The Stryker Brigade Combat Team: Rethinking Strategic Responsiveness and Assessing Deployment Options

The Stryker Brigade Combat Team: Rethinking Strategic Responsiveness and Assessing Deployment Options

by Alan Vick, David Orletsky, Bruce Pirnie, Seth Jones

Assesses how rapidly the Army's new medium-weight Stryker Brigade can be deployed by air or sealift from planned bases in the U.S. verus forward bases in key regions.


Assesses how rapidly the Army's new medium-weight Stryker Brigade can be deployed by air or sealift from planned bases in the U.S. verus forward bases in key regions.

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The Stryker Brigade Combat Team

Rethinking Strategic Responsiveness and Assessing Deployment Options
By Alan J. Vick David T. Orletsky Bruce R. Pirnie Seth G. Jones

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2002 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


Historically, to deter and defeat major threats in Europe and Asia, the United States has relied on forward-deployed Army and U.S. Air Force (USAF) forces, Navy and United States Marine Corps (USMC) forces afloat, long-range aircraft in the continental United States (CONUS), prepositioned unit sets in key regions, and reinforcing units from CONUS. For short-warning crises in other regions, Marine Expeditionary Units, the 82nd Airborne Division, Special Operations Forces, and USAF/Navy air would be combined as appropriate to provide a limited capability that was usually sufficient for noncombat evacuations and other lesser contingencies. The United States has not had the ability to deploy large joint forces globally from North America in a matter of days or weeks: The transportation challenge has been simply too great.

The U.S. Army is undergoing a transformation that, theoretically, will establish that ability. As described in detail in the next section, the Army's Legacy Force of well-equipped, heavy warfighting forces, which are difficult to deploy strategically, and of rapidly responding light forces, which lack staying power against heavy mechanized forces, are being supplemented by an Interim Force ofmedium-sized-brigade-sized-teams equipped with medium-weight armored vehicles that the Army wants to deploy anywhere in the world in 96 hours after liftoff. This concept will evolve into the Objective Force, which has the objective of deploying a medium-sized force (brigade) within 96 hours, a division a day later, and five divisions by month's end.


The seeds for current Army transformation efforts were sown during two recent conflicts in which there was a need for heavy forces to deploy fairly quickly. During Operation Desert Shield, the United States sought to rapidly move sufficient force to the Persian Gulf to defend Saudi Arabia from Iraqi armored forces poised on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. No Army force at the time was both sufficiently light to move rapidly by air and in possession of the lethality, survivability, and mobility to stop Iraqi armor. As a stopgap measure, the 82nd Airborne Division was deployed. A relatively light unit with limited mobility and limited anti-armor capability, this division was the only U.S. ground combat force standing between Iraqi heavy divisions occupying Kuwait and the oil fields and cities of Saudi Arabia.

After the Persian Gulf War, many in the Army expressed considerable disquiet over the lack of a rapidly deployable force that could stop enemy armored forces. Postwar analyses conducted at RAND and elsewhere suggested that the 82nd Airborne would not have been able to stop Iraqi heavy forces if it had continued its offensive into Saudi Arabia.

The second conflict, Operation Allied Force, the 1999 NATO air operation to compel Serbia to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, also highlighted the need for rapidly deployable, lethal, and mobile Army forces. U.S. planners confronted a wide gap between an air-only effort, which could start almost immediately, and an air-ground effort, which would take months to prepare, especially considering the highly constricted lines of communication. It would have been too risky to employ airborne and airmobile forces against the Serbs, who had main battle tanks and other armored vehicles. But heavy forces would have had to disembark either at Durrës on the Adriatic Sea and march through Albania or at Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea and march through Greece and Macedonia. According to informal plans, United Kingdom (U.K.) forces were to advance through Macedonia and U.S. forces, through Albania. By the time Serbia capitulated to the NATO demands, U.S. engineers had reconnoitered routes through Albania, finding steep gradients, narrow shoulders, antiquated bridges, and narrow defiles through the mountains between Albania and Kosovo-daunting obstacles for the movement of heavy forces.

At the direction of General Wesley K. Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command, the United States airlifted Task Force Hawk to Albania during Operation Allied Force. To protect its AH-64 helicopters from attack by Serb forces based a short distance away in Montenegro, Task Force Hawk included heavy forces equipped with Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. C-17 and C-130 aircraft delivered these Task Force Hawk forces to Rinas Airport, a poorly developed airfield already crowded with humanitarian flights. This airlift was an impressive debut for the C-17, but Task Force Hawk was not employed, except in conducting reconnaissance with unmanned aerial vehicles and finding Serb artillery positions by radar. Serb leaders may have perceived the task force as a precursor to invasion and therefore concluded (correctly) that NATO would invade if necessary to expel Serb forces from Kosovo. Serb leaders also knew that the task force was too small to threaten them directly.

