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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) President Biden’s decision to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine could well be a defining moment in their ongoing war against Russia, in a manner just as significant and potentially paradigm-changing as the arrival of longer-range, ground fired rockets such as HIMARS and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) were months ago.

Infantry carriers able to transport a 9-man squad into combat, supported by a 25mm cannon, TOW anti-tank missiles, reactive-armor and upgraded thermal targeting sights could massively improve Ukraine's ability to “breach” Russian perimeters, move to “contact” and “occupy” or “retake” previously-held Russian held areas. This has of course become increasingly necessary as the war has shifted to Eastern Ukraine and Ukrainians have demonstrated an ability to not only halt, stop or destroy invading Russian mechanized forces but also now advance with successful counterattacks.

An M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle is on display during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 18, 2013. The live, virtual and constructive training environment of the National Training Center is designed to produce adaptive leaders and agile forces for the current fight, which are responsive to the unforeseen contingencies of the 21st century. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric M. Garland II/Released)

An M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle is on display during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 18, 2013. The live, virtual and constructive training environment of the National Training Center is designed to produce adaptive leaders and agile forces for the current fight, which are responsive to the unforeseen contingencies of the 21st century. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric M. Garland II/Released)

In recent months the Ukrainians have of course migrated their tactics from a primarily defensive posture to an ability to advance in some areas and “reclaim” territory through counterattacks. The Ukrainian disaggregated, dispersed, ambush style hit and run attacks against invading Russian mechanized armor with anti-armor weapons, which captured the world by storm with success in incinerating invading Russian tanks and other vehicles, proved to be a defining element in the opening months of the war. Coupled with Russian logistical and strategic errors, and of course faltering if not fractured Russian morale, Ukrainian intensity to stand up against invaders not only revealed an incalculable “spirit” but also demonstrated tactical proficiency and enterprising applications of weapons systems such as drones, artillery, anti-tank missiles such as Javelins and a decentralized attack formation.

Retaking territory, however, requires logistics, sustainment, mobile offensive weaponry such as vehicles and more traditional Combined Arms Maneuver formations. This is likely why the Pentagon has, in recent months, been sending more tactical trucks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, Humvees and other equipment able to support troop maneuvers, supply lines, construction of forward bases and other things necessary to “hold” new territory.

Bradley Fighting Vehicle

Pentagon officials described the rationale for Bradleys in a briefing to reporters.

“It is obviously an armored capability that can transport mechanized infantry into battle in support of both offensive and defensive operations, providing a level of firepower and armor that will bring advantages on the battlefield as Ukraine continues to defend their homeland,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon January 5.

Video Above: Lieutenant General, Thomas Todd - Chief Innovation Officer of Army Futures Command sits down for an exclusive interview with Kris Osborn.

Heavy armor is critical to this effort to breach a Russian perimeter, advance into occupied areas and “maintain” captured ground. This is why there has been an increased effort to find and send heavier armor to Ukraine in the form of tanks.

Certainly advancing forces will need forward positioned food, fuel, weapons and ammunition available as they maneuver, and they will also need portable structures such as tents, bedding and other accommodations for arriving forces reclaiming key areas. This means the Ukrainians may also require a new amount of small forward operating bases from which to launch further offensives into Russian held territory.

To a large extent, the overall nature of their fight in the East has been shifting in a way that requires more heavy armor and more mechanized forces. While they clearly have some already, more may be needed to close in on and “break through” Russian barriers, fortifications and troop positions. Ukrainian forces may need to “mass” to a greater extent and maneuver in different, larger formations than they have thus far. This requires force protection, meaning Ukrainian forces on a counterattack will need built-in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) in the form of drones as well as certain kinds of base protections such as sensors, interceptors, jammers or other countermeasures. This may mean base protections such as something similar to the US Army’s Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) which links sensors to fire control and small interceptor rockets or area weapons such as a Phalanx gun able to fire hundreds of small projectiles per second to knock out incoming enemy fire.

The Ukrainians already have US provided small, hand-launched drones able to operate “organically” in close coordination with on-the-move ground commanders looking to find and anticipate enemy threats likely to emerge as their forces advance. Concentrations of advancing Ukrainian forces will also need a greater degree of command and control to coordinate and deconflict areas of attack, advancement or occupation. 

While they can still leverage the effective “decentralized” approach they have used with great success thus far to a certain extent, there will be a need for greater coordination and connectivity regarding wider-area maneuvers with larger forces reclaiming territory. This is precisely why there is a need for more infantry carriers to move units between forward positions, transport vehicles such as tactical trucks and Humvees and coordinated logistics and command and control.

The exact number and arrival timeline have yet to be announced, however Ukraine is likely to want them soon given their potential impact. Why might this be just as impactful as long-range rockets? During the opening months of the war, Russia appeared to deliberately target and destroy residential areas within Ukraine, murdering children, destroying infrastructure, abducting children and indiscriminately terrorizing and killing civilians and committing war crimes, according to public reports such as a recently published Yale University Humanitarian Research Laboratory report.

At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian President Zelensky asked for Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and other longer-range, ground-fired rockets able to reach beyond traditional artillery typically able to travel 30 km or so. The reason these weapons were needed is because without air superiority, the only way to stop or impede Russia’s rocket attacks would be to find and destroy the launch sites. 

