The Army’s Biggest and Baddest Troop Carrier Might Get Even Bigger
In 2017, Bradley program director Chris Conley stated in an interview that the M2A5 would involve a third-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, a laser pointer and color external cameras to allow the Bradley to more easily detect and engage enemies at long range. These components would be designed for cross-compatibility with concurrent upgrades to the Abrams main battle tank.
Late in January, Shephard Media journalist Grant Turnbull published a tweet with an image describing more extensive upgrades to the Bradley turret and hull, which are separately expected to take between four and five years to develop. The U.S. Army has allocated $600 million for development and component purchases for the new model, a sum likely to increase once a new defense budget is released. It is not clear if the Pentagon will seek to implement only one of the improvements or pursue both at once.
The hull upgrade would apparently stretch the Bradley’s hull out further so that it can accommodate additional armor, a new transmission and carry an eighth dismount—leaving it just one soldier short of a full nine-man squad. Weight would increase to under “40 tons”—which could still amount to an increase of over 20 percent! Supposedly this new configuration could afford onboard infantry “two to five times more protection.”
Improved defensive systems might include an Active Protection System, which can shoot down incoming missiles and rocket propelled grenades. While the Army recently began installing the shotgun-like Trophy APS on a brigade of Abrams tanks, it is testing a different Israeli system called the Iron Fist on the Bradley, which supposedly may pose less risk of harming friendly troops.
The proposed upgrade to the turret improves firepower by replacing the twenty-five-millimeter chain gun with a thirty-millimeter XM813 Bushmaster II autocannon—the same weapon currently being installed on Stryker wheeled infantry carriers. This might not seem like a major improvement, but the thirty-millimeter shells weigh twice as much as the twenty-five-millimeter shells, meaning they have greater blast effect and can penetrate more armor.
According to one analysis, this would extend the gun’s effective range to nearly two miles and improve armor penetration to 30 percent. This would make the Bradley more effective at hunting down opposing IFVs, which are quite prolific in modern battlefields from Syria and Iraq to Ukraine, and are being designed with more robust armor and upgraded armaments. Furthermore, the new gun can use programmable air-bursting ammunition, which can strike targets hiding behind cover or swat drones and helicopters from the sky.
The bigger shells would have the downside of reducing ammunition from three hundred to just 180 rounds. However, though the Bushmaster II has the same maximum two-hundred-round-per-minute rate of fire, it is claimed to be more accurate; combined with the greater power of each rounds, it claimed to require fewer shells to achieve the same effect.
The new turret would also sport major improvements to both the commander’s and gunner’s sights, ethernet to network the two together, and improved laser rangefinders and navigation systems. The tweet also lists a “5.56-millimeter suppressor weapon,” which may be some form of remote-controlled machine gun for protection from attacking infantry.
Of course, the downside to giving the Bradley a bigger hull and gun is that the heavier vehicle will become more difficult and expensive to deploy across the globe. However, the Army wants its Bradleys to be more survivable both when faced by the rocket-propelled grenade and IED threat encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to new guided antitank missiles and enemy IFVs that would appear in a high-intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary. Now that even the lighter-wheeled Stryker APCs are receiving new cannons and missiles, the Army clearly wants the Bradley to remain survivable and deadly in the toughest combat environments—even if that makes a bit more challenging to transport it to the battlefield in the first place.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: Wikimedia Commons