M2A3 Bradley Planned Improvements

I’m on record as being a huge fan of the Bradley. But it’s a little bit disadvantaged when compared to newer designs. A large part of this is just the nature of upgrades. Newer designs have more headroom for upgrades than older ones. So while the Bradley still provides excellent firepower, and has enough multilayer ERA to get its protection up there with the rest, it’s now suffering from all that extra weight. Plus, it has a lot more electrical systems, which mean it needs more power. Which subtracts further from what you have on the sprocket for the drivetrain. Let’s see how Big Army is thinking of improving the Bradley.

Perhaps the most urgently needed and the most boring are the suspension changes. The M2(A0) Bradley had a design weight of 22,800 kg. This has gone up to 30,300 kg in the M2A3 version, and higher still with the extra applique reactive armor modules of the Bradley Urban Survival Kit. More weight means more load on a suspension that wasn’t designed to take it. Just like when you overload your car, this makes the Bradley sit lower on its suspension. This causes two problems. First, it reduces mobility across rough terrain. Basically, anything that isn’t a good road, you’re going to go slower. Again, you probably figured that out from your experiences in overloading your car. Second, and perhaps less obviously to those who drive, is that you’re more vulnerable to mines and IEDs. There’s less space underneath, and that empty space helps diffuse the blast. Clearly, we’d like to fix this. And so, top of the list of fixes is the suspension system. This means new tracks and a new set of torsion bars. This will restore cross-country mobility and ground clearance. It’s a much-needed fix, even if few people spend time thinking about torsion bars.

A quick side note. The US Army could redesign the suspension system and check a modern buzzword box or two. But why bother? Torsion bars work just fine. And most of the expected areas of operation are pretty flat. We don’t expect to spend the majority of our time driving over mountains. So hydropneumatics would be a waste of money. Ditto uncoupled running gear. Expensive luxury features aren’t worth the trouble. Those lead to budget kills. Smaller, more modest things are the sorts of things you can get approval for in today’s not-Cold War world.

Next up is the engine. Again, your experiences in driving will no doubt lead you to think that more weight means more power is needed. And that’s part 2. The original Bradley had a 500 hp engine. This was upgraded to a 600 hp model as a part of the M2A2 design. More weight, more power would be nice. I don’t have a model yet, but I’ve heard hints of and would expect a roughly 750-800 hp engine to be coming to Bradleys near you.

Next we come to optics. On the docket for the Bradley are the same third-generation thermal optics as installed on the Abrams as part of the SEP V3 package. This is another obvious upgrade. Have a single sort of thermal viewer across both vehicle fleets, only need to stock one kind of spares and train to fix/replace one kind of unit. Again, this means better visibility through smoke and dust.

We can expect an active protection system as a near-future follow-on. Big Army just hasn’t picked one yet. Again, smart money’s on Trophy. It’s relatively cheap, COTS, and proven capable of stopping things. Expect the Bradley to get what Abrams gets in terms of APS. This might come in ECP2, or might get rolled in before.

The other mod that I would expect is TOW-RF support. This enables the wireless version of TOW to be launched. It doesn’t affect compatibility with earlier versions. I don’t know how well it works in areas with heavy ECM. I would prefer a more modern missile, but this would be a positive step. On the other hand, this is a really small change, and I don’t have good information on whether it’s already being rolled out, part of ECP1, planned for ECP2, or planned on a separate roll out.

One thing I’ve heard exactly nothing on is any changes to the cannon. There were several proposals before Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the US Army appears happy with the 25 mm M242 gun in light of combat experience there. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be. Lots of other modern designs (with the notable exceptions of Russian things and K21), have pretty poor capacity for their primary guns, as seen in this handy table:

IFVReady CapacityCaliber (mm)
M2A3 Bradley30025×137
M2 – 30 mm conversion18030×173
T-15/Epoch turret50030×165

Some notes on the above. I’m defining “Ready rounds” as “rounds from which you can fire without manual loading”, since these are autocannons. So the CV9040 gets the quick-access rounds counted as ‘stowage’, because someone has to grab them and refill the 24-round ready feed system (three eight-round racks). The K21 gets credit because the 200 rounds it has under the turret basket are connected to the gun via an automatic resupply system. So it has, in effect, 224 ready rounds with its giant autoloader-thing.

Note also that the Russians do not have any rounds stowed separately in any of their IFVs.

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