Stryker radios, cameras blasted

An internal Army study on the Iraqi operations of the Army’s next-generation Stryker brigade concluded that its digital radios have "limited utility" and that digital off-the-shelf cameras provided better resolution than imagery obtained from unmanned aerial vehicles that cost millions.

The report from the Center for Army Lessons Learned also reported that commercial carriers such as Federal Express and DHL Worldwide Express were able to deliver parts to the brigade “much faster” than the Army logistics system.

First published on Dec. 21, 2004, and publicly released recently, the report deals with combat operations of the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team 1, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which was in Iraq last year from Sept. 22 to Oct. 19.

About one-quarter of the 102-page report deals with digital technology installed in the controversial, wheeled Stryker vehicles, and systems used to support the brigade. The Army plans to spend $11 billion to acquire Stryker vehicles, which will serve as the core-armored platform of lighter and easier to deploy Army brigades.

The Stryker team had so-called Near Term Digital Radios (NTDR) to enable Army Battle Command System (ABCS) information to be passed from brigade to battalions. The radios, developed by ITT Industries under a contract awarded in 1996, were installed in Stryker command vehicles to maintain links to a command post.

In its report, CALL described the overall performance of the new radios as "below expectations, especially in light of the data requirements of the brigade."

The radios had a data rate of only 28.8 kilobits/sec – just half the speed of off-the-shelf modems typically sold for commercial PCs -- and had difficulty in obtaining a "reliable link" over the large battle space that Stryker operated in.

Hardware problems also bedeviled use of the radios, the CALL study reported. The device’s antenna and mounting base should be re-engineered to be more durable in a field environment as “contact pins internal to the antenna frequently broke, leading to intermittent data links,” analysts wrote.

John Kirkwood, an ITT Industries spokesman, said the NTDR can handle higher data rates than 28.8 kbs and added that the Army chose to use a lower data rate for Stryker based on operational requirements, rather than hardware capabilities.

The Army analysts wrote that based on their observations in Iraq “serious consideration” should be given to the NTDR program’s future. CALL’s report recommends that the NTDR waveform be replaced with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) wideband network waveform.

In January, the Defense Department proposed zeroing out 2006 funding for the Army’s JTRS budget and ordered a program review based on delayed development of the JTRS waveform.

According to the CALL report, the Stryker team furnished digital cameras to its aviation element to take photos because the optics and satellite imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles are “not sufficient for the details needed for urban operations.”

“UAV optics is not resolute enough and satellite imagery is not reliable enough,” CALL analysts wrote.

And commercial package carriers, such as FedEx, proved “much faster than the Army logistics system” in delivering spare parts to contactors embed with the SBCT, the CALL study said. But using those carriers hampered the Army’s ability to track items because the service used different tracking numbers than the commercial companies.

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