The U.S. Army ended its effort to replace the M2 Bradley, a tracked vehicle that was designed to carry up to seven soldiers into battle. The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) program was ended after a disqualification left just one entrant still in the competition. The U.S. military had sought to replace the M2 Bradley, a vehicle developed during the Cold War, twice before. In the process it has spent $20 billion to development a replacement.
As a result of the cancellation of OMFV, the U.S. Army will now have to keep the Bradley in service for another five to 10 years, which is the minimum amount of time that it could take to find its worthy replacement. Named after General Omar Bradley, the M2 entered service in 1981 and it was designed to transport infantry or scouts with armor protection. By the time it is finally retired from service the Bradley will have been in service for nearly 50 years.
That doesn’t mean future warfighters will be riding in a vehicle old enough to be their fathers however – most of the current vehicles in the U.S. Army’s arsenal are newer models – but the technology is starting to show its age. To put this in perspective, 1981 was the era of the Ford Escort and Chevrolet Chevette, not exactly classics, but very much run of the mill “commuter cars.”
The Commuter Car of Military Vehicles
In many ways the Bradley falls into a similar category. It was developed to address the Soviet Red Army’s new era of armored personnel carriers, notably the BMP-1 (BoyevayaMashinaPekhoty 1) or “infantry fighting vehicle.” That was the first mass-produced infantry fighting vehicle deployed by the Soviet military. It had combined the properties of an armored personnel carrier (APC) and a light tank, which would allow infantry to operate from the relative safety of its armored, radiation-shielded interior and to fight alongside the vehicle in uncontaminated areas. The BMP-1 was designed to provide mobility and fire support while also being able to fight alongside main battle tanks.
The U.S. military saw the potential of the BMP-1 when it was used by Egyptian and Syrian forces in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and in the early stages of the Soviet-Afghan War. Prior to this the U.S. Army relied on World War II style half tracks and the Vietnam War-era M113 APC to deliver troops to the edge of a battle zone. Thus was born the Bradley, which was designed to fight alongside the M1 Abrams tank.
Legacy of Poor Land Vehicle Procurement
From the very start the M2 Bradley had a rocky development – one that saw the vehicle transformed from a fully-fledged APC to a light tank/scout that could carry seven soldiers. Despite the setbacks the Bradley actually proved to be a fairly effective design, but by the late 1990s – with no Soviet threat existing – the vehicle designed for the Cold War wasn’t considered up to the task for the new era of warfare.
“Whilst the Bradley replacement has been going a long time, it is not a gross outlier in terms of land procurement, but is a good case study of failures to procure equipment effectively,” explained Jon Hawkes, associate director & dead of land warfare at Jane’s. “The M1 Abrams entered service in 1979, the M113 (now being replaced by AMPV) in 1960, the LAV-25 in 1983 – the majority of incumbent US vehicles are all broadly of 1975 to 1995 vintage.”
In fact, replacing any vehicle has been an issue for the U.S. military
“The U.S. has a legacy of poor land vehicle procurement, including but not limited to FCS, EFV, ACV, GCV and OMFV,” Hawkes told ClearanceJobs.
“That being said, the Bradley is an outdated platform,” he added. “Whilst the U.S. has been very good at ensuring regular modifications and upgrades, the core elements of the vehicle are at their limits. The 25 mm cannon is essentially obsolete in the contemporary battlefield environment, and the SWaP (Space, Weight and Power) limits have been reached.”
Looking at the most recent versions Hawkesnotes it is easy to see that the vehicle’s modifications haven’t helped. “The vehicle is now at its limits in terms of what can be added, and also shows how much kit has been ‘bolted on’ where a new vehicle would have much of this integrated to the core design.”
Army vehicle Replacement Challenges
The Army called for the development of the Future Combat System (FCS), which was the principal modernization program from 2003 to early 2009. It was considered too ambitious and even ill-defined, as it called for no fewer than 18 new vehicles. It was finally cancelled by the Secretary of Defense, but not before the Army had spent $18 billion on it.
In 2010, the Army began the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program to replace the Bradley, but it was canceled just four years later to the tune of $1.5 billion.
One factor in why it is so hard to find a replacement is that the military can’t decide what it needs in a replacement for the Bradley.
“The U.S. is apparently unclear about what its defense priorities are and how best to handle them,” noted Hawkes. “It is clear that Russia and China are a threat, but ostensibly the primary concern is in the economic/political/cyber/information warfare realms.”
