The American Stryker Combat Vehicle is seeing its first combat in Iraq. As the Armys newest armored combat vehicle, the Stryker has endured its share of criticism, some of which is not without substance. The Stryker has some major advantages over its predecessors, the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and the M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, such as speed and its ability to fire its heavy weapons from controls inside of the vehicle. However, its biggest weakness, ironically, is a new version of the four decade old Russian RPG-7 anti-tank weapon.
The Stryker was designed to be a well-protected vehicle capable of fighting in 21st century battlefields. Its armor is composed of a hard steel body enhanced with panels of ceramic/composite armor produced by a Germany company. The end result is armor that is far better than the original M113 APC armor, which was composed of aluminum and gave comparatively poor protection. The baseline Stryker armor gives all-around protection against heavy (up to 14.5mm) machine gun bullets as well as mortar and artillery fragments. An optional appliqu armor kit upgrades the armor and enables the Stryker to withstand RPG-7 rounds (just as the same additional armor does for the M-2).
A vehicle capable of stopping RPG-7 rounds sounds like every soldiers dream come true. This certainly proved to be the case for troops using the M-2 Bradley during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, all is not as it seems. It is true that the appliqu armor would stop a warhead from an RPG-7. However, it would not be capable of stopping a high-explosive warhead from an RPG-7V1 and 7VR, the latest model of the RPG series of anti-tank weapons. The RPG-7V1 fires three types of ammunition and is arguably the most power handheld anti-tank weapon on the market. The plain high-explosive warhead is capable of penetrating 600mm of steel armor (twice as powerful as an RPG-7) and the tandem warhead (designed to penetrate explosive reactive armor on tanks) is even more powerful. If hit by either warhead, a Stryker Combat Vehicle would be risk being completely demolished. RPG-7V1s are highly favored by guerrilla fighters and terrorists alike and dont be surprised if a few Strykers in Iraq fall victim to this weapon in the coming months. The Bradley is also vulnerable to the RPG-7V1, as are M-1 tanks, if hit in the side or rear.
Cheaper copies of the tandem warheads are made in both Iran and China. Two years ago, a cargo ship called the Karine-A was boarded by Israeli commandos who found 50 tons of weaponry destined for Palestinian guerrillas. Among the arms found were large quantities of RPG-7V1s with tandem warhead, which would have significantly boosted the operational capabilities of Palestinian terror groups. The RPGs and their warhead, along with all of the weapons captured, were manufactured and purchased from Iran. Israel had been able to lean on the East European governments to stop most armaments shipments to Palestinian terror groups, but the Iranians consider it their sacred duty to do whatever they can to destroy Israel.