As Army planners move quickly to convert the service's formations in Alaska to the 11th Airborne Division this summer, the fate of roughly 320 Strykers in the region is uncertain. But they could end up being used for spare parts for other units across the force.
"We are looking at potentially taking the Strykers out of Alaska and, if we do that, we will take them and look at the ones we can reuse elsewhere, or use for parts," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday.
As part of the force's recent focus on Arctic warfare and shift from anti-terrorism to conventional combat tactics, it is bringing its 12,000 troops in Alaska under a single banner -- the 11th Airborne Division, and ditching the 25th Infantry Division patch usually associated with jungle warfare.
Currently, there are two major formations in Alaska: the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The first is a mechanized infantry force using Strykers as its premier combat platform; the latter is its paratrooper element. The region's headquarters element, U.S. Army Alaska, would also be reorganized into the new division.
Strykers are typically used to transport troops and can provide support for ground assaults with weapons such as the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. Army planners have kicked off numerous efforts to beef up the Stryker's tech and offensive capabilities, trying to make it a relevant platform for decades.
"When the Stryker formation was originally created, it was designed to be an interim force, really a bridge between what was then the legacy Army and the future combat systems," Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, who was the 1st Corps commanding general and has since retired, said in 2019 during that year's Maneuver Warfighter Conference. "Today, that force is no longer interim. That force is going to be with the Army until 2040."
The service's Future Combat Systems program, which was supposed to create a replacement for the Strykers, was canned in 2009 after at least $32 billion had been dumped into a range of futuristic hardware that was far from being fielded. The program's cancellation coincided with the Defense Department's move away from conventional warfare capabilities and toward a total focus on combating insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Strykers are not built for the Arctic climate and are unable to reliably perform in minus-65 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, the benchmark commanders in Alaska have set for equipment. Strykers are also too large to easily navigate narrow roads and, being wheeled vehicles, they cannot be taken off-road in the snowy environment and driven up steep hills.
Instead, the Army wants to buy 13 Cold Weather All-Terrain Vehicles, or CATVs, as part of its proposed 2023 budget for Alaska, which still needs to be approved by Congress. Those tracked vehicles can be taken off-road and may be much more compatible with the frigid environmentt. That same budget also calls for $671 million for Stryker upgrades for other units.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.