Soldiers driving a new version of the Army's eight-wheeled Stryker infantry vehicle are walking away from large roadside bombs in Afghanistan, according to lawmakers and Army reports.
The so-called Stryker "double-V hull" brings extra armor and a new design to divert an explosion's impact away from soldiers inside the vehicle. It has a slanted underside instead of the traditional flat-bottom Stryker used in combat for eight years.
It was designed to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices, the buried bombs that have been the weapon of choice against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is a quick fix, and it appears to have worked," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a research and policy organization based in Arlington, Va. "What they needed was a design change that would channel the blast wave away from the crew, and they have found it."
The Army commissioned the new design from manufacturer General Dynamics last year and started sending it into the field this summer.
"We have seen a substantial decrease in casualties, and this is an important accomplishment that our military, local service members, General Dynamics and their workers can be very proud of," said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Democrat represents Washington state, home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where three of the Army's seven Stryker brigades are stationed.
More than 3,200 Stryker soldiers in its 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this winter.
Army reports say the new Stryker passed its first major test in July, when a group of Alaska soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division survived a roadside bomb. In contrast, a similar Afghanistan roadside bombing in October 2009 killed seven soldiers from Lewis-McChord's 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. That brigade lost 37 soldiers in its yearlong deployment, the vast majority of whom were killed in bombings.
"The vehicles have (been) much improved for survivability," Thompson said.
The publishers of the defense-industry newsletter Inside the Army obtained an after-action report from the recent explosion, quoting two soldiers who were inside the Stryker.
"I certainly have more trust and confidence going outside the wire in the new double-V hull," said Pfc. Johnathan Arteaga, who was driving the vehicle, according to the newsletter.
The double-V hull "performed well in my eyes, especially considering the relatively minor injuries sustained by the crew members," said Pfc. Derek Cook.
Army officials in May announced they'd send 150 of the new Strykers to Afghanistan with another 140 vehicles in production.
All told, the Army has ordered 450 double-V hull Strykers. A Stryker brigade typically has about 300 of the vehicles.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, another Washington state Democrat, said the early reports could persuade lawmakers and the Pentagon to buy more double-V hull Strykers or to retrofit existing ones.
"I've been a big supporter of this," said Dicks, the ranking member of the House's subcommittee for defense appropriations. "This will give us some very powerful combat data to talk to them about."
Dicks said he had heard some concerns that added weight could slow acceleration in the new Strykers. Strykers were originally designed as a medium-weight troop carrier -- an alternative between heavy armor and light infantry.
"One of the great benefits of a Stryker is it's not as noisy and they don't hear it coming," Dicks said. "The most important thing is survivability of the group. If it's a little heavier and the crew survived, we probably have to put up with it."