The U.S. military has very limited experience in and a very mixed record with providing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to foreign partners.
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The U.S. is sending 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine, about a battalion’s worth. As others have documented, the Bradley is a premier combat vehicle. It is “a combat-proven platform that provides outstanding survivability, mobility, and lethality” I can attest to the Bradley’s combat effectiveness, having served as a Bradley platoon leader, company executive officer, and mechanized infantry battalion assistant operations officer in Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry—one of the most decorated U.S. Army units—forward deployed to Germany, with operational service in Kosovo and combat service in Iraq, including in the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) provides a nearly-unparalleled platform on which to base mobile-protected firepower and/or protected mobility capability.
It is a complex but awesome combat vehicle.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle: Limited International Distribution
Only three countries possess BFVs: the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, with Croatia set to receive 62 BFVs from 2023 to 2026. Croatia has yet to receive BFVs, making Lebanon’s program the most recent and most relevant for understanding the challenges inherent in developing a BFV-based capability.
Unfortunately, Lebanon’s Bradley program suggests the U.S. may struggle to provide combat-capable BFVs to Ukraine, and that Ukraine will almost certainly struggle, initially and over the long term, to train Bradley crews, units, and logistics personnel, maintain BFVs, and sustain a functional BFV operational readiness rate. As with the Croatian program, the Lebanese case also suggests that considerable time will pass before Ukraine receives its first shipment of BFVs, and, depending on specifics, an even longer timeline likely exists for Ukraine’s first deployment of Bradleys in combat.
Lebanon Behind the Wheel
The origin of Lebanon’s Bradley program traces back to August 2014, when ISIS and the Al Nusra Front seized territory around the town of Arsal. The battle that followed—the Battle of Arsal—highlighted the Lebanese Armed Forces’ (LAF) lack of adequate protected mobility and mobile protected firepower capabilities; 19 LAF soldiers were killed-in-action, with nearly a hundred more wounded in action and dozens more assumed captured. After Arsal, the U.S., using Department of Defense counter-terrorism funding, decided unilaterally (as is the policy for such DoD funding) to provide a mobile-protected firepower capability to Lebanon, eventually selecting the BFV as the platform.
Lebanon’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle program has developed very slowly. Eight years have passed since the program’s inception in late 2014; five years have passed since Lebanon received its first BFVs in 2017. The U.S. and the LAF continue to struggle to bring Lebanon’s BFVs to full mission-capable status, despite the incredible efforts of the LAF and the security cooperation professionals at the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) in Lebanon, as well as the rest of the immense U.S. security cooperation enterprise.
I served at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon from 2017 to 2019, first as the foreign military sales officer and then as the ODC Chief, managing the U.S. side of the LAF BFV program. I witnessed first-hand the immense challenge of developing a BFV-based capability with a foreign partner.
In Operation and Running
The main challenge is that the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is an extraordinarily high-tech and complex system of systems that require a substantial level of technical and tactical expertise at the user-level, and an extremely high level of technical expertise at higher echelons to maintain and logistically support.
The U.S. Army has a large number of specialized Bradley courses to train those assigned to units with BFVs, including the Bradley Leader Course and the Bradley Master Gunner Course, and an entire military occupational specialty (MOS) (91M) devoted to BFV maintenance. Additionally, BFV-equipped U.S. Army units rely on the greatest military in the world for provision of all things required to make and keep a BFV-equipped unit mission capable.
Even with the U.S. Army’s incredible logistics and support capability, it takes a dedicated months-long training period to prepare a BFV-equipped unit for combat. Furthermore, the U.S. just barely managed to maintain a BFV operational readiness rate above 90 percent in the 1990s, a rate that plummeted during operations in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. If the U.S. Army cannot maintain an adequate operational readiness rate for BFVs deployed in combat, despite the enormous logistics capabilities of the U.S. military, one cannot realistically expect a foreign partner lacking said capabilities to do so, or to quickly integrate and deploy BFVs once received.
Lebanon’s Bradley program provides an almost inexhaustible list of considerations for what is needed to develop a foreign BFV-based capability. Even assuming that the U.S. delivered brand new, fully mission-capable BFVs to a foreign partner – which definitely was not the case for Lebanon, nor for Croatia, and seems unlikely for Ukraine – such a program necessarily expands beyond just the provision of BFVs. DoD calls this the full-spectrum approach, in which the U.S. aims to provide “everything an ally or partner may need to successfully perform.” As mentioned, for BFVs, this includes trained Bradley leaders, master gunners, and mechanics, and considerable collective training, as well as ranges and facilities for said training (reports suggest BFV training may occur in Germany).
