ABERDEEN TEST CENTER, Md. – Watching a Stryker punch 30mm holes through an armored truck at 1,000 yards, it is hard to believe the cannon-toting infantry vehicle was not much more than a PowerPoint presentation 18 months ago.

Now, the infantry carrier vehicle “Dragoon” (ICVD) – as the Army has dubbed the upgunned Stryker – is set to become the first direct-fire weapon system and family of ammunition to enter Army service since a 120mm cannon was mounted on the Abrams main battle tank in the 1980s.

“That’s no small feat,” Col. Glenn Dean, Styker project manager for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems program office (PEO GCS), said after a live-fire demonstration of the vehicle at a range here.

A Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle Dragoon (ICVD) prepares to fire at Henry Field firing range at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
A Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle Dragoon prepares to fire at Henry Field firing range at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. (Photo by Dan Parsons)

Moving so swiftly from design to prototype to fielding was made possible by combining proven designs and mature technologies into a new platform that delivers a unique capability, Dean said.

With the beefed up suspension developed for the Stryker Double-V Hull survivability upgrade, a legacy flat-bottom ICV was modified to carry a remotely operated turret and 30mm XM813 cannon. The turret, manufactured by General Dynamics [GD] was a non-developmental design initially launched by the Navy, continued in the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, was further matured under the Army’s Future Combat Systems and Ground Combat Vehicle and now is sitting atop a Stryker.

“Had all that work not occurred, we would not be where we are today,” Dean said.

So far General Dynamics has built eight prototype ICV Dragoons at its plant in Warren, Mich. The first production-representative vehicle will roll off the line this month, Garth Lewis, program manager for ground combat systems at GD, told Defense Daily, after the livefire demonstration at Aberdeen.

It plans to make two ICVDs during September, five in October and then 10 per month until the 83 funded upgunned Strykers are completed, Lewis said.

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for GCS, championed the use of non-developmental technology as a means to field capabilities faster.

“One of the ways you make acquisition go faster is by picking things that don’t require as much of those activities,” he said during the demonstration at Aberdeen. “You’ve got to be able to design it faster. To do that responsibly, you’ve got to pick things that don’t require as much design. You see that in the way we approached this program.”

“What you were left with is a requirement to bring all those together in a way that didn’t degrade those capabilities,” Bassett added. “It’s about making hard choices in such a way that your probability of success doesn’t go down.”

Working Within Budget

The ICVD emerges at a time when the $8 billion PEO GCS budget is stretched to cover upgrade programs for all of the Army’s combat systems at once.

“We find ourselves in an interesting place and time. Today we have new versions of every vehicle in the ABCT and Stryker formation that are either in test or in production,” Bassett said. “You’re seeing an acquisition timeline that was not driven by bureaucracy, but was driven by the actual activities and underlying tasks that we needed both our contractors and our Army team to do together. We’re not talking about PowerPoint. We’re talking about real systems going into production across our ABCT and SBCT formations.”

ABCT is an Armored Brigade Combat Team and SBCT is a Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

The Abrams tank is undergoing the third version of system enhancement program (SEPv3). The new Bradley Fighting Vehicle A4  model has been approved for production. The M109A7 Paladin howitzer is finishing up automotive upgrades and will then receive cannon enhancements. A new tracked ammunition carrier is being built. Engineering and manufacturing development examples of all five variants of the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle are in testing. All that is going on while active protection systems are being installed and tested on Abrams, Stryker and Bradley.

“All of those activities going on in parallel with that budget,” he said. “Despite the fact that we have not been given the resources to start new programs for the replacement of some of our main combat systems, we’ve used those resources effectively to put us in a position to upgrade the entire ABCT formation roughly at the same time.”

Getting ICVD completed among all that work is thanks in no small part to Congress funding the effort to mount a 30mm cannon on a Stryker early and sufficiently, Dean and Bassett said. Just over $300 million was allocated in fiscal 2016, which gave the program a head start and insulation against stagnant budgets under a continuing resolution in fiscal 2017.

The turret and cannon of a Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle Dragoon (ICVD) on display at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
The turret and cannon of a Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle Dragoon (ICVD) on display at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. (Photo by Dan Parsons)

“Congress put a majority of the money in ’16, we were now immunized from an FY ’17 continuing resolution,” Bassett said. “Don’t underestimate the impact that had on this program. There were some traditionalists out there who said we were funded ahead of need, that you could wait until ’17 for that money.”

“If we want to talk about acquisition reform, let’s talk about funding reform,” Bassett added. “Give us the money and time to allow us to go fast and that means it’s distributed differently than you’ve done in the past. This program got it right. We were even given a little bit more money than we needed and we knew that going in. But we said to let us use that on the platform to deliver even more capability.”

The program was able to find efficiencies during development of ICVD that it saved enough money to mount a common remotely operated weapon station with a Javelin anti-tank missile (CROWS-J) onto another Stryker variant by replacing the existing remote weapon station with the Army’s standard CROWS system. It will roll out at the same time as ICVD fields and deliver improved optics, commonality with other army systems and less costly sustainment.

“I think it’s rare that you get an advanced capability that costs the Army less to sustain than our current remote weapon station and achieves commonality across other Stryker formations,” Bassett said.

An Urgent Need

The “primary weapon system” of an SBCT is the 108 infantry squads that exit the back of the infantry carrier vehicles and “rain death and destruction on America’s enemies,” Dean said.

Permanently stationed in Germany, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment realized it needed for more firepower in its Stryker formations without sacrificing the number of soldiers the vehicles could deliver into combat. The $300 million Congress allocated to the program was in direct response to an urgent operational need statement in response to Russian aggression along NATO’s eastern border.

“This is not transforming Stryker into a fighting vehicle, it allows us to support the infantry from a long distance away,” Dean said. “Our driving requirement was don’t change the number of soldiers transported by the vehicle. That drove us to a remotely operated turret.”

It is also the first ground combat system that was fielded virtually before the physical vehicles were completed. In March, the Army delivered a simulated ICVD to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany so the unit could begin figuring out how to use the new capability in battle.

“That was before any soldier had even touched a vehicle,” Dean said. “We had just received the first prototype and hadn’t even cleared it for soldier use yet.”

Two dozen 2nd Cavalry soldiers have been learning to handle, operate and fire the ICVD at Aberdeen in preparation for training up the rest of their unit. They will participate in extended user testing and practice maneuvers in Germany starting in January.

The lessons learned from the deployment of 83 ICVDs to 2nd Cavalry, which will evaluate things like maneuvering under armor with a remote turret, will inform possible design changes that will be rolled into production of future similar vehicles, Bassett said.

The Army included in its unfunded priorities list for fiscal 2018 to outfit 2nd  Stryker Brigade more rapidly with a system that will resemble the ICVD, which is a “bespoke solution” for 2nd Cavalry in Europe, Bassett said.

“It comes down to how quickly do we move on to the next round of cannons, how quickly can we learn from this deployment and then roll those changes into the next production lot of vehicles,” Bassett said. “There is a lot of opportunity, we think, to add lethality to these platforms.”