The M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle is an integral part of the United States armoured forces of today. Serving both an as infantry fighting vehicle and for cavalry reconnaissance and scouting, its ability to fight alongside the Abrams Main Battle Tank is central to US warfighting doctrine.
The M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicle established a commendable combat record during deployment in the 1991 Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the Gulf War, Bradley vehicles from several troops of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army engaged and destroyed a number of Iraqi armoured vehicles in the Battle of 73 Easting and other engagements.
Although the Bradley was found susceptible to improvised explosive devices (IED) and rocket-propelled grenades during Operation Iraqi Freedom, its crew survivability rate was excellent. In some cases, the Bradley defeated Iraqi tanks with its TOW missiles. Special-purpose vehicles based on the Bradley include a forward observation variant and anti-aircraft and anti-tank platforms.
The first of the ‘battle taxis’, the US army’s trend-setting M75 APC, entered service in 1952. It carried a driver, a commander and a squad of ten men. It was of all-steel construction and was high, making it difficult to conceal, and it was not amphibious; it also had a petrol engine. Nevertheless, it was an impressive start. The M75 was followed by the M59, which entered service from 1954 onwards. This too was of all-steel construction, but was cheaper than the M75 to produce and was amphibious in calm conditions.
Still not satisfied, the US army persevered and its efforts in this particular development chain culminated in the M113 APC, which became the archetypical APC between 1960 and 1985. The original US army requirement was to provide a lightweight armoured personnel carrier for armour and infantry units; it had to be capable of amphibious and air-drop operation, have superior cross-country mobility, and be adaptable for multiple functions by means of kits and/or modification of its superstructure. The designers succeeded in meeting all of these objectives, and the M113 proved to be one of the most successful military designs of all time, with over 80,000 being produced for service in at least fifty armies in a production run which lasted from 1960 to the early 1990s.
The M113 had a body fabricated from welded aluminium, which protected the crew (commander, driver and eleven infantrymen) from shell splinters and small-arms fire. It was powered by a diesel engine, giving a maximum speed of 64 km/h and a range of 320 km (later increased to 485 km). The infantrymen sat on two benches facing inwards, and exited through a downward-opening rear ramp. The basic vehicle was armed with a pintle-mounted 12.7 mm machine-gun, although many users mounted heavier weapons, of which the largest to enter service was a turret-mounted 76 mm gun in an Australian version. The M113 was fully amphibious with little preparation, being propelled in the water by its tracks. Apart from the normal infantry versions a large range of specialized versions were produced, including bulldozers, flame-throwers, mortar carriers, radar vehicles, anti-aircraft gun/missile carriers, command posts, anti-tank weapons carriers, and transport for engineers, communications and recovery operations.
The M113 was very successful, but one of the reasons for its longevity was the difficulty experienced in finding a successor. By the early 1960s the US army had decided on a requirement for a mechanized-infantry combat vehicle (MICV), the first attempt at which was a vehicle designated MICV-65, of which five prototypes were produced, but it was considered too large and development ceased. In 1967 the Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV) appeared, which was in essence an M113 adapted to meet the MICV requirement, but this too was deemed unsatisfactory and development ceased, although the design was later produced in large numbers for the Belgian and Dutch armies.
In 1972 the XM723 programme started, which was intended to lead to a vehicle which would serve in both armoured and infantry units, carrying a crew of three plus eight dismounting infantry. After many vicissitudes, repeated reviews (most of them antagonistic), much criticism and many redesigns, this programme resulted in the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and the initial production vehicles were eventually handed over in 1981, with the first unit forming in March 1983. Forty-one M2s were issued to each infantry battalion, where they replaced M113s, although many M113s continued to serve in other roles.
The M2 was constructed of welded aluminium with spaced, laminated armour on the front and sides, and was armed with a turret-mounted 25 mm chain-gun, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine-gun and a twin TOW anti-tank missile launcher. The vehicle crew consisted of commander, driver and gunner, and seven infantrymen were carried, of which six were provided with firing ports and periscopes. Thus, after a protracted and very expensive development process, the US army finally obtained a MICV which was only marginally better than the German Marder, which had preceded it into service by some fifteen years.
With its roots in the Vietnam era, the M2/3 Bradley fighting vehicle did not enter service with the U.S. Army until 1981. Even then, controversy swirled around its perceived combat capabilities.
At the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army was seeking a replacement for its M113 armoured personnel carrier. Combat experience had revealed that the M113 was difficult to manoeuvre in jungle terrain, its high profile was susceptible to shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons such as the Soviet-made rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), and its armament was insufficient to lend substantial direct fire support to infantry.
Although there were clearly defined specifications for the new fighting vehicle that eventually became the M2/ M3 Bradley fighting vehicle, progress was slow. Some sceptics questioned its light armour protection and the real contribution its 25mm (0.98in) main weapon could make on the battlefield. The concerns raised were largely based on the poor performance of the Soviet BMP-1 troop carrier during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Nevertheless, the requirement that a new fighting vehicle maintain offensive pace with the emerging main battle tanks of the period and the need for rapid reconnaissance and the advance of infantry to take and hold territory remained paramount.
Brokering the Bradley
Named in honour of General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, a hero of the Allied victory in World War II, the Bradley fighting vehicle weathered controversy, Congressional inquiry and funding battles on Capitol Hill before production was authorized in February 1980 and the M2/M3 entered service in 1981, a full 15 years after the research and development that produced it had begun.
The Bradley has been constructed in two basic configurations. The M2 infantry variant was initially designed to carry a crew of three and seven combat-ready infantrymen who entered and exited the vehicle through a rear access hatch. Later, the troop capacity of the M2 was reduced to six. The M3 cavalry version carries the three-man crew and a pair of scout infantrymen. Produced by BAE Systems Land and Armaments, nearly 6800 Bradleys have been built.
In keeping with the armoured equation that attempts to balance firepower, armour protection and mobility, the Bradley has been designed and steadily upgraded to perform scouting and infantry support missions. In combat during the Gulf War of 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, its tank and armoured vehicle killing prowess came into sharp focus as well.
The Bradley is powered by a Cummins VTA-903T eight-cylinder diesel engine capable of a top speed of 66km/h (41mph). Its torsion-bar suspension is adequate for rapid movement across desert sands and through marshy or uneven terrain with a power-to-weight ratio of 14.7 kilowatts (19.74hp) per ton. Armour protection is, out of necessity, light compared to main battle tanks. Spaced laminate armour and additional steel plating are sufficient to protect against small arms and shells up to 23mm (0.98in), enhancing the base protection of aluminium alloy 7017 explosive-reactive armour (ERA).
While it may be considered a light weapon, the M242 chain gun is capable of penetrating the armour of enemy vehicles firing armour-piercing ammunition with a core of dense depleted uranium. High explosive shells are effective against softer targets. The gunner chooses the appropriate ammunition through an automated remote dual selection system and is, therefore, able to engage multiple and varied targets in quick succession. The Bradley carries 900 rounds of M242 ammunition.
Anti-tank armament includes the proven TOW missile system carried in a collapsible rack on the left side of the turret. Seven missiles are routinely carried in combat zones. Infantry support is also available with a coaxial 7.62mm (0.3in) M240C machine gun with 800 rounds loaded and ready and 1540 rounds stored in reserve.
Following the Gulf War combat experience, an ODS (Operation Desert Storm) upgrade was authorized for the Bradley. Countermeasures against missiles were introduced, as well as the introduction of global positioning and digital compass systems, a tactical navigation system and better laser rangefinding equipment in the A2 variant. The A2 variant is also capable of interfacing with the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) command system. Infantrymen are accommodated with bench seating and heating elements for the preparation of hot meals.
With the follow-on A3 upgrade, FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) sighting was installed along with an electro-optical imaging system and better fire control. Currently, the GCV fighting vehicle is in development following the cancellation of the earlier Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles programme in 2009. The successor to the Bradley is anticipated by the end of this decade.