BAQUBAH, Iraq - By Christian Lowe - January 30, 2008|
The newest version of the Army’s popular Stryker combat vehicle is garnering poor reviews here from Soldiers assigned to man its tank-like hull.
The General Dynamics Corp.-built Mobile Gun System looks like a typical eight-wheeled Stryker, except for a massive 105mm gun mounted on its roof. The gun fires three different types of projectiles, including explosive rounds, tank-busters and a "canister round" that ejects hundreds of steel pellets similar to a shotgun shell.
But while the system looks good on paper and the Army’s all for it, Soldiers with the 4th Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment -- one of the first units to receive the new vehicle for their deployment to Iraq -- don’t have a lot of good things to say about it.
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"I wish [the enemy] would just blow mine up so I could be done with it," said Spec. Kyle Handrahan, 22, of Anaheim, Calif., a tanker assigned to Alpha Company, 4/9’s MGS platoon.
"It’s a piece," another MGS platoon member chimed in. "Nothing works on it."
The gripes stem from a litany of problems, including a computer system that constantly locks up, extremely high heat in the crew compartment and a shortage of spare parts. In one case, a key part was held up in customs on its way to Iraq, a problem one Soldier recognizes is a result of a new system being pushed into service before it’s ready.
"The concept is good, but they still have a lot of issues to work out on it," said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Teimeier, Alpha, 4/9’s MGS platoon sergeant and a tanker by trade.
According to a Jan. 28 report by Bloomberg News, the 2008 Pentagon Authorization bill included language limiting funds for the MGS pending an Army report on fixes to the vehicle’s growing list of problems. The Pentagon’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in his annual report the vehicle was "not operationally effective," Bloomberg reported.
Soldiers here say the searing heat in the vehicles -- especially during Iraq’s blazing summer -- forces them to wear a complicated cooling suit that circulates cold water through tubing under their armor. Ironically, Soldiers often complain the suit makes them cold, Teimeier said, adding to their vehicular woes.
Despite the poor review from DoD auditors, the Army is standing by its vehicle, Bloomberg reported.
"The Army has determined that the MGS is suitable and operationally effective," Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Martin Downie, told the financial news service.
Where there is no debate is in the lethality of the vehicle’s firepower.
But Soldiers in the middle of a tough counterinsurgency fight here in Diyala province say commanders are reluctant to use the vehicle’s lethal gun on enemy strongholds out of concern of killing or wounding civilians. As a result, many of the dozens of MGS vehicles go unused while precision air strikes have become increasingly prevalent -- along with the usual Soldier-driven raids.
That’s got MGS drivers here frustrated. Not only do they have to deal with a complex system that gives them fits, but when it is working, they’re not allowed to employ the vehicle in combat.
"You can kick down doors and risk losing our guys," Handrahan said. "Or I can just knock down the building from a [kilometer] away and call it a day."