The Bradley IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) is certainly an impressive vehicle at first glance and especially in comparison to the 40 year old vehicle it replaced, the M-113 APC. Unfortunately, the vehicles capabilities do not hold up to close scrutiny.
For a quick run down on the history of the Bradley, check out the 1998 HBO movie The Pentagon Wars starring Carey Elwes and Kelsey Grammer. While it is a movie that takes dramatic license in spots, it does portray the palpable aggravation felt by many during the development of the vehicle and the maddening bureaucracy between military officials and civilian contractors.
While the vehicle was first deployed in 1983 it's design opus started in the 1970's as the US's "answer" to the Soviet BMP personnel carrier. In its initial design phase the Bradley was very similar in shape and mission to the BMP. It was lightly armed, with a low profile and could transport troops swiftly through hazardous conditions.
Unfortunately it fell to victim to an almost dilbertesque mismanagement from the very beginning. The project was bungled and the vehicles mission changed so frequently that what resulted was a veritable deathtrap. In an attempt to create a multi role vehicle that could equally serve several tactical roles, systems were added and requirements were fudged. The result was, a scout vehicle with too large a profile to be concealed by anything but the largest foliage; a mini tank with armor too light to repel attacks and weapons too small or slow to mount a counter offensive; and a personnel carrier so crammed with light weaponry that it couldn't transport a single squad of infantry.
Additionally, the initial placement of fuel and ammo made the vehicle extraordinarily vulnerable to shaped charges, like the ones utilized in the RPG-7. The RPG is a shoulder fired, non-guided rocket developed by the Soviets and sold to every separatist and fundamentalist military group on the planet. One RPG rocket could penetrate the Bradley's armor, set the fuel ablaze and turn the interior materials into a poisonous and incendiary oven. This fatal flaw was exposed during a live fire test by Colonel James Burton and the vehicle was later reconfigured with "Burton Modifications" that reduced the deadly potential.
In order to combat potential fires, a halon system was installed to starve any potential flames of oxygen. Unfortunately, in a sealed combat situation it also starved any occupants of oxygen. If that weren't a bad enough potential problem, the halon systems were placed in a position that made it very easy to accidentally discharge.
The 25mm cannon fires a combination of depleted uranium armor piercing and high explosive shells. It's rate of fire is impressive but the cannon is only effective against troops and light armor vehicles. The cannon lacks the capacity to disable heavily armored opponents. In addition, due to it's offset turret there is an approximately 10 degree blind spot to the vehicles forward left. This blind spot is necessary to enable the barrel of the cannon to sweep around and over the drivers hatch.
In order to make up for the poor anti-armor capacity of the cannon, a TOW guided missile was installed. The TOW is an optically guided system and the operator must maintain a reticule on the target. At maximum effective range of 3.75 kilometers the TOW missile takes approximately 20 seconds to reach its target. A well-trained tank crew can respond to a missile firing signature and respond with one round in 6 seconds, and two rounds in 10. Due to the expensive nature of the system, crews are rarely trained on it, instead they receive extensive training on firing the cannon. If that weren't bad enough for the poor Bradley and its occupants, the missile launcher is located on the very exposed and vulnerable outside of the turret.
The 25mm gun and turret, while impressive, takes up almost half of the anterior space meant for troop transport. On paper six men can ride in the rear and deploy for infantry maneuvers. In reality, this capacity can only be reached during a day trip. With gear and ammo for each man the vehicle can realistically only transport 4 additional soldiers and they are normally uncomfortable.
Yes the Bradley can float, sort of. It has a water barrier that can be erected around the upper portion of the vehicle. This barrier is constructed of steel framework and a thick rubber lining. Properly erected it enables the vehicle to ford small bodies of water at less than one knot. In practical terms the barrier takes nearly 30 minutes to erect with the entire crew assisting. Not an optimum combat situation as it leaves no one to stand guard and watch your ass for that one man with his cheap rocket launcher. Even when properly erected the barrier rarely performs as advertised. Long periods of storage with little use, leave the rubber liner corroded and torn. The vehicles massive turret and high center of gravity make in susceptible to bobbing and foundering making a crossing in anything but the calmest water suicide.
The vehicle offers very little environmental protection. The soviet BMP, which it was designed to counter, has an onboard filtering system to aid soldiers in lengthy trips through biological and chemical contaminated areas. The Bradley has a fan. Crews can plug their individual protective masks into a filterless circulation fan that forces atmosphere through the masks filters. Because the vehicle has no air conditioning, many crews opt to remove the hose from their masks and jam it into their uniforms as the circulated air from outside the vehicle is cooler than the internal temperature.
The single most expensive component on the Bradley is a gold plated connector for the fire control computer. It’s a small device that costs several thousand dollars to replace. The fire control computers are located in the most secure and hardened location on the vehicle, under the gunner and commanders seats in the turret. This connector rests between the two seats and is covered and protected by the floor plating of the turret. If the floor plating is removed, as it frequently is during garrison operations for cleaning or maintenance, this connector rests in the one natural spot to place your foot when entering the turret. These connectors are frequently damaged by crew members.
The Bradley is actually not much better than the aging fleet of APCs it replaced. Having served in unit that transitioned from the old M-113's to the Bradley IFV I feel qualified in reporting that despite the vehicles advertised capability it performed rather poorly as an infantry vehicle and may not be well suited for any one task. Orville Reddenbacher lived by a simple creed, "Pick one thing and do it well." The Bradley, much like myself, does many things, but is superior in no one thing.
http://www.infowar.com/iwftp/cspinney/11Jul2001_417--AAAV__Dinosaur_or_Techno_Revolution.shtml by Chuck Spinney
TOW by the estimable, The Custodian