This Is What Stryker Armored Vehicles Could Bring To The Fight In Ukraine

Strykers, even with their known limitations, could provide Ukraine with a host of desperately needed capabilities, especially when combined with other forces.

byHoward Altman|
Stryker patrol
(Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Share

In the summer of 2011, then-Army Maj. Brad Duplessis was a Stryker battalion and brigade executive officer in Iraq, leading troops into combat in towns like Baqubah and Muqdadiya. He saw Strkyers survive being hit by explosively formed penetrators, improvised explosive devices and RKG rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades, which have been known to destroy much more heavily armored vehicles.

More than a decade later, the U.S. is considering sending Strykers to Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official told The War Zone Monday, confirming a story first reported by Politico. The vehicles have been greatly improved in the interim, keying on lessons learned in deadly incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan to make them more survivable.

Getting Strykers would be a “win” for Ukraine, said Duplessis, who retired as a colonel in 2021 and oversaw live fire training for those vehicles at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

“I would be hesitant to make a one-to-one comparison with Ukraine,” Duplessis told The War Zone on Wednesday, “But the Stryker was made to bridge the gap between light forces and really heavy ones in a high-intensity conflict like you see in Ukraine. The Stryker would provide mobility and protection from the kind of threats faced by Ukrainian forces just as it did for our formations in Iraq.” 

How Strykers Could Help Ukraine

While it is still unknown what variant or variants of Stryker the U.S. might provide Ukraine, any would represent a big upgrade for the country from the fleet of more than 1,300 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) or Humvees, 300 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers and 527 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) the U.S. has already provided, said Duplessis, the retired Stryker officer.

“It's quieter than a tank and you can get a Stryker in areas that you probably could not get a tank or a Bradley into, especially in urban areas,” he told The War Zone. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden authorized the transfer of 50 M2A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine.

The Stryker also provides safer mobility, with better communications and situational awareness systems, than either of those three previously U.S.-supplied vehicles, Duplessis said. 

“You can use all the digital systems. You can use your optics to fire the 50 cal or MK 19 from the protection of being inside the vehicle. You can't do that in the M113 or the MRAP or the HUMVEE. You can only match that with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle or the Abrams tank.”

Troops dismount from a Stryker. (US Army)

Detractors, said Duplessis, point out Stryker’s limitations.

“‘It can't fight a tank,’ they say. ‘It doesn't have the firepower of a tank. It doesn't have the protection of the Bradley.’ But you have to look at what role the Stryker plays.”

The Stryker, he said, “was produced and centered around the infantry squad. It is designed to deliver an infantry squad a kilometer or terrain feature away from an objective.”

It “allows mobility in ugly, restricted environments like a city. It allows for the protection of the infantry and at the end of the day, it allows you to put a squad of infantry in a vehicle or dismount with its leaders and organic equipment and weapons.”

The M1126 Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV), one of nearly two-dozen versions, is the “foundation of the Stryker formation,” said Duplessis.

Other variants, such as the Commander’s Vehicle (CV), Mortar Carrier Vehicle (MCV), Engineer Squad Vehicle (ESV) and Medical Evacuation Vehicle (MEV) “enable the formation's infantry” in several ways.

They provide command and control; organic fire support from the MCV's 120mm mortars - which can range nearly 4.5 miles; mobility support; and medical evacuation, he said. 

“In this last role, the MEV provides a better protected medical evacuation vehicle than the U.S.-provided M113.” Such a role is critical in the fight Ukraine is facing against Russia, where artillery is arguably the biggest threat on the battlefield. The Stryker's speed, maneuverability, and protection from indirect fire could be a huge asset for Ukrainian troops.

The Mobile Gun System (MGS) variant, with its 105mm cannon and the Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) variant, armed with Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missiles, “both have the capability to destroy Russian tanks,” said Duplessis.

But there are things that the Stryker can’t do, he said.

While it allows troops to maneuver in a rapid manner, it's best used as part of a larger effort.

