2003 deployment was motivated partly by the desire of the Army and the manufacturer, General Dynamics, to build congressional support for buying additional brigades