The approval rate for the U.S. Congress has never been very high; it is one of the few political institutions that ranks below outgoing President Bush in the public’s favor. They are accused and convicted in the minds of a majority of Americans of acting irresponsibly and in an extremely partisan fashion even as the country experiences the worst economic downturn in half a century.
So it is very important to acknowledge publicly when Congress or its members act in a responsible and bipartisan fashion. On December 1, 54 members of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, united to send a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates entreating him to save two of the Nation’s most important defense programs. One of these is the upgrade program for the M-1 Abrams tank. The other is the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle. Funding for both these programs and that for improvements to the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle had been gutted by the Army in its budget plan for fiscal years 2010 through 2015.
The Abrams and the Bradley are the world’s best heavy combat machines. They led the way into Baghdad at the beginning of the Iraq war. The upgraded versions have features designed for conflicts in places such as Iraq.
The Stryker is a relatively lightweight, wheeled, highly mobile, armored vehicle that comes in eight different variants. The Army plans to fully equip six brigade combat teams with Strykers. Several Stryker brigades have been deployed to Iraq where they have performed outstandingly. Because it is a wheeled vehicle, the Strykers are faster, more maneuverable and quieter than the Army’s heavier, tracked vehicles. Stryker-equipped units have been called ghosts by Iraqi insurgents who got a rude shock when these vehicles appear on the scene without warning.
The Pentagon had restored some $600 million in funding for the M-1 upgrade program, although more funds will be necessary to ensure that all our heavy brigade combat teams (HBCT) have the upgraded version of the Abrams. This leaves the Stryker and Bradley programs at risk. Before it decided to spend the money elsewhere, the Army was planning to buy Strykers and Bradleys to replace the 1,300 obsolescing M-113 vehicles in the HBCTs. If it does not want to spend all the money at once, the Army could start by replacing just the ambulance variants of the M-113s with Strykers. Compared to the M-113 ambulance, the Stryker version is completely enclosed and much faster, which means it can save lives. But ultimately, the Army will need to buy both Strykers and Bradleys to replace all the M-113s.
So, kudos to these Members of Congress who understand how important it is to get the best equipment into the hands of the men and women going in harm’s way. The Army really needs to rethink its strategy for armored vehicles and the HBCTs.