WASHINGTON: The annual defense bill authorizes $411 million to upgun the Army’s Stryker vehicles. The compromise goes with the Senate’s higher funding levels: $314 million for modification work and $97 million for R&D. That’s a heady increase from the $0.00 the president’s budget included for the initiative, which emerged mid-year as a response to Russian aggression in Europe.
But the House and Senate Armed Service Committees didn’t just throw the money at the problem. They also put the Army on notice. The cost-per-vehicle of the upgrade is getting too high, they said, and the schedule to deliver the new 30 millimeter cannon may be too slow.
“The conferees understand the urgency for this requirement given heightened security concerns of our NATO partners due to Russian aggression in Ukraine,” the conference report says. (Formally, the upgun request is an Operational Needs Statement but not an Urgent ONS). “As such, the conferees expect the rapid production of fully serviceable, upgraded Strykers.” (Emphasis ours).
“The conferees view this initiative…as an opportunity to succeed in accordance with significant acquisition reforms illustrated in many provisions within this bill,” the report continues, a reference to the bill’s ambitious changes to the notoriously sclerotic Pentagon procurement process.
Then there’s the cost, “which the Army has informed the defense committees may be approximately $4.5 million per vehicle,” the conference report continues. Part of the problem is you can’t just slap a bigger gun atop the Stryker and call it a day: The 30 mm cannon and its ammunition are much heavier than the current 12.7 mm machingun, requiring a redesign of the roof. But part of the problem, the conference report argues, is that the Army plans to build the new guns — and the new superstructure to support them — onto disused Stryker chassis that were mothballed after Strykers were converted to roadside-bomb-resistant Double-V Hulls (DVH). “This approach appears to add significantly to the unit cost,” say the skeptical conferees.
Finally, the report draws a line between upgunning 81 vehicles of the Europe-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment and an open-ended overhaul of the entire Stryker fleet worldwide. Congress is eager to accelerate the first but distinctly uneasy about the second. The $411 million in “lethality upgrades” for Europe come on top of $560 million of Stryker funding that was already in the budget request. Upgunning multiple brigades would swiftly break the $1 billion mark and keep on going.
“The conferees are concerned that simply adding a broad Stryker lethality package for the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams [in general] could add billions of dollars to the already stressed resources of the combat vehicle portfolio,” the conference report says. Even in the face of a resurgent Russian threat, there’s only so much the Army can afford.