Bradleys, Obsolescence, the Saudis- From the mailbag.

A reader, seeing the LAV live fire post, sent in a question about the Bradley.

As a non military guy, I’m curious about your opinion, as an ex Bradley TC, of the Bradley.

A bit of background: I’m a 42 yr old child of the Reagan buildup. To me the Bradley and the Abrams were awesome to deal with the situation for which they were designed.

I’m seeing a lot of criticism about them (the Bradley especially) considering the losses that have been inflicted upon them.

But to me; they were never invincible. They were just supposed to be able to allow us to stop the Soviets in Germany. There would have been losses. And now we are using the in ways they weren’t specifically designed for (insurgencies); Saudis in Yemen.

First, even though I’ve used the nom de plume “XBradTC” for over a decade now, Bradley’s actually don’t have a TC, they have a BC- Bradley Commander. There’s an obscure reason why I chose TC, mostly having to do with dealing with people that were in the Army pre-Bradley.

As to the Reagan build up and the Abrams and the Bradley, to be fair, both designs were actually pretty well finalized during the Carter years, though they entered into active service in the early 80s.

And yes, they were specifically designed to deal with the massive Warsaw Pact threat in Western Europe. Every armored vehicle design is a product of not just the technological state of the art, but also the doctrine of the buyer, competing interests of the various constituencies that will use it (for instance, the Infantry  and  the Cavalry had very different desires of what the then future Bradley would do and look like) and of course, cost concerns. Some aspects of the Bradley and Abrams were pretty radical, such as every vehicle having a built in thermal target sight. Other aspects, compromises, were also contentious, such as the fact that the Bradley carries a much smaller dismount squad than its M113 predecessor. That was forced onto the designers not because they didn’t value the dismount infantry, but size, weight and cost put an upper limit on vehicle size, and given the imperative to include a turret with both a 25mm gun, and a twin-tube TOW launcher, something had to give, and that was dismount seats.

As to criticism of Bradley losses, it is, to some extent, the nature of the beast. For all the folly of the movie The Pentagon Wars showed, the Bradley is far, far more survivable than its M113 predecessor. However, it was never designed to withstand anti-tank fires, such as AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, let alone the more modern Russian missiles in use today. One part of the design philosophy behind the Bradley (and even more so the M1) was that survivability was focused on the crew, moreso than the vehicle itself. The designers recognized that they could never make the Bradley withstand modern anti-armor weapons, but they could reduce the risks to the crew. For instance, the Bradley has an excellent fire suppression system built in with automatic sensors that trigger extinguishers on board to prevent flash fires in the crew and troop compartments. They might not fully extinguish the fire, but they will usually give the crew and troops time to exit the stricken vehicle.

Another aspect to the losses of Bradleys in Iraq is doctrinal. When the Bradley was being designed with Western Europe in mind, the Army’s doctrine toward combat in urban areas was pretty simple- don’t. In spite of the incredible urbanization of Europe, the Army’s doctrine looked at key terrain and road networks outside of built up areas as the prime maneuver space.

That was all well and good in the 80s, but in Iraq in 2004-2006, the key terrain was, in fact, the people. And of course, the people were only found in built up areas. That became an issue, as securing urban terrain requires a much greater density of manpower than a similarly sized rural area. And that lack of dismounts was a major handicap. Not only that, but the decreased sightlines in urban terrain somewhat negates the sensor advantage of the Bradley’s optics. It also meant that opposing forces would often have better angled shots at the sides, rear and top of Bradleys, where they were more vulnerable, with the thinnest armor.

Tactics, techniques and procedures could mitigate that to some extent, and the organic firepower of the Bradley was also quite useful, but by 2006, the Army decided that using MRAPs or Strykers in urban areas made more sense, and could provide greater numbers of dismounts and required less crew, and had greater speed on the road networks. And so, Bradleys were pretty much withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006.

As to the Saudi experience in Yemen,  I suppose that our correspondent is referring to the rebel video I linked to found in this post, with various Saudi Brads getting lit up.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h87a41N-IhU?feature=player_embedded]

For the most part, that’s just bad tactics. Laziness on the battlefield will get you killed. Always be scanning. US troops virtually always have their head out of the hatch, visually scanning, while the gunner is also using the turret to scan for targets and threats. Similarly, if halted for more than just a few moments, the dismounts kick out and begin securing the local area. 

That won’t eliminate the threat, but it will make it harder for the enemy. It’s one thing to take a hit. It’s another thing to give the enemy a gimme shot.