The Army has since begun a transformation that seeks to offer U.S. leaders better options in future Kosovos.


The Army transformation will affect every aspect of its doctrine, training, organization, and equipment. Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki explains the rationale in an October 2000 article in Army:

Our legacy Army's warfighting prowess today is assembled around two force characteristics-heavy and light: magnificent heavy forces that are well equipped for war but difficult to deploy strategically, and magnificent light forces that can respond rapidly and are well suited for stability and support operations but lack staying power against heavy mechanized forces.... With each passing year, our condition as a force becomes a greater liability.

The Army is currently fielding the Stryker brigades, which are equipped with medium-weight armored vehicles, and which, according to General Shinseki, "will meet an operational shortfall that currently exists between the capabilities of our early arriving light forces and our later arriving heavy forces." The Stryker brigade is envisioned as the precursor of an Objective Force, also medium weight, which should start to become available before the end of this decade. If the Objective Force were successful, the entire Army, less only highly specialized units, would eventually be transformed to this same design.

As background for the analysis that follows, we look at the different transformation initiatives, beginning with emerging joint-force doctrine.

Emerging Doctrine

Joint Vision 2020 (JV 2020) sets the context for new Army doctrine and introduces the term transformation on page 1:

If our Armed Forces are to be faster, more lethal and more precise in 2020 than they are today, we must continue to invest in and develop new military capabilities. This vision describes the ongoing transformation to those new capabilities.

JV 2020 defines two concepts central to the Army's emerging doctrine: dominant maneuver and precision engagement.

Dominant maneuver means gaining positional advantage through decisive speed and overwhelming operational tempo. Moreover, dominant maneuver is envisioned on a global scale: "Overseas or US-based units will mass forces and effects directly to the operational theater." For the Army, dominant maneuver implies much more rapid arrival in theater than had been achieved previously. It also implies that ground combat units must arrive ready to fight without the usual reception, staging, and preparation.

Precision engagement is the ability to locate and track targets, to engage targets with appropriate systems, and to achieve the desired effects. It implies a system of systems that links sensors and delivery systems. For the Army, precision engagement implies a networked family of combat vehicles capable of combined arms at lower levels of command than in the past, plus better connectivity to systems operated by sister services.

The Army's primary manual at the operational level, Field Manual 3-0, Operations, emphasizes timely deployment of land forces:

Commanders view force projection as a race between friendly forces and the enemy or situation. The side that achieves a decisive operational capability first seizes the initiative.

In its introduction to Part Two, it states five general rules: "Army forces win on the offensive; initiate combat on their terms ...; gain and maintain the initiative; build momentum quickly; and win decisively." To develop combat power, land forces employ maneuver and firepower. Maneuver is defined as employment of forces through movement combined with fire to achieve a position of advantage. Firepower is defined as the destructive force essential to overcoming an enemy's ability and will to fight. Maneuver and firepower complement and magnify each other. Neither is decisive in isolation; combined, they ensure an enemy's defeat.

The Stryker Brigades

The Army Vision document defines transformation as a threefold effort encompassing the Legacy Force, the Stryker brigades, and the Objective Force. The Legacy Force is today's Army, characterized by two extremes: one light and the other heavy. At the light extreme, forces include light infantry divisions (10th Mountain Division, 25th Infantry Division), an airborne division (82nd Airborne Division), and an airmobile division (101st Airborne Division), which are essentially foot infantry once they enter combat. The heavy extreme includes such forces as those forward-deployed in Europe (1st Infantry Division [Mechanized], 1st Armored Division), which means that they are equipped with the Abrams tank and the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.

Army leadership considers there to be a dangerous gap between these two force extremes:

More than ten years ago, during the buildup of Operation Desert Shield, the Army identified an operational shortfall-a gap between the capabilities of our heavy and light forces. Our heavy forces are the most formidable in the world. There are none better suited for high-intensity operations, but they are severely challenged to deploy to all the places where they might be needed. Conversely, our magnificent light forces are agile and deployable. They are particularly well suited for low-intensity operations, but lack sufficient lethality and survivability. There is, at present, no rapidly deployable force with the staying power to provide our leadership with a complete range of strategic options.

