U.S. Army Europe is about to pack a much stronger punch.
The Army on Thursday took delivery of the first prototype of its new Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle upgraded with a more lethal 30mm cannon, ahead of target to begin fielding to the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment in May 2018.
The upgunned Stryker - designated the XM1296 Infantry Carrier Vehicle - will mark a "near-record time from concept to delivery," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn said at the event at the General Dynamics Land Systems Maneuver Collaboration Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan, the Army News Service reported.
The vehicle will be known as the Dragoon, sharing a moniker with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
"This is an example of what is possible when government, military and industry leaders unite as one team," Allyn said.
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment put in an Urgent Operational Needs Statement in April 2015 to fast-track an upgraded version of the eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle through a ponderous acquisition process. The Army approved upgrades for 81 vehicles in July 2015.
Not long after Russia annexed the Crimea and "little green men," a phrase typically used to refer to foreign troops or paramilitary forces who dress in green instead of traditional military gear, began flowing into eastern Ukraine to fight side-by-side with pro-Russian separatists, it became apparent that the Stryker’s .50-caliber machine-gun was outmatched by its Russian counterparts.
In January 2015, for example, photographs of Russia’s top-tier BPM-97 armored personnel carrier - which happens to sport a 30mm cannon itself - began filtering out of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.
"The Russians, it turns out, had upgraded and fielded significant capabilities while we were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan," Allyn said.
The 30mm cannons have not traditionally been used as anti-personnel weapons, but rather are capable of tearing through armor plating and fortified positions; think of the iconic "brrrrrrrrrrt" of the GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling mounted on the A-10 Thunderbolt.
The upgraded Strykers will integrate a Kongsberg MCT-30mm Weapon System with a remotely-operated, unmanned turret; a new, fully-integrated commander's station; and upgraded driveline component and hull modifications, according to information from Program Executive Office-Ground Combat Systems.
This configuration will not impede one of the vehicle’s primary purposes: schlepping around a nine-man squad.
The Stryker Dragoon will next go through an abbreviated test phase this spring before entering full production.
"We are doing it all very quickly," Col. Glenn Dean, the Stryker program manager, told Defense News in February.
"The last time the Army qualified a new ground, direct-fire weapons system was when we put the M256 cannon on the M1 Abrams tank back in the ‘80s, so we are exercising a muscle that hasn’t been exercised in a while."
The Army has stepped up its presence in Europe since Russia annexed Crimea, sending soldiers and equipment to the continent to assure America's NATO allies and deter further aggression.
More than 33,000 soldiers are assigned or allocated to Europe, Allyn said. In addition, the Army this spring is scheduled to start rotating an armored brigade combat team for full nine-month deployments to Europe.
The Army is focused on providing soldiers with the best technology and capability to ensure overmatch in a world that is increasingly complex and the threat is often "elusive and ambiguous," Allyn said.
Defense News reporter Jen Judson contributed to this report.
The Army and several international partners made headway to achieve battlefield interoperability at EDGE 22 at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, but there is still plenty of work to be done to seamlessly tie allies and partners together in operations.