Photo: U.S. Army
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The U.S. Army is on the lookout for a new vehicle to replace the M2 Bradley, and it doesn’t want a vehicle with firepower the equal of potential adversaries. Instead the service is looking to outdo them, overmatching them with bigger, deadlier, longer range automatic cannon rounds to shred enemy infantry and armored vehicles.

The vehicle, tentatively known as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, will enter service in the 2020s.

The U.S. Army is famously bad at developing fighting vehicles. The Bradley’s development was famously troubled, as the above clip from the movie “Pentagon Wars” accurately depicts. From 1999 to 2008, the Army spent $18.1 billion trying to create an entire family of vehicles to replace of its fighting vehicles, Bradley included, but the program was cancelled without the service receiving a single vehicle. A second program, the Ground Combat Vehicle, was cancelled in 2010, again without a single vehicle reaching operational status. The GCV was famously so festooned with antennas, guns, and other equipment it looked like the car Homer Simpson built.

Ground Combat Vehicle
Graphic: BAE Systems

The Army wants test OMFV vehicles by 2019, with a decision on production by 2023 and the vehicle issued to units in 2026.

The M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle (or IFV) entered service in the early 1980s. The Bradley replaced the M113 armored personnel carrier (or APC) and reflected a combat vehicle philosophy pioneered by the Soviet Army: while APCs would dismount an infantry squad to attack on foot, IFVs would allow infantrymen to stay in their vehicles, fighting from within, without dismounting and slowing down a fast-moving mechanized attack. IFVs were more heavily armed than APCs, with a light automatic cannon and long-range anti-tank weapons, and more heavily armed to protect the passengers and crew inside.

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T-15 Armata Infantry Fighting Vehicle in Red Square, 2015.
Image: Getty

The Bradley has served well over the past 35 years, despite its early development problems, participating in the 1991 Gulf War and the war in Iraq. The Bradley is equipped with a turret-mounted 25-millimeter autocannon with an effective range of 3,000 meters and two TOW anti-tank missiles with a range of 3,750 meters. While the U.S. Army has relied on the Bradley for nearly four decades, other countries fielded a new generation of IFVs that pack even more firepower and protection. China’s ZBD-04, for example, sports both a 30-millimeter automatic cannon (that’s five more millimeters than the Bradley, you’ll notice) and a 100-millimeter rifled gun/missile launcher that can destroy armored vehicles at ranges of up to 4,000 meters. Russia’s T-15 Armata heavy infantry fighting vehicle is equipped with one 30mm 2A42 automatic cannon with roughly the same performance as the Bradley’s gun. The T-15 also carries twice as many anti-tank missiles that can range out more than twice as far, killing tanks (and Bradleys) at ranges of up to eight kilometers.

The bad news is that the Bradley is outgunned. The good news is that both Russia and China have laid down their cards and probably won’t be unveiling new IFVs anytime soon, which means that the United States knows the bar it has to clear.

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M2 Bradleys at Grafenwoehr, Germany, April 2018
Image: Spc. Dustin D. Bive (U.S. Army)

The Army calls the Bradley replacement the OMFV, or Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle. As the name suggests, the Army wants the vehicle to be capable of fighting autonomously or via remote control, in either case without a crew. It also wants a regular crew of no more than two, the ability to carry six soldiers in the rear, and enough protection to keep them safe. It wants the vehicles to fly two at a time into war zones in Air Force C-17 transports and quickly roll out into combat. In terms of lethality, as the Army states, “It should apply immediate, precise and decisively lethal extended range medium caliber, directed energy, and missile fires in day/night all-weather conditions, while moving and/or stationary against moving and/or stationary targets.”

Last week’s Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington D.C. saw three potential Bradley replacements from the usual suspects of BAE Systems, General Dynamics, and Raytheon/Rheinmetall. Of the three vehicles, according to Breaking Defense, the General Dynamics vehicle, the Griffin III, seems to have a leg up on the competition. Mostly because it packs a big gun.

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The Griffin III is derived from the British Army’s Ajax reconnaissance vehicle. It has a 50-millimeter automatic cannon firing rounds twice the diameter of the Bradley’s gun. It can elevate the gun to 85 degrees, allowing crews to engage targets in high-rise buildings. The turret also has room for anti-tank missiles and even nine Switchblade loitering missiles, capable of intercepting enemy drones or striking enemy targets up to 10 kilometers away with precision.

The Griffin can also carry up to six troops in the back—the minimum requirement for the U.S. Army. The Griffin is heavily armored for its class and has an active protection system to shoot down incoming missiles, rockets, and shaped charge anti-tank gun rounds. It’s also covered in a hexagonal pattern camouflage system designed to reduce the tank’s thermal and acoustic signatures but which also looks awfully hard to keep clean.

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The M2 Bradley does need a replacement: the basic Bradley design is more than forty years old. Although the Army has worked to keep aging platforms current with the latest technology and trends some things, like the 25-millimeter gun, can’t be upgraded. You can upgrade a 1981 Camaro to have all of the latest technology found in today’s cars, but at some point it just makes sense to just buy a new Camaro.

Griffin is a big step in the right direction, but one gripe that dogged the Bradley throughout its career was the small—six to seven—number of infantry it could carry. Griffin can carry only six, and no future upgrade will increase that number. Another vehicle in the running, the Raytheon/Rheinmetall KF41 Lynx, carries eight troops, but the problem is that a bigger vehicle is a less mobile vehicle. The Army must now carefully consider the tradeoffs of one quality over another and decide which ones it really, really needs.

Will the third time be the charm for the Army or will the Bradley roll on well into the 21st century? We’ll just have to see.