Stryker radios, cameras blasted

Commercial Digital Camers Better For Imagery Than UAVs

By Bob Brewin

A internal Army study on operations of the Army's next-generation 'Stryker' brigade in Iraq reported that digital radios used by the brigade have 'limited utility' and that digital off the shelf cameras provided better resolution than imagery obtained from millions dollar Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The study also reported that commercial carriers such as Federal Express Corp. and DHL Worldwide Express were able to deliver parts to the brigade 'much faster than the army logistics system.''

The study, completed by the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Ft. Leavenworth, Kan and published on Dec. 21, 2004, deals with combat operations of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team 1 (SBCT) Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed in Iraq between Sept. 22 and Oct. 19 2004.

Roughly one-quarter of the 102 page report deals with digital systems installed in the controversial, wheeled Stryker vehicles as well as 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 SBCT was equipped with 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 Inc. under a contract let in 1996, were installed in Stryker command vehicles to maintain links to a command post.

The CALL team reported that 'overall the performance of the NTDR, since its fielding, has been below expectations, especially in light of the data requirements of the brigade.'

The team added that the NTDR had a low data rate of only 28.8 kbs and had difficulty in obtaining a 'reliable link' over the large battle space the SBCT operated in.

Hardware problems also bedeviled use of the NTDR, the CALL study reported. It said the radio's antenna and mounting base needs to 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.'

John Kirkwood, an ITT Industries spokesman, said the NTDR is capable of higher data rates than 28.8 kbs, with the lower data rate used by the SBCT an operational issue.

The CALL team said that based on its observations in Iraq 'serious consideration' should be given to continuation of the program. If so, the CALL report recommended that the NTDR waveform be replaced with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) wideband network waveform (WNW).

In January of this year Linton Well, the DOD CIO, zeroed out 2006 funding for the Army's JTRS budget and ordered a program review based on delayed development of the JTRS WNW.

The SBCT furnished digital cameras to its aviation element to take photo used to plan operations. The CALL report said the SBCT took this route to obtain imagery because 'UAV optics and satellite imagery are not sufficient fore the details needed for urban operations.' The report added. 'UAV optics is not resolute enough and satellite imagery is not reliable enough.'

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, even though the use of commercial carriers saved time, use of these carriers reduced in transit visibility due to the use of different Army and commercial tracking numbers.

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