“I probably would not recommend employing a Stryker Brigade alone in an urban environment, but as ... part of a combined arms effort with armor. With anti-armor systems like Javelins. With snipers. With mortars.”

The same holds true for the tank-killing variants.

“This is best done when employed as part of a combined arms formation as opposed to a stand-alone capability. Neither system matches the capability of the Abrams main battle tank.”

A Stryker Mobile Gun System fires a 105mm round. (Mark Miranda/U.S. Army)

As with all systems sent to Ukraine, there are concerns about how the Stryker will be maintained.

The good news, said Duplessis, is that Ukraine already has similar vehicles in the General Dynamics Land Systems-built (GDLS) Super Bison, of which Canada last summer provided more than three dozen.

The Super Bisons “are very near the same system,” as the Stryker. “So I think it makes a lot of sense to provide equipment that you know and operates on a common chassis, with common parts.”

When U.S. Strykers are deployed, they are accompanied by several GDLS technical experts to help maintain the fleet. That is unlikely to happen in Ukraine, where the U.S. has repeatedly said it wants no boots on the ground, uniformed or otherwise.

We asked GDLS about the interchangeability between the Super Bison and Stryker, as well as whether the Super Bison technicians perform their duties in or out of Ukraine. We will update this story with any information provided.

Ukraine has demonstrated “a lot of growing proficiency in maintenance and sustainment,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, told reporters, including from The War Zone, during a press briefing last week.

That includes work performed “both within Ukraine and relying on new systems that we have set up with our allies and partners to provide what we call tele-maintenance in many instances,” Cooper said. “So, at this point, the Ukrainians really are set up for success once we are able to train them on the system.” 

The key, said Duplessis, is to maintain a stockpile of common spare parts and develop a system to provide situational awareness of the condition of vehicles and what parts are needed.

The biggest challenge may not be maintaining the vehicle itself, but the digital systems on the vehicle said Duplessis. There are also parts of the weapons station that frequently broke.

“The digital components and the remote weapon station would be more of a challenge for somebody who's never operated the system,” he said.

Though the Stryker is designed to provide increased mobility, it may have a tough time in the muddy slop conditions of Ukraine, known as rasputitsa, as temperatures continue to fluctuate around the freezing mark. 

“The Stryker has increased mobility, but that's true to a point being that it's a wheeled vehicle,” he said. “In muddy conditions off-road, it's not going to do that well, or it has the potential to get stuck. For frozen gravel or ground, horrible roads etc. I think it's perfectly fine. But because it doesn't have tracks, it's not going to do as well as, say, a Bradley or tank in the mud.”

Extreme cold, in the past, has been an issue for the Strykers. They were so ill-suited for Arctic conditions that U.S. soldiers in Alaska had little faith in their effectiveness and spent far more time repairing the wheeled vehicles than operating them in the field. The Strykers often freeze up in the extreme cold. Soldiers became so frustrated with the Stryker's performance in Alaska that their replacement was seen as at least a partial salve to morale that had dipped very low. You can read more about that here.

Duplessis, however, doesn’t see cold being an issue in Ukraine. The average low January temperatures in Donetsk and Luhansk - where some of the heaviest fighting is taking place - is 20 degrees and 18 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. By comparison, the average low January temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska, home of Fort Wainwright, where Strykers were stationed, is 13 below zero Fahrenheit.

A Stryker vehicle from the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment moves down a snowy road in the Donnelly Training Area during Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center 22-02, March 22, 2022. (John Pennell/U.S. Army)

One of the biggest lessons Duplessis said he learned about the Stryker from his time at the National Training Center is the importance of knowing what it was designed for and tailoring missions around that.

“I can't emphasize this enough,” he said. The Stryker “is designed to maneuver coherent infantry squads and provide protection, communications, situational awareness, and then a support-by-fire platform with a 50-caliber or Mk-19.”

The units that did “extremely well” at NTC were those that “recognized the limitations of it, and really used it to move forces to a position of advantage out of contact with the enemy, and then make contact on their terms. It's not to get the Stryker in these decisive engagements ahead of the armor forces.”