Overall, the Bradley is an excellent fighting vehicle. Having said that, it is quickly facing obsolescence. Much like ladies over thirty, it’s gaining weight and not getting any stronger. The original M2/M3 were powered by a 500hp diesel. The M2A2/M3A2 upgraded to a 600hp engine, but given the increased armor on those models, that was barely sufficient to restore it to previous levels of performance. And in the quarter century since the A2 models entered service, much more weight has found its way on board. The onboard digital battle management system, the newer thermal sights, revised interior, air conditioning and of course, the urban survival kit all added significant weight increases. Not only that, they also use vastly more electrical power, which the engine is hard pressed to provide. There is simply an upper limit to how much you can increase the power, both motive and electrical, in an existing design. And the Bradley is bumping hard up against that limit. Furthermore, while the 25mm gun is, for now, of sufficient lethality, very soon it will likely begin to be just a tad small for most threat scenarios, and the option for a 30mm or even 40mm gun will become more attractive.

LTG McMasters has been teasing some news about the Army’s future combat vehicle acquisition, and we hope to address that in another post soon.

10 thoughts on “Bradleys, Obsolescence, the Saudis- From the mailbag.”

    1. Having spent a fair amount of time hanging with the Tickle Commando in question, I can assure you he’s …

      Never mind. I don’t want to talk about this after all.

  1. The whole IFV concept leaves a lot to be desired. I spent three years as an Engineer Observer/Controller at the NTC, working with the maneuver forces. In that time, I can’t think of a single damn time where the commander wanted to drop his ramp and send out the dismounts anywhere near where the weapons on the Bradley were able to effectively conduct support-by-fire operations for that particular objective. It was always Hobson’s choice: Leave the dismounts on the tracks doing the shooting, and sacrifice a big chunk of the dismount combat power, or send the tracks forward to drop troops where they couldn’t effectively engage the objective.

    After watching that happen, time and time again over my time as an O/C, I came to the conclusion that the IFV is basically a crock. You shouldn’t try to have all of your vehicles do everything, because what happens is that, inevitably, none of them can do anything well. We should have designed a infantry fire support vehicle that did nothing but, and kept the dismounts in a dedicated troop carrier that had what it took for defense against other dismounts, only. Pair the two vehicles in whatever ratio makes sense for the mission, and call it good. The IFV as sole basic vehicle is, frankly, ludicrous. You wind up diluting your combat power, one way or another, and either choice is a bad one–Either your grunts dismount too far from the objective to be effective when they get there, or you wind up sacrificing a bunch of your suppressive and overwatch fires. The Soviets intended the BMP to operate on a full-scale nuclear/chemical battlefield, and odds were pretty good that the dismounts never would dismount. Our copying the idea for how we fight was basically pretty damn stupid, and yet another case of us trying to keep up with the Jones’s for no good reason of our own.

    1. Apparently the well-reasoned response that I slowly typed out on my blackberry as I waited for the next meeting to begin didn’t post.
      Summary: to extrapolate lessons learned about Bradley employment at NTC is dangerous at best. NTC is a heavy unit’s fight. Most killing occurs at long ranges and there is rarely a reason to dismount, less trench lines and strong-pointing flanks in a defense, or going into the cities. Maybe to sieze key terrain prior to movement, etc. I am an OC at JMRC in Germany, and the unit that doesn’t constantly kick out the dismounts in this type of terrain to clear in and around the tracks and prior to movement forward through defilades will get torn up by enemy forces. Every time. Mounted/Dismounted integration is still alive and kicking and is THE critical task for mech infantry to train on. This goes for urban terrain as well. Bradleys survive best, and fight best, when dismounts maneuver in conjunction with them. That is not really required at NTC, but it is elsewhere.
      Does this mean that the vehicle is a Bradley? No, but the Bradley is still doing okay. I don’t advocate a bunch of purpose-built fire support vehicles and infantry carriers but that could be a way, I suppose. But it seems like that is one step from building one chassis with multiple variants (ala FCS) and that, I am adamantly opposed to.

    1. I just loaded World of Tanks on the console for my 8 year old – then read through the wiki about its penetration + damage model, spotting system, and other goodies and decided to give it a try myself. Very fun game – makes me long for Steel Beasts which no longer works on my newer computers.

    2. Yeah, but justifying a “Pro” *game* in the three digits is beyond my elocution skills with the missus. World of Tanks is free – much more conducive to household harmony. 🙂

      1. The free game is just how they reel you in. The incentives are strong to buy premium time for higher-tier tanks.

        And I hate to break it to you, but wives and daughters hate, hate, hate “that damn tanks game” whether it is free or not. As soon as I fire it up, the peevish remarks begin — “are you going to spend ALL DAY playing that game?”

        (To which I respond, “quiet, woman, I’m trying to kill this pesky E-75!”)

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