By Emelie Rutherford

The Army is "moving rapidly" to develop a V-shaped hull kit for the Stryker fleet to make the vehicles more resistant to explosives in Afghanistan, the service’s top officer told anxious lawmakers yesterday.

Troops using the eight-wheeled General Dynamics [GD] combat vehicle have suffered significant casualties when hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the southern part of the war-torn nation. Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) highlighted reports of Stryker IED vulnerabilities during an Army budget hearing.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told the panel his service is in the "early design stages" of a research and development effort to build a so-called "double" V-shaped hull that can be added to existing Strykers. The vehicles were not designed to operate in the kind of IED environment they’re facing in Afghanistan.

"We are moving rapidly to get it built, tested, and into the hands of the forces as quickly as we can," Casey said.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he has been briefed that, from an engineering standpoint, adding the V-hull kits to "reequip and make the Stryker more safe" is more of a "probability than a possibility." Casey said he "absolutely" agreed with Shelby.

Casey noted that the Army had developed a similar V-hull add-on for the Manned Ground Vehicle planned for the now-reorganized Future Combat Systems effort. The kit is intended to enhance the survivability of the vehicle against underbelly IEDs, much as the blast-deflecting V-bottomed Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles do.

"So that technology is out there and it’s available, and I think it has great promise," Casey said.

Shelby, whose state is home to General Dynamics Stryker facilities, said "our troops need that" V-shaped hull kit for Strykers in Afghanistan.

Army Secretary John McHugh voiced support for the beleaguered Stryker vehicles during yesterday’s hearing. He lauded General Dynamics for working to improve the vehicle’s resistance to IEDs.

While he said the Army is looking at increasing the survivability of Strykers in "a variety" of research and development programs, "the V-hull, double V-hull is preeminent amongst them."

"We think this is a very important program and we have a great deal of confidence in it," he said, adding he hopes they enhancements could be fielded in "a timely fashion."

Inouye also questioned Casey on reports that the Strykers are too heavy to provide needed mobility in Afghanistan.

Casey said he is focusing on increasing the Strykers’ survivability, and is "less concerned about the weight and the decrease in mobility." That’s because Strykers have been re-missioned to handle road security, a setup that "takes advantage of the mobility that they provide," he said.

"It’s still a very important vehicle and element of our force mix," he added.