It also requires technical assistance field teams to support the BFVs; field service representatives to provide higher-level support; large quantities of ammunition for training and operations; testing and calibration equipment for the many technologically-advanced BFV systems, including importantly the TOW missile launcher (which cannot be safely operated without such equipment); conduct of fire trainers; high volumes of spare parts; and communications equipment, to name but a few. Many of these things require separate contracts with multiple different contractors, compounding the program management challenge.
One key factor that will likely determine the success of Ukraine’s BFV program is the actual BFVs the U.S. provides. Multiple options exist: the U.S. could source BFVs directly from Active or Reserve U.S. Army units or from pre-positioned stocks in Europe or elsewhere; order new BFVs from BAE Systems; or divert BFVs bound for Croatia among other options (neither DoD nor EUCOM responded to my information requests for this article).
The U.S. sourced BFVs for Lebanon, and apparently plans to source BFVs for Croatia, from boneyards of aged, older model, BFVs. While Croatia plans to refurbish BFVs itself, the U.S. provided “refurbished” BFVs to Lebanon. Refurbishment takes time, depending on individual vehicle conditions and on the contract standard for refurbishment. The newer the BFV model and the better condition an individual vehicle is in, the faster one can expect refurbishment (if necessary) and subsequent delivery.
Another key factor involves the security cooperation and program management teams on the U.S. government side, including the very talented team at the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Ukraine, U.S. Army Europe-Africa, U.S. European Command (EUCOM), the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, and many others.
Do any of these entities have Bradley experts dedicated to providing Ukraine BFVs? While one would expect an affirmative response, Bradley experts on the initial U.S. team working on the Lebanon BFV program were non-existent, resulting in many unforced errors and challenges.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle: Can Ukraine Make it Work?
However, Ukraine has already demonstrated an incredible capability to receive, integrate, and deploy various complex weapons systems and vehicles from a range of partners, suggesting that Ukraine may be able to get Bradleys into the fight quickly once the U.S. begins delivery, and perhaps even maintain and sustain them in the mid- to long-term, if the U.S. provides an adequate, full-spectrum package that addresses the above challenges.
Furthermore, there is one key difference between the Ukraine Bradley Fighting Vehicle program and the Lebanon BFV program: EUCOM is executing Ukraine’s program, while U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is executing Lebanon’s. Via EUCOM, the U.S. has since World War II been wildly more successful in building partner capacity in Europe than it has in the Middle East, via CENTCOM. EUCOM’s culture of strategic excellence in security cooperation far exceeds CENTCOM’s more tactical focus, and CENTCOM’s substantial struggles to develop partner capabilities are legion and high-profile (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan). The combination of a EUCOM-led program and Ukraine’s capabilities may well overcome the sorts of challenges evidenced in Lebanon’s BFV program.
In any case, the timeline for Ukraine deploying BFVs in combat is likely to be lengthy. Even if the U.S. provided the full package of BFVs announced on January 6 to Ukraine that same day (which it did not), and even if these BFVs were the newest, best BFVs in the U.S. Army arsenal (seemingly unlikely), it would take many long months for Ukraine to reach a fully mission capable status, given the training and integration required. With the potential that Ukraine’s BFV program will mimic the BFV programs of Lebanon and Croatia and require refurbishment of boneyard BFVs, an even longer timeline seems likely; it may be a year or longer until Ukraine is using BFVs to defeat Russian forces.
About the Author: Jeff Jager, a retired U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer (FAO), served multiple FAO tours on the USEUCOM-USCENTCOM seam, including as an attaché in Cyprus, a U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command Liaison Officer Turkey, and a Foreign Military Sales Officer and ODC Chief in Lebanon. He also served as a military advisor at the Department of State. He holds a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy; an A.A. in Turkish from the Defense Language Institute; and three M.A.s (Turkish Army War College, security studies; Georgetown University, German and European studies; Webster University, international relations). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Salve Regina University’s international relations program. He can be contacted via LinkedIn.
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