U.S. soldiers from the 1-14th Cavalry, Medical Team, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Lewis, Wash., patrol the area at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Aug. 24, 2011. The soldiers partake in the training as preparation before their deployment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hanson Mendiola)

There has been no announcement yet about whether the Stryker will actually be sent to Ukraine, but if it is, Ukrainian troops will most likely train on them at the Pentagon’s newly-minted maneuver warfare training program in Germany. That’s where troops operating the Bradleys will train starting next week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, told reporters Thursday.

Also unknown is how the Ukrainians will field them should they arrive. Duplessis recommends creating units built around them as opposed to spreading them out across multiple groups.

Ukraine is waging a combined arms fight and “regardless of the vehicles and equipment provided, a critical component of military effectiveness we have repeatedly seen displayed by Ukrainian leaders is their impressive battlefield adaptation and decision-making,” he said. “That being said, I would argue that Ukrainian Armed Forces do not necessarily require all Stryker variants to be effective, but require those that allow them to maximize the command and control, reconnaissance, fire support, infantry, and anti-armor capabilities resident in the CV, RV, ICV, MCV and FSV, and ATGM.”

Of note, he added, “is that the RV's long-range advanced scout surveillance system's (LRAS3) FLIR allows for target location coordinates out to about 6 miles.”

Stryker Reconnaissance Vehicle. (US Army)

And there could be an added benefit in the future. As we wrote about previously, the Pentagon is considering providing Ukraine with the international export version of the Army's Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), IFATDS would increase HIMARS lethality by providing a secure communications system stitching together incoming information from various sources across the battlefield for a better common operating picture and greater situational awareness.

According to Duplessis, with that system, the FSV Stryker variant “can be linked into the Ukrainian armed forces fire support system, allowing a fire mission to be rapidly processed from detection to delivering rounds on target. Further, the ability to process fire missions either via voice or data, and to stay abreast of changing fire support control measures and priorities would aid Ukrainian commanders in synchronizing fires in support of maneuver.” 

U.S. Army soldiers watch their team drive a Stryker on a driving range on Forward Operating Base Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard W. Jones Jr.)

While it has its advantages and disadvantages, Strykers should improve Ukraine’s ability to move troops around the battlefield and other parts of the Stryker family could help take on Russian forces along the leading edge of the fight, something that will be a key requirement for any attempt to liberate further territory, especially Crimea.

Meet The Stryker

The Stryker, first fielded shortly after the turn of the millennium, is an eight-wheeled, all-wheel drive, armored combat vehicle (ACVs) produced by General Dynamics Land Systems and based on the Canadian LAV III (Light Armored Vehicle III).

The Stryker was born out of the Army's post-Cold War Interim Armored Vehicle program. It was an effort focused on crafting a new force that can rapidly deploy and fill in the capability gap between light forces, which lack the combat power and protection of heavy forces, and heavy forces that take longer to deploy and move at a slower clip on the battlefield. It was a more agile and flexible mechanized concept that was controversial at the time. The resulting Stryker first entered service in 2002, just as the U.S. found itself descending into the Global War on Terror.

The Strykers are lighter and faster than Bradley Fighting Vehicles or M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and is designed to fit into the three main Air Force cargo planes, including the C-130.

It was named in honor of two Medal of Honor recipients killed in action – SPC Robert F. Stryker, who was awarded for his actions during the Vietnam War, and PFC Stuart S. Stryker, who was awarded for his actions during World War II.

Far more than just an individual vehicle, the Stryker is a family of them.