The Stryker brigades fill this gap in the near term while providing an organization for developing concepts for the Objective Force. There will be six Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCTs). The first SBCT, the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, will be operational in early 2003. The second SBCT, the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), also at Fort Lewis, will be operational in 2004. These units are equipped with a family of Interim Armored Vehicles (IAVs) built on the commercially available Light Armored Vehicle (LAV; manufactured by General Motors, Canada, and General Dynamics). IAV variants are optimized for the following purposes: infantry carrier, reconnaissance, anti-tank, mortar, command, fire support, engineer, nuclear-biological-chemical protection, and medical support. A Mobile Gun System, currently under development, will also be part of the unit equipment.

The SBCT is designed for rapid deployment, its goal "to place a credible combat force on the ground anywhere in the world in 96 hours from liftoff." Over long distances, the SBCT would move primarily by C-5 and C-17 aircraft. It might also be forward-deployed or moved by combinations of airlift and sealift. Within a theater of operations, it could deploy by C-130 aircraft, by its own vehicles, by rail, or by other means. All IAVs organic to the SBCT must be transportable by C-130 and must be able to enter and exit the aircraft capable of conducting immediate combat operations, although not necessarily carrying full basic loads. Their combat-capable weights must not exceed 19 short tons.

The SBCT is configured to arrive early in a crisis but is not an assault force. It would normally deploy to an airfield, airstrip, or seaport under friendly control. Thus, in some scenarios, Marines, the 82nd Airborne, or Army Rangers would have to first seize an airfield or port for the SBCT to use. To facilitate rapid deployment, the SBCT would ordinarily deploy with a basic load sufficient for a few days in combat, after which it would have to be supplied from higher echelons. In combat, the SBCT would assault as dismounted infantry, although it might take some immediate actions without dismounting. The IAV must provide all-around protection from small arms and accept add-on armor to defeat heavy machine-gun fire and handheld rocket-propelled grenades.

The Objective Force

In its concept for the Objective Force, the Army stresses rapid deployment using advanced airlift. It sets the following goals: "The Army goal is to deploy a brigade combat team anywhere in the world in 96 hours after liftoff, a division on the ground in 120 hours, and five divisions in 30 days." The Army expects the Objective Force to provide attractive options to joint force commanders that will justify allocation of scarce lift assets to deployment of Army forces. It recognizes that sustaining Army forces in combat will be the most challenging requirement for lift. In designing the Objective Force, it intends to reduce and pace demands for consumables, especially ammunition and fuel.

The Army initially conceived of the Objective Force as the product of an extensive effort in research and development for which the science and technology community would develop a research plan by 2003. The Army would make technology investments to realize that plan, and, after 8-10 years of development, the design of the Objective Force would be achieved. At the heart of the Objective Force will be the Future Combat System (FCS), currently being explored in a joint program by the Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Army recently decided to accelerate FCS development so that the first unit would be equipped in 2008 and initial operational capability would be attained by 2010, which means that technologies will need to be mature in 2003 if they are to affect the initial configuration of the FCS. The Army anticipates providing technology-insertion points for subsequent upgrades. Currently, the Army has set just one firm specification for the FCS: It must be transportable by C-130 aircraft.

Although the FCS is constrained to less than 20 tons, the Army expects the Objective Force to close with and destroy enemy forces in mounted combat as heavy forces do today. To accomplish this task at an acceptable risk to friendly forces will demand innovative tactics and excellent situational awareness. The Objective Force is conceived as follows:

Fully networked to enable highly flexible combined-arms operations at battalion and company levels

Equipped with several classes of unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance

Probably outfitted with robotic land vehicles for use in close combat, at least for reconnaissance and perhaps also for engagement of targets.

Reconnaissance receives heavy emphasis. Whereas, in the past, Army forces have usually sought contact with enemy forces, compelling them to reveal their positions and capabilities through combat, in the future, the Army hopes to attain a comprehensive picture of enemy forces before going into direct combat. Such a picture might allow the Army to defeat enemy forces with standoff and indirect-fire weapons rather than engage in more dangerous close-in fights. It is, as yet, unclear whether the FCS would be mated with some future aircraft-for example, a large tilt-rotorcraft or tilt-wing aircraft-that has a greater ability to land on unimproved strips or even open ground. While this option remains attractive to the Army, it is not central to the Objective Force design.


Excerpted from The Stryker Brigade Combat Team by Alan J. Vick David T. Orletsky Bruce R. Pirnie Seth G. Jones Copyright © 2002 by RAND Corporation . Excerpted by permission.
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