The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is one of those American-made weapons systems — along with the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship and B-2 Spirit “Stealth Bomber” — that were developed in the 1980s, battle-proven in the 1990s, and remain in service to this day.
But also, in common with the Apache and the Stealth Bomber, the Bradley was one of those weapons systems that went through some major growing pains — either due to cost overruns and/or reliability issues — that generated public controversy and cast doubt on whether the things would ever become viable in the first place. (Hey, hindsight is always 20/20, right?)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Bradley made it this far and what the future holds for this venerable vehicle.
A 5-Star General’s Namesake
As students of WWII and Cold War history will recognize, the Bradley vehicle — currently manufactured by BAE Systems — was named for Gen. Omar Nelson Bradley (1893 – 1981), the WWII U.S. Army officer who rose to the rank of General of the Army, earned a 5th star, and became the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving in that latter position from August 1949 to August 1953.
Given the well-known personality clashes between the puritanical Bradley and the brash, colorfully profane Gen. George Smith Patton Jr, one wonders if ol’ Omar is rolling over in his grave at the thought of getting a mere infantry fighting vehicle named after himself whilst Patton had four different main battle tanks bearing his own namesake. But I digress.
The Bradley was intended as a replacement for the U.S. Army’s M113 armored personnel carrier, which had entered service in 1960. Conceptualization of the M113’s replacement actually began in 1963, but to make a long story short, it went through the equivalent of what the entertainment media and software industries call “development hell.” As noted by Kevin Bonsor of the HowStuffWorks website:
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle entered production in 1981 and became a replacement for the M113. The Bradley is considered to be a more powerful and faster vehicle than the M113, and its better suspension increases speed on off-road terrain. Within just a few years after the Bradley rolled into service, its survivability and combat effectiveness became targets of concern.
For a fictionalized and comedic, but nonetheless highly fact-based filmic depiction of the controversy surrounding the development of the Bradley, watch the 1998 movie The Pentagon Wars starring Kelsey Grammar and Cary Elwes. It is based on a nonfiction book by retired U.S. Air Force Col. James G. Burton (portrayed by Elwes in the film), a Pentagon whistleblower who was recognized by Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith in his bestselling 1988 book The Power Game: How Washington Works. Regarding The Pentagon Wars, my old USC classmates and fellow military veteran J. Scott Matey (retired Army LTC in his case) told me that it’s “required viewing for all DoD Acquisition Professionals – it’s a case study on WHAT NOT TO DO!”
Suffice to say that Col. Burton’s whistleblowing efforts resulted in much-needed improvements to the M2A2 and M3A2 variants of the Bradley, including new composite armor, improved ammunition storage to protect personnel, higher water barrier skirt to improve amphibious operation, and improved suspension system.
Bradleys Into Battle
After the Bradley weathered the proverbial storm of doubters in the media, Congress, and Pentagon whistleblowers alike, perhaps it’s poetic and apropos that the vehicle should weather another proverbial storm — this one that of being tested in real-world combat — in a conflict named Operation Desert Storm.
During this 1991 Persian Gulf War, M2 Bradleys actually ended up destroying more of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi armored vehicles than the vaunted M1 Abrams main battle tank! In exchange, a total of 20 Bradleys were lost — only three to enemy fire, a troubling 17 to friendly fire (“blue-on-blue”) incidents. As noted in an official report published by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO):
The Bradley’s weapon systems proved to be lethal and effective against a variety of enemy targets. Commanders, crews, and officials from the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) and the Army Infantry Center reported that the 25-mm automatic gun was a very versatile weapon. Crews we spoke with used the 25-mm automatic gun primarily for clearing bunkers and firing on lightly armored vehicles. While the 25-mm automatic gun is not the weapon of choice for engaging tanks, vehicle commanders, crews, and CALL and Army Infantry Center personnel reported isolated instances in which the 25-mm automatic gun had killed tanks…The Bradley’s TOW missile system was lethal at long ranges against all forms of enemy armor, such as tanks, with few missile failures reported. For example, crews from the 1st Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment stated they had used the TOW to destroy Iraqi tanks. Crews reported destroying tanks at ranges from 800 to 3,700 meters.
That same report also indicated good crew and troop survivability for the Bradley, those 20 losses notwithstanding. However, during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) the following decade, the vehicle proved vulnerable to IEDs and RPGs; in 2006 alone, 55 Bradleys were destroyed and 700 others damaged, and by the end of OIF, roughly 150 Bradleys ended up destroyed.
Bearing those vulnerabilities in mind, in 2010 the Army began the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program to replace the M2 Bradley. However — perhaps in a case of history repeating itself — that process has not been going smoothly at all thus far.
A particularly damning analysis of the replacement program has been written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Thompson for the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) watchdog organization’s website, with the pun-laden title “The Army’s Lousy Tracked Record.”
Mr. Thompson’s sentiments are matched closely by my 19FortyFive colleague Brent M. Eastwood, who bluntly concludes his own piece on the Bradley by stating “The Army now needs to quit wasting money on all the replacement programs and finally get one that will work.”
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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).
December 12, 2022 at 4:48 pm
Glad the burning like a torch problem went away
May 20, 2023 at 5:04 am
Plenty littering the roads of Ukraine!
Gun N Roses
May 25, 2023 at 7:45 am
I found the article on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle very informative. It is impressive to see how the Bradley has stood the test of time and modern warfare. The advanced armor and weaponry make it a formidable force on the battlefield. It’s also interesting to see how it has adapted to new threats such as IEDs. As the article mentions, the Bradley will likely remain a key player in future conflicts due to its versatility and survivability.