The original Styker family. (DoD)
A glance at the Stryker variants currently in service. DOT&E

There are two chassis versions - the Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) and the Mobile Gun System (MGS) - but all told there are 18 Stryker variants when you factor in the addition of the so-called “double-v” hull. That w-shaped underside was designed to mitigate the effects of blasts from mines and IEDs that created havoc with these vehicles, and many others, in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

According to the Army, there are “10 flat-bottom variants that include the ICV, MGS, Reconnaissance Vehicle (RV), Mortar Carrier Vehicle (MCV), Commander’s Vehicle (CV), Fire Support Vehicle (FSV), Engineer Squad Vehicle (ESV), Medical Evacuation Vehicle (MEV), Anti-tank Guided Missile (ATGM), Vehicle and Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV); seven Double-V-Hull (DVH) variants for the ICV, CV, MEV, MC, ATGM, FSV and ESV, and an additional configuration of a modified ICV platform integrating a 30 mm cannon.”

To simplify logistics and sustainment, all the variants of the 23-ton vehicle share major components, including a six-cylinder, 350-hp Caterpillar diesel engine that delivers a top speed of more than 60 mph. That high-speed is a critical feature of the Stryker.

Stryker's Caterpillar six-cylinder Diesel engine delivers a top speed of more than 60 mph. (U.S. Army photo)

All variants equipped with remote weapons systems - the ICV, CV, ESV, NBCRV - have a STORM-LRF laser range finder that is integrated into the platform's fire control system, said Duplessis, the former Stryker officer. It calculates a ballistic solution to an engagement and also allows the Stryker to fire stabilized while on the move. 

The crews of all variants can identify threats at range to report to an adjacent or follow-on force, to maneuver, or to call for fire. 

“This capability is a vast improvement to the M113 or the optics provided by use of night vision devices,” he said.

The Stryker also has digital command and control systems with internet-based command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, according to the Army.

They can be delivered via C-5 Galaxy, which can carry seven, C-17 Globemaster III, which can carry four or C-130 Hercules cargo planes, which can carry one.

A C-17 Globemaster III can carry up to four Strykers. (Photo by Sgt. David Nunn)

The most common variant - the ICV - is armed with an M2 .50 Cal Machine Gun or MK 19 40mm Grenade Launcher. Roof hatches in the rear and a commander’s hatch in the front allow the passengers to fire their weapons while mounted.

It has a crew of two - commander and driver - and room for nine troops.

The MGS version has a 105mm rifled gun, a 12.7mm and 7.62mm machine gun while the ATGM version has a two-tube launcher for TOW tank-busting missiles and a 7.62mm machine gun.

The Army divested its fleet of MGS variants last year because of long-standing problems with the autoloader for its 105mm gun and the fact that it had not been modernized with the double-v hull.

But the MGS, designed in part to take out some tanks, could be very attractive for Ukraine that is begging for more tank-like capabilities. With the type now retired, and recently so, some could not only be sent to Ukraine, but remaining examples could be used as a spare parts source.

The Pentagon's DOT&E states the MGS mission as such:

"The Stryker Brigade Combat Team uses the MGS to create openings in walls, destroy bunkers and machine gun nests, and defeat sniper positions and light armor threats. The primary weapon systems are designed to be effective against a range of threats up to T-62 tanks."

The Stryker system has been constantly upgraded over the years.

As previously mentioned, around the same time as Duplessis and his crews were driving older versions through Iraq, the Army began to redesign the vehicles to incorporate the double-v hull design. By 2012, 673 such Strykers had been produced, of which over 450 were fielded for Afghanistan

A Stryker fires a TOW missile. (Raytheon)

The Army has continued to update Strykers over the years.

In 2017, two new Stryker variants were fielded after a two-year initiative designed to give them far more firepower and engagement range, qualities deemed necessary to confront Russian armored vehicles equipped with heavier weapons than the ICV’s 50-cal machine gun.

One of those new variants, dubbed the "Dragoon" like its 2nd Cavalry Regiment owners, was armed with a 30mm Bushmaster cannon. The design also uses the latest tech from other Stryker models, including the suspension from the "Double-V" ambush and mine-resistant Stryker's hull and mature combat system components. You can read much more about that here.

