For 60 years, the Army has had a balance between light and heavy units. Heavy units had tanks and armored personnel carriers. Light units had no tanks and depended on foot infantry.
Heavy units had great firepower and could move rapidly over short distances. They were capable of taking on Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions in the Fulda Gap of Germany. They had the protection and mobility to survive in a high intensity battle. But the had shortcomings as well. They were handicapped by difficult terrain like mountains and dense forests. They needed a huge supply and logistical tail to keep them running. They had a large percentage of their troops devoted more to maintanence than to fighting. They were expensive to equip and to operate. But worst of all, it was hard to move them from the US to wherever the fight was. As a practical matter, they could only be moved by large cargo ships.
Light units, on the other hand, moved on foot mostly, and could operate in terrain that would stop tanks cold. They could be moved by air (in fact, every thing and every one in the 82nd Airborne division could be parachuted into the fight). They required less logistical support and fewer troops were dedicated to maintanence. The biggest part of the light divisions were the 9 infantry battalions and their supporting artillery. But this came at a price. Once you got them into the theatre where the fight was, they were hard to move around. They moved at a walking pace. They didn’t have a lot of firepower compared to a heavy division.
The dilema faced by the Army was how to field a force that could be moved to a foreign country quickly, and still have the mobility and firepower inherent in a mounted force. The answer the Army came up with was the Stryker Family of vehicles.
The Strykers are an attempt to find a middle ground between heavy and light- a happy medium as it were. The basic vehicle was adapted from a the latest version of a Canadian design from the late 1970s. This is the Stryker ICV or Infantry Carrier Vehicle. As you can see, it is an 8 wheeled armored truck. Wheeled armored vehicles are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as armor has. But in addition carrying a squad of infantry, the ICV has a remote controlled .50 caliber machine gun and a thermal weapon sight, giving it the ability to provide limited fire support. It is also equipped with the latest battlefield network system to give the crew and passengers a clear picture of where they and their companions are on the battlefield. While the passengers can fight while mounted, through hatches above the rear compartment, the ICVs main job is to deliver the squad to the fight, where they will dismount to close with the enemy. The Stryker just doesn’t have the armor to withstand hits from antitank weapons. Its main defense against them is to use its speed and mobility to avoid them.
But a fighting unit is more than just infantrymen (as much as it pains me to admit). When the Army bought the Stryker, they bought several versions designed to give supporting units a vehicle that could keep up with the ICVs with the same level of protection and, since they were based on the same vehicle, minimizing the logistics and maintanence needed to support them. There are mortar carriers, headquarters vehicles, a version for combat engineers and an ambulance to evacuate casualties.
Since the infantry troops don’t have a lot of heavy weapons to fight tanks, or take out bunkers, the Army developed a special version of the Stryker to provide just a little more punch- The Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. This is a Stryker with a special turret mounting a 105mm cannon. The turret is unmanned. The crew of the MGS is in the hull, and controls the turret and the weapons from there. This is NOT a tank. Again, it just doesn’t have the armor to act like a tank. But it does give the infantry a lot of punch when and where they need it.
The Stryker has taken a lot of critisism from folks because it has fairly light armor. When compared to a Bradley or an M-1 tank, they complain that it is too light. But the fact of the matter is, the army used to have several divisions of troops that had no armor at all. Compared to riding around in a Humvee, the Stryker is far safer.
Check out this Stryker I found at Murdoc’s old place:
Sure, the ICV is a total loss, but there was only one wounded as a result of a roadside bomb.
Here’s a chart showing the organization of a Stryker infantry company:
And here’s a couple of youtubes: