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Will Joe Biden Send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine?

Bradley Fighting Vehicle
Soldiers fire a 25mm tracer round from an M2A3 fighting vehicle during an integrated night live-fire exercise at Camp Adazi, Latvia, Nov. 25, 2021.

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported the Biden administration was considering sending Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine. If he decides to go through with the transfer, this would mark the most heavily armed and armored Western-designed fighting vehicle given to Ukraine to date.

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Operated by a crew of three, each Bradley weighs between 27 and 33 tons and can carry a squad of 6 or 7 soldiers, depending on model. They can maul infantry and light armored vehicles using rapid-firing 25-millimeter cannons and a machinegun, and can snipe at distant tanks using a two-shot TOW anti-tank missile launcher. The Bradley, named after World War II general Omar Bradley, entered U.S. services in the 1980s in two basic but highly similar variants, the M2 used by infantry units and the M3 by cavalry-scout formations.

Let’s consider a few key factors that will weigh in Washington’s ultimate decision.

The U.S. and NATO are nervous about giving Ukraine tanks. The Bradley is the next best thing.

Washington and its NATO allies have, rightly or wrongly, feared that certain weapons are too provocative to give Ukraine and risk inciting dangerous escalation by Putin. Those particularly pertain to jet fighters and Western-built main battle tanks. An oddity of this policy is that NATO has given plenty of advanced artillery systems to Ukraine that are likely to cause more Russian losses than tanks; and air defense systems that are far more expensive and advanced.

Nonetheless, Ukraine wants to continue launching offensives to liberate territory—and offensives require lots of well-protected fighting vehicles.

The Bradley is an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV)— designed to transport troops into combat and provide anti-personnel and anti-vehicle fire support while doing so. So it has a much more aggressive combat role than the hundreds of lightly-armed armored personnel carriers like the M113 and VAB that NATO has donated to Ukraine.

Still, a Bradly isn’t a main battle tank—it lacks a large cannon and it’s armor isn’t meant to withstand hits from tank guns or powerful anti-tank missiles. But it’s more or less the next best thing. And Ukraine and Russia both already use lots of infantry fighting vehicles—mostly Soviet-era BMP tracked IFVs.

The Pentagon has thousands of them to spare.

Bradleys aren’t cheap, priced at roughly $3.2 million per vehicle by 2000. But the U.S. has already paid for roughly 6,500 Bradleys, over a third of which are no longer in use with Army and National Guard units (see table below).

Bradley Fighting Vehicle

An M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle is on display during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 18, 2013. The live, virtual and constructive training environment of the National Training Center is designed to produce adaptive leaders and agile forces for the current fight, which are responsive to the unforeseen contingencies of the 21st century. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric M. Garland II/Released)

Bradley in Operational Units and Storage*

 

Estimated number in operational units

Estimated number in storage

M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle

2,500

2,000

M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle

1,200

800

M73A3 Fire Support Vehicle (for artillery spotting)

334

 

Figures from IISS’s The Military Balance 2021

 

The Army therefore can afford to give away hundreds of Bradleys without stripping capability from operational units, which in 2022 just began to receive new M2A4 vehicles with uprated power trains and suspensions, as well as survivability improvements and digitized systems. Long term it plans to replace them with an optionally-manned successor.

Of course, any earlier M2A1 and M2A2 in storage lack key survivability upgrades, and so it’s possible the Pentagon would spend some money upgrading them before donating them.

It’s a lot tougher (and heavier) than Ukraine and Russia’s BMP fighting vehicles.

The BMP-2 fighting vehicles used widely by Ukraine and Russia weigh 15.8 tons—while a Bradley weighs twice as much at 33 tons in later models! A lot of that difference is due to more robust armor. For example, side and rear armor on BMPS can be penetrated by heavy machine gun rounds at close range, while a Bradley is protected from all angles against such weapons.

Furthermore, the Bradley’s smaller 25-millimeter cannon can easily blast through a BMP’s frontal armor, while the BMP’s 30-millimeter gun struggle against the Bradley’s front plate. That said, Russia’s later BMP-3 model does outgun the Bradley as it pack an additional 100-millimeter gun.

Bradleys are also one of the few U.S. armored vehicles designed to bolt-on bricks of explosive reactive armor, which can help defeat common light anti-tank weapons like rocket propelled grenades that would ordinarily penetrate.

It also comes with superior sensors, particularly including night-fighting capable passive thermal sights, which all but small numbers of modernized BMPs lack.

It has long-range tank-busting missiles.

Like BMPs, Bradleys carry long-distance missiles to defend against tanks—specifically the BGM-71 TOW, which has a range exceeding 2 miles and is also useful for precise strikes on fortified positions, heavy weapons team and supply trucks. Newer TOW missiles feature wireless command links and top-attack munitions that may have better odds of overcoming reactive armor and active protection systems on Russian tanks. Ukraine has already received at least 1,500 infantry TOW missiles from the U.S., a few of which have been recorded used in combat.

Bradleys have their downsides.

The Bradley’s belly armor wasn’t designed for mine-resistance, so it remains relatively vulnerable to mines and improvised explosive devices despite its heavy armor. And in common with BMPs, Bradleys can only carry small squads of six or seven dismounted soldiers.

Though Bradleys have increased several tons in weight over the years, most continue to use the same 500-horsepower diesel engine. That means up-armored Bradleys are underpowered and stress their power train and suspensions—except for brand-new M2A4s.

The logistical burden would be considerable.

Because Bradleys are so much heavier than Ukraine’s BMPs, they would impose a greater logistical burden and will require more intensive support structures to keep fueled, maintained and repaired in the field than are currently organic to Ukrainian mechanized units.

And unlike for old Soviet armored vehicles donated by NATO to Kyiv, Ukraine’s military has no prior experience operating Bradleys, and would have to set up completely new maintenance, supply and training pipelines to support the new type. That would take months, though Ukraine’s military has so far managed to rush complex new capabilities like HIMARS into the field surprisingly fast.

The Bradley’s development was so controversial somebody made a comedy movie about it.

Built to satisfy diverging requirements from the U.S. Army’s mechanized infantry and cavalry reconnaissance units, the Bradley took many years and billions of dollars to develop, leading that process to be satirized in the film The Pentagon Wars. However these cinematic hijinks shouldn’t be over-interpreted; Bradley have performed well in combat since the 1991 Gulf War, and their basic design is hardly unusual.

How practical are Bradleys for Ukraine?

The U.S. has literally thousands of spare Bradleys it’s not using that it can sign off to Ukraine at little cost. But the logistical and training measures needed to integrate Bradleys into Ukraine’s military and support them in the field, would remain significant. For that reason, a U.S. transfer of these would need to be of sufficient scale, and effectively sustained over enough time to ensure a worthwhile return on the effort invested.

If fielded, Ukrainian mechanized brigades with Bradleys more likely to survive enemy fire, fight more flexibly thanks to superior night vision sensors, and more likely to detect and destroy enemy vehicles with their own weapons first. Its logistical footprint, however, would be quite literally heavier.

Bradleys wouldn’t be ‘game changers’—but, if delivered in adequate quantity, could still enhance and expand Ukraine’s ground maneuver forces, which need such protected mobility vehicles to recapture Ukrainian territory. So they could eventually contribute to Kyiv’s endgame of driving Russian forces out of Ukraine through a combination of attrition and maneuver.

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Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National InterestNBC NewsForbes.comWar is Boring and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  You can follow his articles on Twitter.

Written By

Sebastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the 19FortyFive, The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com, and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. 403Forbidden

    December 31, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    Bradley is a piece of crap.

    Biden should send Abrams tanks instead.

    Abrams reaching donbass and blasting its russian-speaking inhabitants to smithereens will hopefully persuade putin to drop his current effiminate posture and begin using nukes to end the proxy war in ukraine.

    To shorten the war, send Abrams to the ukros.

    To lengthen the war, send crap to ukros.

  2. Walker

    January 1, 2023 at 2:18 am

    I sure hope so. Also send some older Abrams that haven’t been upgraded yet. Sure there are a few National guards with some older equipment. While we’re at it send some F-16’s and maybe even some F-15’s and if the Airforce wants to get rid of it’s Warthogs, this would be a great opportunity to either show they are ready to be put to pasture or really are useful. I remember they wanted to get rid of them as far back as the late 80’s and Desert Storm/Desert Shield showed that they were absolutely indispensable as Russian Tank busters. I suspect they are still perfect for that role and Russia still has quite a big inventory that needs liquidating. The tin jack in the boxes need their tops popped off.

  3. Johnny Ray

    January 1, 2023 at 8:14 am

    These vehicles likely will not ‘turn the tide’.But, if they can help, why not?

    All manner of guided munitions, drones, electronics and intelligence data can generate a win for USA and Ukraine, however. Just do it.

  4. froike

    January 1, 2023 at 10:55 am

    It’s Time for NATO and The US to take decisive steps to aid Ukraine.
    They need Tanks, Aircraft, Munitions. Yes, Bradley FV’s would surely help. We have Hundreds of Old Abrams Tanks in storage. Why not send them too. Logistics/Support can be established in Poland. Poland and Czech Arms Industries are already supporting Ukraine’s other Tanks and Artillery; repairing them as needed. The same can be accomplished for US Tanks and AFV’s.
    Incidentally, what ever happened to the alleged training of Ukrainian Pilots on F-16’s?

  5. Злой пьяный русский медведь с балалайкой

    January 1, 2023 at 1:32 pm

    Another US wunderwafl for Ukraine. What miracles of the USA, the EU and NATO have not been glorified as a weapon of Victory! For 10 months of Russia’s military operation, with what kind of magic wands did not run!
    Americans! Do you need it to fight for decades in different countries without visible success? Why do you still want to live in a world without enemies? Why do you breed them for yourself on purpose? Why do you start inventing them and provoking different countries? Is there really no mind to live in peace with other countries?
    Your “golden billion” is actually “scrofulous”!

  6. GhostTomahawk

    January 1, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    🤣🤣🤣 how freely you’re willing to give hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US Military vehicles. What does EVERY DAY AMERICANS get from this deal?

    I know the bio weapons people can still stay in business. I know the Korruptocrats get to get back to laundering tax payer money. But what is my cut? How about my kids?

    Ukraine means nothing to me and America.

  7. GhostTomahawk

    January 1, 2023 at 6:54 pm

    And for all you ignorant fools who think the Bradley sucks….

    It has more tank kills than the Abrams and its not close.

  8. JamesBond

    January 1, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    Just more metal for the junkyard.
    And I fully expect Z and company to send a few of them to their fellow 3rd world terrorists someplace.

  9. abraham lincoln

    January 1, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    Americans! Don’t you realize Russia has already won this war, and nothing can stop glorious Russia? Why Russia is by far the most important country in the world! You all depend 100 percent on Russia FOR EVERYTHING!. Look at how Europe is all starving and Americans are rioting just to get bread! Tens of thousands of Europeans have already frozen to death, and Tucker Carlson will be elected the next president of the USA. You are doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

    Signed, Vladimir Putin

  10. dave

    January 2, 2023 at 11:54 am

    Ukraine outnumbered Russia 600,000 to 200,000 soldiers. Ukraine now has 190,000 soldiers with draft #6, or #7 going on right now. Russia up to 540,000 to 600,000 soldiers.All from Colonel Douglas MacGregor.

  11. Rob

    January 3, 2023 at 5:04 am

    I heard Ukranian soldiers now use cars, who last 3-4 days on the Bakhmut front. Bradleys surely would outperform those. And would release the UA of the logistic burden of finding enough cars. The increased mobility would make it much more difficult for Russia to sustain its enormous front line. Yet I believe Europe should send tanks to the UA. That would make a difference.

  12. Partner

    January 3, 2023 at 5:49 am

    GhostTomahawk!!! You think your brain is perfect. You are wrong. Read Anne Applebaum’s article called Disaster and Horror. In the Atlantic edition. And then you will become much smarter. And then you will understand what Ukraine means to you and to America.

  13. Watermelon Warrior

    January 3, 2023 at 8:57 am

    Do we have any electric Bradleys? I’d hate to think President Oatmeal is increasing our carbon footprint with dirty diesel tanks.

  14. GhostTomahawk

    January 3, 2023 at 7:08 pm

    @Partner Ukraine does NOTHING for the US that it can’t do domestically or with another ALLY.

    Ukraine #1 export (other than its women) is laundered US currency. Corruption is the name of the game for Ukraine. Until 2014 it was corruption for Putin now its corruption for western oligarchs. Off the books bio labs, money laundering schemes (see FTX) pay for play scams (See Pelosi, Romney, Biden, Kerry ask sent kids over there to peddle influence for their parents.

    So whatever Ukraine “does” is outweighed by the oligarchs cut.

  15. Serhio

    January 7, 2023 at 10:38 am

    It seems that the United States decided to transfer all scrap metal from its military bases to Ukraine in the hope that after the war, the “state of Ukraine” will exist in some form and pay loans for American scrap metal for centuries. Which gives Ukrainians who have brains a reason to think that it is necessary to rebrand the country in order not to pay a lot of money. They will then say with honest eyes: you lent weapons to Ukraine, so demand debts from it. And we have a completely different country.

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