Warrior Maven Video Above: Strykers to Be Armed with Attack Drones & Lasers
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The US Army is massively revving up the offensive attack technology on its Stryker vehicles with vehicle-launched attack drones, laser weapons, bomb-deflecting structures and a more powerful 30mm cannon, service and industry developers said.
“We have now opened up the aperture for more potential applications on the Stryker,” Col. Glen Dean, Stryker Program Manager, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Stryker maker General Dynamics Land Systems has been testing an integrated sensor-shooter drone system mounted on the vehicle itself. A small, vertical take off surveillance drone, called the Shrike 2, launches from the turret of the vehicle to sense, find and track enemy targets. Then, using a standard video data link, it can work in tandem with an attack missile to destroy the targets it finds. The technology is intended to expedite the sensor-to-shooter loop and function as its own “hunter-killer” system.
“A missile warhead can be launched before you show up in town. It has a sensor and killer all in one platform. Let’s reach out and kill the enemy before we even show up,” Michael Peck, Enterprise Business Development, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Peck added that the Stryker-launched drone system could make a difference in a wide range of tactical circumstances to include attacking major power mechanized formations and finding terrorist enemies blended into civilian areas.
“It will go out in an urban environment and it will sense and find your shooter or incoming rpg,” Peck added.
Dean also referenced the Army’s evolving Mobile High-Energy Laser weapons system, which has been testing on Strykers in recent years. Firing a 5kw laser, a Stryker vehicle destroyed an enemy drone target in prior testing, raising confidence that combat vehicle-fired laser weapons could become operational in coming years.
The laser weapon system uses its own Ku-band tracking radar to autonomously acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat. It also has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to take out the signal of enemy drones.
Lasers can also enable silent defense and attack, something which provides a substantial tactical advantage as it can afford Stryker vehicles the opportunity to conduct combat missions without giving away their position.
A Congressional Research Service report from earlier this year, called “U.S. Army Weapons-Related Directed Energy Programs,” details some of the key advantages and limitations of fast-evolving laser weapons.
“DE (directed energy) could be used as both a sensor and a weapon, thereby shortening the sensor-to-shooter timeline to seconds. This means that U.S. weapon systems could conduct multiple engagements against a target before an adversary could respond,” the Congressional report states.
Lasers also bring the substantial advantage of staying ahead of the “cost curve,” making them easier to use repeatedly. In many instances, low-cost lasers could destroy targets instead of expensive interceptor missiles. Furthermore, mobile-power technology, targeting algorithms, beam control and thermal management technologies are all progressing quickly, a scenario which increases prospects for successful laser applications.
At the same time, the Congressional report also points out some basic constraints or challenges associated with laser weapons. Laser weapons can suffer from “beam attenuation, limited range and an ability to be employed against non-line-of-sight targets,” the report says.
Dean said the Army was “pure-fleeting” its inventory of Strykers to an A1 variant, enabling the vehicles to integrate a blast-deflecting double-V hull,450hp engine, 60,000 pound suspension and upgraded digital backbone.
“This provides a baseline for the fleet to allow us to grow for the future. We just completed an operational test. That vehicle has growth margin to include weight carrying capability and electrical power,” Dean said.
Peck said GDLS will be upgrading the existing arsenal of “flat-bottomed” Strykers to the A1 configuration at a pace of at least “one half of a brigade per year.”
General Dynamics Land Systems is also preparing a new, heavy strength 30mm cannon for the Stryker.
Compared to an existing M2 .50-cal machine gun mounted from Strykers, the new 30mm weapon is designed to improve both range and lethality for the vehicle. The new gun can fire at least twice as far as a .50-Cal, GDLS developers told Warrior.
The 30mm cannon can use a proximity fuse and fire high-explosive rounds, armor piercing rounds and air burst rounds. Also, while the .50-Cal is often used as a suppressive fire "area" weapon designed to restrict enemy freedom of movement and allow troops to maneuver, the 30mm gun brings a level of precision fire to the Stryker Infantry Carrier that does not currently exist.
Dismounted infantry units are often among the first-entering “tip-of-the-spear” combat forces which at times travel to areas less-reachable by heavy armored platforms such as an Abrams tank or Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Certain terrain, bridges or enemy force postures can also make it difficult for heavier armored vehicles to maneuver on attack.
In previous interviews with Warrior, GDLS weapons developers explained that the 30mm uses a “link-less” feed system, making less prone to jamming.
The new, more-powerful Orbital ATK XM 81330mm 30mm cannon, which can be fired from within the Stryker vehicle using a Remote Weapons Station, will first deploy with the European-based 2nd Cavalry Unit.
The Army is also fast-tracking newly configured Stryker vehicles armed with drone and aircraft killing Stinger and Hellfire missiles to counter Russia in Europe and provide more support to maneuvering Brigade Combat Teams in combat.
The program, which plans to deploy its first vehicles to Europe by 2020, is part of an Army effort called short-range-air-defense - Initial Maneuver (SHORAD).
Senior leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype by 2019 as an step toward producing 144 initial systems
"We atrophied air defense if you think about it. With more near-peer major combat operations threats on the horizon, the need for SHORAD and high-tier weapons like THAAD and PATRIOT comes back to the forefront. This is a key notion of maneuverable SHORAD - if you are going to maneuver you need an air defense capability able to stay up with a formation," the senior Army official told Warrior Maven in an interview.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can.
The PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics & Technology.