Walter Pincus
Walter Pincus
Fine Print

What’s the price of a life?

It’s going to be hard for the Defense Department to meet the challenges laid out by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

“We can’t afford excess equipment,” Dempsey said at a March 28 news conference. “We have to reform how we buy weapons and services. We have to reduce redundancy.”

(JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES) - U.S soldiers from Stryker Brigade Combat Team on an armored vehicle move after a live fire drill in Pocheon, near the heavily-fortified border with North Korea, on March 7, 2011. The drill was part of ongoing annual joint military exercises.

Take the decade-long ups and downs of the Stryker, the $1 million-plus, 19-ton, eight-wheeled armored vehicle whose mission, Defense says, is “to enable the Brigade Combat Team to maneuver more easily in close and urban terrain while providing protection in open terrain.”

The inherent question: Do we want to save lives or money?

The basic Stryker has a two-person crew and carries a squad of nine soldiers. It can travel more than 60 mph on highways and travel up to 300 miles on its 50 gallon gas tank.

Last Tuesday, the Army published a pre-solicitation notice that it plans to award General Dynamics Land Systems a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Phase II upgrade research and development of the Stryker family of vehicles.

There are two basic versions: an infantry carrier and a gun system. There are eight other configurations: for reconnaissance; anti-tank guided missile; for nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological warfare; medical evacuation; commander’s vehicle; fire support; mortar carrier and engineer squad vehicle.

There are seven variants of the double-v hull, meant to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

General Dynamics is the original manufacturer of the Stryker, and “the only known source with the unique engineering expertise required” to maintain the vehicles. It also “retains ownership of the test design plan,” the Army says. (More on that later.)

In November 2000, when the pre-war Stryker was being developed, its proposed best use was for employment in small-scale contingencies, according to a June 2012 Defense Department Inspector General report.

During the testing and evaluation phase, “only a few selected missions, types of terrain, and levels of conflict intensity were evaluated,” the IG said, so the test vehicles “did not have sufficient operating time to produce reliable repair and maintenance data.”

The tests did not include upgraded protection “because add-on armor was not available.” When armor was needed in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, it added 20 percent to the vehicle weight. The result was “long-term durability problems [caused by added armor weight] were unlikely to be detected,” the IG report stated.

Vehicle complexity required contractor logistics support, not only because General Dynamics refused to sell the technical data to the Army, but because of the rapid vehicle development after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Within 31 months after General Dynamics won the contract, Strykers were deployed to Iraq. It was late 2003. “That required production of a common chassis for 10 original Stryker variants before completion of production verification testing,” according to a November 2012 IG report.

There was also a lack of information on what the logistics needs would be — spare parts, other supplies, maintenance. That ultimately required 45 General Dynamics maintenance personnel to be deployed with each Stryker brigade.

By 2006 there were three Stryker brigades in Iraq accompanied by contractor logistics people.

New issues arose in Afghanistan. The vehicle required a design change to protect against IEDs. The more survivable double-v hull models were available in 18 months.

Maintenance became even more complex. The heavier weight wore out the tires faster. Other newly designed components were needed to meet failure rates of other parts. And more than 400 Strykers were damaged.

In December 2006, the Army awarded General Dynamics a six-year cost-plus-fixed-fee contract of about $1.5 billion to maintain Stryker vehicles overseas and in the United States. The goal was to achieve “an operational readiness rate of 90 percent,” a November 2012 IG report said.

The company “achieved a readiness rate in excess of 96 percent,” the IG reported.

But there was a dollar cost.

A 2008 study in the Defense Acquisition Review Journal reported that government auditors found that although General Dynamics exceeded the 90 percent readiness goal, “the contract is not necessarily effective at controlling support costs.” The study cited the contractor’s practice of replacing an entire power pack, “very large expensive units,” rather than repairing and/or replacing one cheaper element that failed.

There were “shorter down-times,” but that required keeping more power packs available. The result: Higher costs to the Army.

Stryker has become a major financial element for General Dynamics Land Systems. “Stryker continued to be the group’s largest program in 2007, with volume up most significantly on contractor logistics support activity,” according to the General Dynamics annual financial report that year.

In 2009 the firm received more than $2.1 billion in Stryker orders, including $590 million for contractor logistics and $500 million for Stryker modernization. Last year General Dynamics told stockholders it “received over $1.1 billion of Stryker orders in 2012, including awards for production of 62 new vehicles, the conversion of previously delivered vehicles to the double-V-hull configuration, contractor logistics support and engineering services.”

The United States has spent $17.8 billion on the Stryker family of vehicles, the GAO report on Defense Acquisitions released last month said. That’s more than 115 percent higher than original projected costs. In the past five years, the increases have been running at 23 percent of the initial estimates.

Money or lives?

The answer: Defense must learn to do both.

 
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