Armor: A Quiet Farewell For the M-2 Bradley


March 5, 2012:  One of the little-known casualties of the Iraq war was the American M-2 Bradley IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). Five years ago the U.S. Army stopped using the M-2 in combat. By then it was clear that the enemy was intent on using mines and roadside bombs in a big way and the M-1 tank, Stryker, and MRAP vehicles were much better able to handle these blast weapons than the M-2.

This was a hard decision to make because up until then it was believed that the M-2 could be made competitive with upgrades. For example, the BUSK (Bradley Urban Survival Kit) has been applied to about 600 M-2s. These improvements came in two batches. The first included a more powerful (at 3 million candlepower, four times brighter) spotlight. There was also a wire mesh protector to keep the optics from getting scratched and non-conductive rods that push away fallen electrical wires that often endanger crews. Later came a remote control (CLAW) 5.56mm machine-gun on the turret, additional armor underneath to provide protection from mines. There was also a bullet proof transparent shield for the commander for when his head and shoulders are out of the turret. Some non-urban warfare improvements were also made, including a series of sensors and a software package that more quickly detects when components are wearing out (so replacements could be ordered and installed) and simulation software so the gunner could train (with the fire control system, in effect turning into a realistic video game).

All this added about three tons to the weight of the vehicle. Because of this, a major upgrade of the M-2 was planned to include a more powerful (800 versus 600 horsepower) engine, a more powerful gun (30 or 40mm), and lighter armor (or protection systems that shoot down anti-tank missiles and RPGs). Improved sensors were planned, plus vidcams to give people inside the vehicle a 360 degree view of what's outside. More electronics, including one that would allow variable power and fuel consumption from the engine, were in the works. More safety features were planned as well, including an improved fire extinguisher system. The new version was not expected to show up until 2012. It did not happen, mainly because there was no way of getting around the M-2's vulnerability to roadside bombs. The M-1 was too heavy (60 tons) to be hurt by bombs or mines, and Stryker and MRAPs were designed to cope with the close range explosions.

The army is trying to come up with a new IFV design. The MRAP and Stryker are not adequate replacements because these wheeled vehicles have poor off-road capabilities. The design of the new GCV (Ground Combat Vehicle) is supposed to be ready by 2015, after which prototypes would be built and tested. At best, the army might have a new IFV by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, thousands of M-2s are still in service and would be sent into combat if it was believed roadside bombs were not going to be a major presence on the battlefield. At the same time the U.S. has let it be known that M-2s can be had, cheap. Several potential buyers have expressed interest.

IFVs were developed half a century ago to provide infantry with some protection (from bullets and shell fragments) and a way to keep up with tanks. IFVs did this but they were always vulnerable to anti-vehicle mines and roadside bombs. Both these weapons were used against IFVs, particularly in Vietnam. But the especially heavy use of anti-vehicle weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the development of V hulled armored trucks to defeat these explosive devices, made traditional IFVs particularly vulnerable and not competitive with MRAPs and their anti-explosion features.




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