TACOMA, Wash. -- Washington- and Alaska-based soldiers driving a new version of the Army's eight-wheeled Stryker infantry vehicle are walking away from significant improvised explosives in Afghanistan, according to lawmakers and Army reports.
The early success of the new design suggests that Joint Base Lewis-McChord troops who deploy to Afghanistan in the near future could benefit from the added protection.
More than 3,200 Stryker soldiers in the base's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this winter, the Pentagon announced Friday.
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 that Lewis-McChord soldiers have driven for the eight years it's been used in combat.
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 who has spoken with civilian and military leaders about the new Strykers. "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. USA Today first reported on the new Stryker design's success this month.
"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 Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Army reports about the vehicle say the new Stryker passed its first major test in July during an attack on a group of Alaska soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division -- a Stryker brigade formerly based at Lewis-McChord. The soldiers survived an incident in which they struck the kind of roadside bomb that has caused serious casualties in the past.
It was compared to an October 2009 attack in Afghanistan that 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 Alaska soldiers "had a series of (improvised explosive device) experience not unlike the fatal one they had a while back," Thompson said, referring to the seven soldiers who died together in 2009. "But the vehicles have much improved for survivability."
The publishers of a defense-industry newsletter called Inside the Army obtained an after-action report from the recent explosion that quoted 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 be sending 150 of the new Strykers to Afghanistan with another 140 vehicles in production.
The Army has ordered 450 double V hull Strykers. A Stryker brigade typically has about 300 of the vehicles.
The Army has seven Stryker brigades; three are stationed at Lewis-McChord.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said the early reports could persuade lawmakers and the Pentagon to buy more of the "double V hull" Strykers, or to refit existing ones with the new design. "I've been a big supporter of this, and I'm still pushing the Army in it," said Dicks, the ranking member of the House subcommittee for defense appropriations. "This will give us some very powerful combat data to talk to them about."
Army officials did not return calls for comment for this story. General Dynamics officials could not comment.
Dicks said he had heard some concerns that added weight for the new Strykers could make them slower to accelerate. It's not clear whether that's a significant change; 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."