Then there is the issue of where such a vehicle might be used. When the M2 Bradley was designed the thought was that it would be used in Europe to face a Soviet threat. However, the Bradley performed well in the Persian Gulf War where it destroyed more Iraqi armoured vehicles than the M1 Abrams. In the Iraq War the Bradley did prove to be vulnerable to improvised explosive device (IED) and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks and in 2007, the Army stopped using the Bradley in combat in favor of the MRAPs.
What that military wants and needs even manifests in contradictory requirements that are technically challenging or impossible warned Hawkes.
“The service wants a very high level of protection and the ability to carry a large number of dismounts, which requires a very heavy and large vehicle – demonstrated by the GCV prototypes running up to 75+ tonnes and being larger than an M1,” he told ClearanceJobs. “However they also desire air transportability that would require light weight and small size.”
Finding a solution could be challenging at best.
“Whilst they think modular armour packages could enable this, the notion that you would fly an ABCT to a combat environment in an under protected configuration, then take a tactical pause while you receive and fit B-kit armour, arriving on separate aircraft, is not viable,” explained Hawkes. “The optionally manned element adds needless complexity. An IFV is by concept a manned platform. Its definition is a vehicle that carries troops and supports them in combat. Unmanned vehicles like those being procured under RCV could support an IFV, but there is no logic to making an IFV unmanned. Making a vehicle optionally manned adds the complexity and expense of an unmanned vehicle, but offers none of the benefits associated with unmanned technology, such as smaller size, weight and protection requirements.”
Third Time Isn’t the Charm
Despite the setbacks, in 2018 the Army began its third and most recent effort, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle – later dubbed the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle. The name change came about as it was determined the vehicle would need to be capable of operating unmanned.
The U.S. Army anticipated that there would be several competing firms taking part to develop the OMFV. In the end it became a showdown between General Dynamics Land Systems’ Griffin III and Raytheon/Rheinmetall’s Lynx. Instead of a long fought out duel, it quickly ended as a non-event when Raytheon was unable to ship the only Lynx prototype from Germany in time for last October’s first deadline.
According to reports, some Army officials were willing to offer an extension, but the newly created Army Futures Command refused, and that left the Lynx-41 prototype out of the competition. That left the General Dynamics design as the sole competitor, but with a few caveats.
The most notable was that even if General Dynamics went on to win the Engineering & Manufacturing Design (EMD) contract that would not ensure that it would win the production contract as well. That will be awarded in 2023 and will be open to any company willing to participate – that would have meant that General Dynamics would have to spend money to develop the OMFV at its own expense, while for the Army there would be no backup vehicle.
With one competitor there was no option not to cancel the OMFV.
Sticking With the Bradley
With the end of the OMFV program it seems the Bradley will keep rolling. Despite its age, it could still be up to the job.
“It’s a generalization but the U.S. Army assumes it holds tactical – and technological – superiority over every potential aggressor on the land,” said Sam Cranny-Evans, editor of Jane’s Armoured Fighting Vehicles and AFV specialist.
“It follows that there is less urgency to replace Bradley, because it is still capable of defeating existing threats,” Cranny-Evans told ClearanceJobs.
“Added to this, the appeal of a new land platform is considerably less than a ship or plane, which typically have a much bigger PR profile and can offer ‘tangible’ benefits such as reduced radar profiles, higher top speed, more range etc.,” added Hawkes. “At a basic level, a new AFV doesn’t look ‘futuristic’ enough to excite political entities, where a next gen fighter or advanced warship usually has a radically different design.”
Then there is the fact that a Bradley replacement wouldn’t really be leaps and bounds over what the military already has with the M2.
“On land, anything that could replace Bradley with current technology would only represent a modest improvement in protection, lethality and mobility,” said Hawkes. “Most modern solutions offer a substantive leap in mission system capability and network fusion over Bradley, but the argument could be made that this is only part of the sum of a battlefield, and cannot necessarily decide the outcome of a war in, and of itself.”
Finally, the U.S. Army really doesn’t want to go down the same road it did with the Bradley, which resulted in a vehicle that – while it still proved successful in combat – had numerous shortcomings.
“The original Bradley procurement was badly handled, the vehicle is far from what it was supposed to be and the Army will be keen to avoid repeating this an wishes to procure what it originally wanted from Bradley,” added Hawkes. “Second, the nature of the threat is unclear: Russia and China are more aggressive, yes. But neither possesses current vehicle fleets that represent a definite overmatch for Bradley. And, the existential threat is more nebulous than armoured vehicles. Third, the available solutions aren’t sufficiently step-change better than Bradley to justify billions of dollars in procurement and development funds. Thus, the service keeps trying to obtain a step change via requirements that are not technologically or economically possible at this time.”