Ukraine Shows The Fight To Make The Bradley IFV Safer Was Worth It


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Russia has wasted no time in celebrating the first Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle losses in Ukraine. As Russian troops start testing the new Ukrainian fleet of about 124 M2A2 ODS Bradley fighting vehicles, the vehicle’s battlefield record, thus far, suggests the vicious, 80’s-era Washington DC brawls needed to make the Bradley safer were worthwhile.

Bradley development was a long and tempestuous slog. As a design begun in the early 1960’s, as a response to Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle, America struggled to develop a turreted, troop-carrying platform.


Gradually morphing from a simple replacement for the ubiquitous M113 armored personnel carrier, into an uncomfortable compromise between a tank and armored troop “battle taxi”, the Bradley’s true battlefield role became tough to grasp.

As a multi-role generalist of a platform, the Bradley offered some measure of utility for just about every battlefield function. U.S. defense reformists disliked this doctrinal plasticity, and wondered if the lightly armored and pricey fighting vehicle concept would become little more than an easily targeted deathtrap.

Those doctrinal worries led reformers to focus on enhancing Bradley survivability. By advocating for real-world-tests aimed at demonstrating how the Bradly would respond to battlefield damage, reformers assumed the troubling results would lead to expensive refits and, ultimately, the cancellation of the program. The Army, of course, had other ideas.


The subsequent saga, detailed by Pentagon tester, a now-retired Air Force Colonel, James Burton, is described in “The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard.”

Though the real-world, live-fire tests were disturbing, the program persisted. Ultimately, the tests helped drive survivability-focused design improvements into the new infantry fighting vehicle. Those enhancements paid off. Combat video from Ukraine shows Bradley fighting vehicles taking hits, with unhurt occupants exiting the vehicle, able to navigate an active battlefield in good order.

Ukraine itself is praising Bradley survivability. Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, posted photos of a damaged Bradley, relating how, while serving in the 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, the Bradley took a hit by a 122mm BM-21 Grad rocket, maneuvered to safety, keeping the crew safe. The hurt Bradley is now being repaired.


Malwar enthused the “Bradley helps to save the most precious thing—the lives of servicemen.” For a country facing a far larger aggressor, anything that keeps trained soldiers in the fight is worthwhile.

The Bradley Is Surviving Hits Better Than Earlier Designs

In Ukraine, the Bradley, after being quickly fielded and thrown into Ukrainian breaching operations, is taking losses.


Losses are expected; breaching a prepared defense line is one toughest missions armored vehicles can confront. It isn’t all bad. While the Bradley is getting targeted and hit, the M2A2 ODS infantry fighting vehicles appear to be riding out Russian fire without suffering a high rate of catastrophic, crew-killing losses.

Of the 124 Bradley fighting vehicles sent to Ukraine, open-source equipment trackers recorded, at the time of publication, 17 Bradley losses—assessing five as total losses, while counting the rest as damaged and/or abandoned.

This shows that the M2A2 Bradley works. The Bradley’s predecessor, the lightly-armored M113 armored personnel carrier, is suffering far higher loss rates in Ukraine. Of the 300 M113 armored personnel carriers the U.S. donated, 34 have been lost. But out of those losses, 23 were tagged as destroyed, and only 6 were assessed as damaged (the rest were captured). The closely related YPR-765 armored personnel carriers from the Netherlands, a derivation of the M113, have suffered similar loss rate as well, with 22 destroyed, 8 destroyed/abandoned and two captured.


In short, while seventy percent of the M113s and YPR-765s that get hit end up as a total loss, only about thirty percent of the hit Bradleys are being assessed as total losses—and the Bradleys are, arguably, engaged in a far tougher fight.

To compare with the Russians, using the BMP-1, a Soviet-era platform that sparked Bradley development, seeing far, far worse survivability than the either the Bradley or the older M113/YPR-765 platforms. For both the Ukrainians and the Russians, almost 90% of the BMP-1s that have taken a hit have ended up getting assessed as a total loss—and often a catastrophic one, at that.


Infantry Fighting Vehicle Doctrine Remains A Challenge:

The Bradley, built in response to the Soviet BMP-1, itself a first awkward hybrid between a light tank and an armored personnel carrier, was a product of uncomfortable compromises. The result, a platform almost too useful for its own good, is tricky for even the most talented armor expert to employ without risk.

The utility challenge is a common problem for every employer of infantry fighting vehicles. In Ukraine, infantry fighting vehicles are being pressed into tank-like roles and getting destroyed at a terrible clip. Open-source tabulators assess that Russa has lost 2403 of these platforms alone.

But the M2A2 Bradley, with strong optics, serviceable armor protection, a 25 mm cannon and TOW anti-tank missiles, is far more than a simple armored personnel carrier. Conserving the Bradley as mere a battle taxi for infantry is something of a waste, while the alternative, pressing the smaller, lighter troop carrier in the same role as a tank, subjects these infantry fighting vehicles to an enormous amount of risk. But it is a risk that Ukraine can and must take.


Capable of taking on less modern “Soviet-era” main battle tanks, Ukrainian commanders will face a real temptation to employ the M2AS Bradley in tank-like roles. That is a recipe for losses, but, given the U.S. has some 6,000 Bradley IFVs in the inventory and some five contractors bidding for a Bradley replacement, the risk far more tolerable. If trained Ukrainian crews are surviving after battlefield hits, it should be easy for the U.S. to replace Ukraine’s battlefield losses—and for the experienced crew to return to battle, all the wiser for their experiences.

The wildcards for the Bradley are two-fold. First, Ukraine’s aptitude for testing and trialing new battlefield ideas may, in time, help the Bradley become more effective. Though Ukraine is sticking with conventional Western tactical operational doctrines right now, Ukraine will likely start experimenting and may stumble over the doctrinal ideal for this aging mini-tank. Of course, the Ukrainian Army may also decide the Bradley is a dead end design, and start looking for alternatives.

There are plenty. As more modern infantry fighting vehicles enter the battlefield, those new platforms may push our understanding of Infantry Fighting Vehicle doctrine forward. It is easy to forget that the Bradley is, at its heart, a very old platform, with design origins tracing back to the early 1960’s. Determining how more modern platforms, like the newly-arriving Swedish Combat Vehicle 90 (Stridsfordon 90), does on the Ukraine battlefield may do a lot to evolve the West’s future infantry fighting vehicle designs, helping to resolve the platform’s underlying doctrinal challenge of being a jack of all trades but a master of none.


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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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