The Army Is Getting Deadlier Stryker Armored Vehicles to Protect Europe From Russia
Bigger guns and missiles are on the move in response to the Russian threat.
The U.S. Army’s only ground combat unit in Europe, the Second Cavalry, is getting better armored vehicles complete with heavier guns and built-in anti-tank guided missiles. It’s all part of a response to Moscow’s military aggression in the region, giving the regiment’s light armored vehicles the ability to defend themselves against Russian tank forces.
The end of the Cold War was marked by a major drawdown in U.S. Army forces in Europe. During the 1980s, U.S. Army Europe was home to more than four combat divisions, who were facing down many more combat divisions from Warsaw Pact areas including East Germany, Poland, and beyond. As the threat of war evaporated most U.S. Army forces were called home and disbanded. The only ground combat unit left in Germany, the Second Cavalry Regiment, has only about 1/16 the vehicles and personnel of the U.S. Army in Germany in 1987.
At the same time, the Second Cavalry isn’t equipped with heavy M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Rather, it is equipped with the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle. Light, air transportable, and capable of moving at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour, the Stryker emphasizes strategic and tactical mobility at the expense of firepower and protection.
For a post-9/11 era populated by wars against lightly armed guerrillas and terrorist factions, the Stryker seemed like a good choice. But then came the resurgence of the Russian military threat.
In light of the annexation of the Crimea and Russian military intimidation of its neighbors, the Second Cavalry could now be called upon to reinforce NATO allies in the Baltics—Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—in case the neighboring Russians invade. While the Second Cavalry has a handful of Strykers armed with heavy TOW anti-tank missiles, there is not enough vehicle-mounted firepower in the unit, leaving the regiment poorly prepared for squaring off with Russian tank and motorized rifle divisions equipped with heavily armed and armored T-90 and T-72B3M tanks.
The U.S. Army requested and got emergency funding to increase the Stryker’s firepower in 2015. The solution: a new gun turret that mounts on top of a Stryker. The new, unmanned turret includes a new XM813 30-millimeter gun and a M240 7.62-millimeter machine gun. The XM813 is powerful enough to penetrate the armor of lighter armored vehicles, including the Russian Army’s BMP-2, BMP-3, BTR-90, and BTR-82/87 infantry fighting vehicles. The Second Cavalry is scheduled to receive its first, up-gunned Strykers in January 2018.
Here’s a prototype Stryker firing the XM813 while on the move:
Half of the regiment’s Strykers will be equipped with the new turret. The other half will mount the new Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station – Javelin (CROWS-J) that allows Javelin missiles to be fired from inside the Stryker. While the Second Cavalry’s dismounted cavalrymen carry the Javelin missile, Russia’s extensive use of artillery in the Crimea means that in the event of conflict with Moscow, these troopers will probably stay mounted inside their vehicles as long as possible. Here’s a Breaking Defense video showing CROWS-J in slow motion:
The new Stryker armament plan is a good one that increases Stryker firepower to meet high-end threats. In the event of war, half of the Strykers can kill enemy tanks (and virtually everything else, from buildings to helicopters) with Javelin missiles, while the other half can mow down enemy infantry fighting vehicles, air defense vehicles, and others with the 30-millimeter gun.
The Second Cavalry still has one big problem, though. While firepower has received a big boost, armor lags. The Stryker armored vehicle can be easily killed by the 125-millimeter main guns of the Russian T-90 and T-72B3M tanks, and its armor can be penetrated by anti-tank missiles and the gun armament of BMP-2, BMP-3, and BTR-82/87 wheeled armored vehicles. It is also vulnerable to artillery shrapnel.
The Army is looking at protecting Strykers using so-called active protection systems (APS) like the Israeli Trophy, which combine millimeter-wave radar sensors ringing the vehicle with kinetic energy interceptors that shoot down incoming rockets and missiles. The relatively light APS system, which usually weighs a ton or less, can provide armor protectionequal to that of 30 or more tons of steel armor.
The Strykers of the Second Cavalry will form an effective tripwire defense for NATO, rushing off to reinforce friendly countries to protect them until heavier armor arrives from the USA. This is the return of big power warfare, where the enemy is no longer guerrillas with grenade launchers but armies with tanks that can take over entire countries. The new weapons and armor fielded by the Second Cavalry should be up to the task.