The US Army is arming its Stryker vehicle with attack drones, lasers, up-gunned cannons and anti-aircraft missiles in anticipation of scheduled 2020 Stryker-unit deployments to Europe -- intended to fortify a broader and much-discussed strategy to counter Russian “aggression” in the region.
The Russian threat forms the basis for a decided US effort to send more forces, increase mobility and forward deploy multi-function armored vehicles to the region; a more “lethal” Stryker, enabled by newly emerging air-defense weapons, represents a key element of this initiative.
Interestingly, a recent RAND report offered a unique window into often under-recognized elements of the Russian threat and Russian motivation. The study, called “Russia’s Hostile Measures in Europe,” provides some impactful metrics regarding Russia’s aggressive sensibilities.
“In a 2016 survey of Russian elites, 82.3 percent responded that the national interests of Russia ‘for the most part extend beyond its existing territory,’ up from 43.3 percent in 2012 and 64 percent in 2008,” the Study states.
The RAND report, written by Raphael Cohen and Andrew Radin, also cites what could be called a Russian “paranoia” or fear of NATO threats near its borders.
“Russia has felt perennially vulnerable and has often displayed a kind of defensive aggressiveness….smaller countries on Russia’s borders are viewed less as potential friends than as potential beachheads for enemies,” the report writes, citing Princeton professor Stephen Kotkin as the source.
The report is filled with specific details citing areas of Russian focus, which not only include the much-discussed Baltics, but also extend to Slavic-speaking areas of Southern parts of Eastern Europe.
Given this strategic landscape, it is no surprise that the Strykers being sent to Europe are not your everyday Strykers. The vehicles on the way will be armed with emerging Short Range Air Defense counter-air weapons, including vehicle-launched Hellfires, Stingers and Javelin missiles intended to address air threats specifically associated with Russia in many cases.
Air-defense weapons on the Stryker address a previously absent “counter-air” combat potential for Stryker vehicles, which, when armed with SHORAD weapons, will have an ability to sense and destroy enemy drones, helicopters, low-flying aircraft and even some approaching missiles. Senior Army weapons developers explain it this way; during the Cold War when the US faced a Soviet threat, ground-launched air-defense was naturally a huge priority, something which “atrophied” during 15 years of counterinsurgency.
Accordingly, the SHORAD program, coupled with a more powerful 30mm cannon, vehicle-launched attack drones and fast-evolving laser weapons represents a deliberate effort to further transition armored combat platforms into the often discussed “great power” threat environment. Army leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype this year as a step toward producing 144 initial systems, Army developers say.
Compared to an existing M2 .50-cal machine gun mounted on Strykers, the new 30mm weapon is designed to improve both range and lethality for the vehicle. The new gun can fire at least twice as far as a .50-cal, General Dynamics Land Systems developers told Warrior.
General Dynamics Land Systems weapons developers explain they have been testing an integrated sensor-shooter drone system mounted on the Stryker vehicle itself. A small, vertical take-off surveillance drone, called the Shrike 2, launches from the turret of the vehicle to sense, find and track enemy targets, General Dynamics developers explain. Then, using a standard video data link, it can work in tandem with an attack missile to destroy the targets it finds. The technology is intended to expedite the sensor-to-shooter loop and function as its own “hunter-killer” system, GD weapons developers say.
Also, in recent months, Army program managers have been discussing the importance of the Stryker-fired Mobile High-Energy Laser weapon, saying that a 5kw laser has already hit enemy drone targets in prior testing. The laser weapon system uses its own Ku-band tracking radar to autonomously acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat, industry and military weapons developers explain. Lasers can also enable silent defense and attack, something which provides a substantial tactical advantage as it can afford Stryker vehicles the opportunity to conduct combat missions without giving away their position.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles will need mobile air-defenses to address closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and handheld anti-aircraft weapons such as a Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger-armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air-defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles cannot.
The PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
An emphasis upon “deployability,” “mobility” and “expeditionary” warfare maneuvers are indispensable to the Army’s Stryker deployment strategy. Along these lines, a recent essay from The Modern War Institute at West Point raises the point that Russia has an extensive and very evolved railway system - which enables much faster and larger deployment potential. Stryker Brigades able to move long distances at 60-mph can offer a countermeasure or equivalent to rapid Russian mobilization. Demonstrating this mobility was a primary focus of the Army’s Dragoon Ride several years ago wherein Army Stryker units conducted extensive convoy movements across Eastern Europe while conducting interoperability exercises with NATO allies.
Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute. He previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
This first appeared in Warrior Maven here.