An updated version of the Stryker, dubbed the Dragoon, has a 30mm Bushmaster cannon. (U.S. Army photo)

In April 2021, the Army fielded the mobile short-range air defense (M-SHORAD) variant. In October 2021, GDLS announced a formal partnership deal with Epirus on a drone-zapping Stryker variant, that would integrate Epirus's Leonidas high-power microwave weapon (HPM) into the vehicle.

We will keep you updated on if and when the decision to send them is made.

That vehicle, dubbed the Stryker Leonidas, passed a key test in October 2022, according to Epirus, disabling drones and swarms of drones. You can read more about that program here.

Mixed History In Combat

During the height of the fighting in Iraq, Strykers “were highly vulnerable to the EFPs and RPGs,” according to a 2019 report by The Modern War Institute at West Point, which examined how the vehicles performed during the 2008 battle for Sadr City.

First Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (1-2SCR), commanded by Lt. Col. Dan Barnett “lost six Strykers in six days,” according to the report. “Not only were the vehicles not survivable, but their width (especially when fitted with RPG cages due to their vulnerability) limited them to driving on the main roads, making their potential locations predictable and susceptible to ambush.”

That resulted in a change of tactics, including having an armor platoon lead patrols “so the tanks could bear the brunt of attacks before they could destroy the Stryker vehicles.” This mirrors what Duplessis told us as far as how to use Strykers effectively in an urban environment.

Soldiers of Battle Company, 5th Battalion - 20 Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) conduct route reconnaissance, a presence patrol, a civilian assessment, and combat operations contributing to the stability of Samarra, Iraq, on December 15, 2003. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) is under the operational control of the 4th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Clinton Tarzia, Released)

Tanks and infantry fighting vehicles “proved invaluable, while Stryker vehicles were found wanting in this environment,” according to the report. “It is not that the Stryker is not a useful vehicle. It offers a combination of speed, mobility, and transport options unlike that of other ground combat vehicles. But in “iron triangle” considerations (payload, performance, and protection) for vehicles in this environment, it did not provide the necessary protection against EFPs and was too wide for most of the urban terrain.”

A 2014 report by the Combat Studies Institute Press showed that Stryker’s initial foray into Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment in 2009 proved relatively successful.

“Nicknamed the Buffaloes, the unit’s operational maneuver tempo early in its deployment more than justified the brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan,” according to the report. “Shrinking time and space in the Arghandab River Valley in ways previous units could only dream of, 1-17’s companies blanketed their areas of operations and significantly degraded enemy effectiveness, but at a much higher cost than originally anticipated.”

Those costs over time added up in terms of troop and vehicle losses, mostly as the result of roadside bombs.

U.S. Army Pfc. Shawn Williams of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, gives the thumbs-up to members of his unit as he is evacuated after being injured by a roadside bomb June 17, 2011, in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Haraz N. Ghanbari/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

But as previously mentioned, by 2011, the new Stryker double-v hull variant with extra armor began proving it could do the job asked of it, helping divert an explosion's impact away from soldiers inside the vehicle. 

An influential Washington State Congressman representing a district that includes Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Stryker units are based, agreed.

"We have seen a substantial decrease in casualties, and this is an important accomplishment that our military, local service members, General Dynamics and their workers can be very proud of," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, at the time.

Army reports about the vehicle said “the new Stryker passed its first major test in July during an attack on a group of Alaskan soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division — a Stryker brigade formerly based at Lewis-McChord. The soldiers survived an incident in which they struck the kind of roadside bomb that has caused serious casualties in the past.”

A Stryker operating in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army)

The Stryker certainly is combat proven, with many improvements coming at the cost of hard lessons learned on two battlefields. Now we may see the combat vehicle write a new chapter of its war memoir on the expansive plains and in the villages and towns of Ukraine.

Unlike its Abrams and Bradley stablemates, it would face an enemy it was never specifically designed to confront — Russia.

While opposition forces at U.S. Army combat training centers replicate the capabilities of potential adversaries such as Russia, this would be Stryker's first use in large-scale, non counter-insurgency combat operations outside of a training environment, Duplessis noted.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

stripe