By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The Army is massively revving up its fleet of Bradley Fighting Vehicles through a recent deal to add up to 473 of the new infantry carriers, service officials said.
The move represents a key portion of a broader Army push to prepare its arsenal of armored combat vehicles for major power land war - and further pave the way toward a new generation of combat platforms for the 2030s and beyond.
While the Army of course has thousands of Bradleys in its inventory, the size of this buy is extremely significant because, among other things, it it acquires the newest generation of Bradley vehicles - something designed to lay key groundwork for longer-term high-priority ground vehicle modernization plans.
The service acquisition plan, advanced through a large-scale Army deal with BAE Systems, calls for the most modern Bradley M2A4 and M7A4 vehicles. These newest Bradleys are part of a strategic push to bring the Bradley platform into a new era with advanced computing, digital processors, long-range sensors and a range of new weapons applications.
“After a decade of modifications in response to threats in Iraq, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is at or exceeds Space, Weight, and Power-Cooling limitations,” Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for Program Executive Office, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven.
Space, Weight and Power considerations, as Army developers describe it, are an indispensable element of the calculus informing Bradley modernization; this means managing things like weight, mobility, on board electrical power, ammunition storage space and electromagnetic signatures as they pertain to vehicle protection and firepower.
Essentially, some survivability enhancements needed to counter threats in Iraq wound up maxing the Bradley’s weight and on-power capacity. For instance, Army developers explain that equipping the Bradley with new suspension, reactive armor tiles and APS can increase the vehicle weight by as much as 3,000-pounds.
In order to address this, the Army decided to execute a series of Engineering Change Proposals for the Bradley, specific technical adjustments to the platform designed to bring a host of new capabilities and enable faster and more seamless integration of emerging systems and technologies.
Givens explained that the newest Bradley A4s include upgrades to the engine and transmission, cooling system modification, electrical system upgrades and introduction of vehicle diagnostics.
“These improvements buy-back lost mobility, as well as create margin to allow future technologies to be hosted on the platform. As an example, none of the Active Protection Systems currently being explored by the Army could be installed on the A3 Bradley due to its shortage of electrical power. The A4 corrects this shortcoming,” she added.
More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks and even electronic warfare technologies.
The A4 configuration also upgrades the Bradley engine and transmission, Alicia Gray, BAE Systems Combat Vehicles spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
The Army is also working on a new future A5 Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.
Designed to be lighter weight, more mobile and much better protected, emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrades already underway as part of a plan to build upon improvements with the A4.
These improvements include integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections and a new ammunition storage configuration, Army developers tell Warrior.
Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development.
This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.
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Land War vs. Russian & Chinese Armored Vehicles
The Army is accelerating these kinds of armored vehicle weapons systems and countermeasures, in part because of an unambiguous recognition that, whoever the US Army fights, it is quite likely to encounter Russian or Chinese-built armored vehicles and advanced weaponry, senior service leaders told Warrior.
As part of this equation, recognizing that Army warfighters are often understandably reluctant to articulate war plans or threat assessments, it is indeed reasonable and relevant to posit that service war planners are looking at the full-range of contingencies – to include ground war with Russian forces in Europe, Iranian armies in the Middle East or even Chinese armored vehicles on the Asian continent.
Citing Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Army senior officials seem acutely aware that the US will likely confront near-peer armored vehicles, weapons systems and technologies.
“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Warrior. “The threat is not just combat vehicles but UAVs (drones), MANPADs and other weapons.”
Bradley upgrades are also serving as a component to early conceptual work on the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, an entirely new platform or fleet of vehicles slated to emerge in the 2030s.
Next Generation vehicles, for the 2030s and beyond, Army developers say, will be necessary because there are limits to how far an existing armored vehicle can be upgraded. This requires a delicate balancing act between the short term operational merits of upgrades vs. a longer-term, multi-year developmental approach. Each has its place, Army acquisition leaders emphasize.
The emergence of these weapons, and the fast-changing threat calculus is also, quite naturally, impacting what Army developers call CONOPS, or Concepts of Operations. Longer range sensors and weaponry, of course, can translate into a more dispersed combat area – thus underscoring the importance of command and control systems and weapons with sufficient reach to outrange attacking forces. The idea of bringing more lethality to the Bradley is not only based upon needing to directly destroy enemy targets but also fundamental to the importance of laying down suppressive fire, enabling forces to maneuver in combat.
As part of these preparations for future ground warfare, Army concept developers and war veterans are quick to point out that armored vehicles, such as a Bradley or even an Abrams tank, have also been impactful in certain counterinsurgency engagements as well. Accordingly, the term “full-spectrum” often receives much attention among Army leaders, given that the service prides itself on “expecting the unexpected” or being properly suited in the event of any combat circumstance. The Army has now evolved to a new Doctrinal "Operations" approach which places an even greater premium upon winning major power land wars.
“We need to be ready to face near-peers or regional actors with nuclear weapons. It is the risk of not being ready that is too great,” a senior Army official said.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle Mini-Series
Part I - Army buys up to more than 400 new Bradleys
Part II - Bradley pursues new weapons - coming
Part III - Bradley informs and contributes to Next-Gen Combat Vehicle plan - coming