WASHINGTON: Life is about to get harder for low-flying MiGs, Hind gunships, and drones opposing the US Army. On Wednesday, the government officially awarded General Dynamics a highly-anticipated contract to mass-produce the Interim Maneuver SHORAD vehicle.
This variant of the 8×8 armored Stryker boasts an anti-aircraft radar, a 30mm autocannon, and a missile launcher capable of launching Stingers and Hellfires. (A laser-armed Stryker variant is also in development). IM-SHORAD will replace the aging, unarmored, and undergunned Avenger, a Stinger-shooting variant of the Humvee, which has filled the Short-Range Air Defense role since the Cold War. Its Hellfires also give it significant capability to kill tanks.
The first combat unit to receive IM-SHORAD is already training on prototype vehicles at White Sands, the Army’s director of modernization for air & missile defense told me recently. Live-fire training will start in early November, Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson said.
The nine prototypes now being used for training and testing are basically identical to the final production version, but they were bought under a separate contract. The award announced yesterday is the production contract.
Formally, it’s an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract – although there’s a pretty definite plan to deliver 144 vehicles over five years for $1.2 billion. That’s just under $8.5 million apiece, but the contract includes testing, spares, and other support as well as the vehicle itself.
Yesterday, the Army also officially gave GDLS the first order under that IDIQ: 28 vehicles for $230 million.
“That happened last night,” a GDLS spokesperson told me. “We will begin the production in earnest today, with the ordering of material in preparation for builds next year.”
General Dynamics isn’t alone in this endeavor. Leonardo DRS provides the radar and integrates the anti-aircraft weapons package – Stingers from Raytheon, Longbow Hellfires from Lockheed Martin, and the 30 mm XM914 from Northrop Grumman – onto a reconfigurable turret from Moog.
But it’s General Dynamics that builds the 8×8 Stryker, which has risen from controversial origins to be a multi-purpose workhorse for the Army. It’s derived from a versatile 1970s-vintage Swiss design, the MOWAG Piranha, whose many offshoots also include the Marines’ LAV-25 and the Canadian LAV-III. The Army, however, had long disdained relatively lightweight wheeled fighting vehicles, seeing tracks as better suited to carry heavily armored machines over rough terrain.
Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki embarked on a much-criticized crusade to bring wheeled armored vehicles to the Army, leading to the first Srtryker orders in 2001. It entered service slightly too late for the invasion of Iraq, but in the long guerrilla war that followed, Stryker units proved valuable fire brigades, able to rapidly redeploy by road to trouble spots and drive both on and off road, unlike many lumbering MRAP trucks. Their armor, while lighter than a tank’s, was a definite improvement over Humvees, and being wheeled made them easier to maintain on long drives than tracked vehicles.
The Army did pass over the Stryker in favor of a tracked vehicle (by BAE) for its Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, which has to keep up with tanks cross-country. But the Stryker’s roomy, maintainable chassis makes it easy to adapt rapidly to new roles. The vehicle is thriving as a platform for a wide range of missions, from the basic troop carrier to the anti-aircraft IM-SHORAD, an upgunned variant to kill light armored vehicles like the Russian BMP, a high-powered jammer, and a future laser-armed Stryker to shoot down drones.