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Ukraine has had surveillance, with allied help, and has likely been able to find and target many of these launch sites, however many Russian rocket launchers may be mobile and hard to find. The Russians were firing rockets able to reach 200 to 300 kilometers from location well beyond the range of traditional 155mm artillery, meaning that the launchers could not be targeted without air superiority. It is no surprise that the arrival of GMLRS and HIMARS helped turn the tide of the war, saved countless civilian lives and helped the Ukrainians operations transition from a purely defensive posture into the ability to advance, retake and hold previously Russian occupied areas.

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The arrival of Bradleys could be paradigm changing in a comparable fashion, if supported by more tanks, mobile artillery and tactical trucks. Several key reasons for this, the Bradley can transport infantry in support of offensive operations to close with and destroy an enemy in a way that dismounted soldiers simply cannot. It can transport an entire squad under armor in support of mechanized formations, enabling infantry to dismount and advance against enemy forces.

It may not be clear which variant of the Bradley the Ukrainians will get, and certainly while any Bradley will help, an export variant similar to the US Army’s newer Bradley might prove most advantageous, as it has a range of new potentially paradigm-changing technologies. The A4 variant has added acceleration potential due to its having more horsepower and vehicle maneuverability technologies. It is armed with a Bushmaster 25mm cannon that fires explosive and armor-piercing rounds as well as a tank-killing TOW missile.

Interestingly, the A4 Bradley is the latest iteration in a longstanding Army-BAE Systems effort to sustain Bradley functionality and combat effectiveness over a period of many years. Previous upgrades have included the addition of reactive armor, new armor configurations and materials, a commander’s independent thermal viewer for targeting and data sharing and advanced ammunition able to tailor its explosive or targeting effects.

A Bradley firing a TOW missile

A Bradley firing a TOW missile

One conceptual focus for Army weapons developers with Bradley upgrades has included US Army efforts to engineer newer “multi-function” sensors which not only increase range but also fuse camera input from 360-degrees around the vehicle to optimize surveillance and targeting. These newer sensor systems, Army weapons developers have told Warrior, often draw upon advanced computer algorithms and automation to augment targeting. Some of these algorithms include infrared search and track with both active and passive technical mechanisms with which to track targets

Using multi-pixel focal plane array technology and infrared detection, the sensors in development are designed for what one senior Army weapons developer called Hostile Fire Detection, or HFD; computer automation, or algorithms created to help organize and communicate incoming sensor data, then assists a human combat vehicle operator in locating targets and significant objects such as approaching enemy drones.

Other advantages to advanced, multi-functional integrated sensing on the Bradley include an ability to track multiple targets at once such as incoming enemy attacks from drones, armored vehicles or even artillery fire and anti-tank missiles. More consolidated, multi-functional sensors able to perform several otherwise separately performed tasks also bring the advantage of decreasing the hardware footprint on a combat vehicle, thereby increasing mobility and deployability.

Upgraded Bradleys such as these new variants would likely be the greatest help to Ukrainian forces when it comes to finding, attacking and destroying Russian forces. Longer-range sensors, improved targeting and possible anti-drone technology could all figure prominently with Ukrainian attempts to advance into Russian-held areas.

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In order to support Ukrainian mechanized formations and Combined Arms Maneuvers with infantry carriers, their forces will likely also need more tanks. There has in recent months been several allied efforts to get them more tanks, and Warrior has even floated the idea of trying to move the export variant Abrams tanks slated to Poland to Ukraine. 

No such possibility has been announced or even mentioned by the Pentagon, yet it was an idea suggested by the Center for Military Modernization given that Poland already has export variant Abrams tanks arriving. German tanks and Soviet era tanks may be what they have been receiving, and Russian T-72s and T-90s are tanks the Ukrainians already know how to operate. Months ago, a senior Pentagon official said Ukraine operates Soviet tanks and also has captured or reclaimed some from the Russians.

‘We know the Ukrainians have been operating Soviet style tanks. We know they’ve been employing them to pretty good effect,” a Senior Pentagon official told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript. Ukrainians have also reclaimed abandoned tanks left by Russian soldiers during invasion attempts due to Ukrainian resistance, difficult terrain or efforts by Russian soldiers to simply abandon their vehicles and refuse to fight.” lists that Ukraine operates a number of T-72 Russian-built tanks. However, is there a way they can get more T-80s and T-90s? Perhaps more German Leopards? Tanks and infantry carriers together, in tandem with artillery, ISR and advancing infantry are all necessary for any kind of advanced, coordinated Combined Arms Maneuver. Tank firepower, supported by mobile infantry on the move in support in Bradley vehicles can exact a synchronized battlefield “effect” upon an enemy force, as is necessary for traditional Combined Arms Maneuver. Their measure of success may relate in large measure to the extent to which they can employ high-speed, modern applications of Combined Arms Maneuver in which sensor-to-shooter targeting timeliness are shortened, ISR is networked to ground weapons and supportive fires in the form of rockets and artillery are used as part of the assault or “move to contact” with an enemy. GMLRS is a precision-guided weapon, and while it may not be clear which kinds of 155mm artillery they have, let’s hope they can arm their mobile M777 Howitzers with precision guided rounds.

It would not be surprising, given Ukrainian resolve and tactical success, to see Ukraine advance much more fully into Russian areas following the arrival of the Bradleys, particularly if they are fortified by tanks. Russia is known to have a large arsenal of Soviet-Era tanks and infantry carriers, however thousands of them have likely been destroyed, many are likely not modernized to full capacity and, perhaps of greatest significance, apart from a motivated minority, Russian soldiers may simply not want to fight. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.