New Armoured Vehicles Announced After Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

January 1, 2004 by Legion Magazine

by Ray Dick

A United States Army Stryker armoured vehicle moves out during exercises at Fort Polk, La. The Canadian version will also have a 105-millimetre gun.

Canadian soldiers who go in harm’s way on missions to world trouble spots will be getting some new light-armoured vehicles with bigger guns under a recently announced government procurement policy that will cost more than $500 million over the next two years.

Defence Minister John McCallum says the government will purchase 66 light-armoured Stryker vehicles, eight-wheeled units equipped with a 105-millimetre gun, to replace the army’s obsolete Leopard tanks.

The addition of the Stryker “accelerates the army’s plan to transform itself into a modern, mobile information-age force,” said McCallum. He called it “an investment in capabilities that are relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s missions, and replacing capabilities that are no longer relevant.” The plan was affordable within existing resources.

Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, chief of land staff, added his endorsement of the new vehicles during a joint press conference with McCallum. He said the Leopard tanks had become “useless” because they could not be airlifted and were impossible to manoeuvre in the narrow streets of places such as Kabul where some 2,000 Canadian troops are now deployed.

“The Leopard tank…is a very capable but less relevant platform for the kinds of missions that we now undertake,” Hillier told reporters.

The new Strykers, expected to be in service by 2006, are similar to the light-armoured vehicles, the LAV-III now in use by the Canadian Forces. The big gun, however, is the same size as that of a Leopard tank.

The new vehicles have their critics and their supporters, and they are not intended to fill in for the thin-skinned Iltis jeeps, themselves due for replacement. The Department of National Defence has faced harsh criticism about the suitability of its field equipment since two Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan in early October when their Iltis was blown up by a landmine during a patrol near Kabul.

Sergeant Alan Short, 42, of Fredericton and Corporal Robbie Beerenfenger, 29, of Ottawa died and three other Canadian soldiers were injured in the incident, and critics say the deaths could probably have been prevented if the soldiers had been using an armoured vehicle. Since then, the Canadians have been using their LAVs, Coyotes and Bisons on patrols on the outskirts of Kabul and their Iltis jeeps, due for replacement this year with the heavier-armoured Mercedes Wolf, in the narrow city streets.

Dominion President Allan Parks of The Royal Canadian Legion sent condolences on the deaths of the two soldiers, and Legion branches in their home towns were instructed to lower their flags to half mast for the funerals of the two men, both married and with three children. The Legion has also recommended to Veterans Affairs Canada that the flag on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings be lowered to half mast for a day whenever a sailor, soldier or aviator is lost in operations.

The decision to go with the Stryker was welcomed by MP David Pratt, chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, who said the vehicle will be easier than the Leopard to transport to the country’s missions overseas and will make better use of the military’s resources.

Critics, however, point to a 1998 Defence Department study that found that the Stryker did not manoeuvre well in combat situations and did not stack up well against heavily armed and armoured opposition. That report, as pointed out by Canadian Alliance defence critic Rob Anders, suggested the military could have three times the casualties on the battlefield if it used Strykers instead of tanks.

The critics also suggest the Stryker is vulnerable to rocket-propelled grenades, a most common terrorist weapon in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Replying to such criticism in the House of Commons during Question Period, McCallum said he takes advice on defence matters “not from outdated reports, not from retired military and not from the opposition. I take it from the current military.”

The Stryker is manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems which acquired General Motors Defence in March last year. The company has 7,400 employees in 11 states and international operations in Canada, Switzerland and Australia. Part of the new vehicles will be built in London, Ont.

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