Military

Don’t Call It a ‘Tank’: The M2 Bradley Hunted Russian Tanks in Iraq — Now It’ll Be in Ukraine

January 17, 2023Tom Wyatt
Third Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division soldiers train with Bradley Fighting Vehicle  in Poland in 2022. The heavy combat vehicles will soon be headed to Ukraine as part of a massive arms package. Photo by Pfc. David Dumas.

Third Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division soldiers train with Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Poland in 2022. The heavy combat vehicles will soon be headed to Ukraine as part of a massive arms package. Photo by Pfc. David Dumas.

As any “tanker” will tell you, the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle headed to Ukraine isn’t a “tank.” But with the M242 machine gun and TOW missile launcher on top, this armored fighting vehicle could be a Russian tank killer when it arrives in Ukraine soon.

In fact, the Bradley already has a track record of winning shootouts with full-sized Russian tanks.

Washington committed 50 M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the fight for Ukrainian sovereignty late last week as part of the latest $2.85 million military aid package. The announcement of the US-supplied Bradleys mirrored commitments from the German and French governments for their own fighting vehicles, a move that collectively ups the ante of NATO commitment to Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invaders.

Preparation for patrol

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, attached to 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division attached to 1st Cavalry Division, drive their Bradley Fighting Vehicle to an assembly area at Camp Rustamiyah in preparation for a patrol in the Baladiat area of East Baghdad, Iraq, on Feb. 15, 2007. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bronco Suzuki.

The Bradley isn't quite a true “tank,” like the M1 Abrams. In most schools of armored warfare, the title of “tank” is reserved for massive, track-driven rolling fortresses built from the ground up to engage other armored vehicles, usually without passengers.

The Bradley has both heavy armor and rolls on tracks, but its primary mission is to safely move infantry squads in its armored shell. In that role, the Bradley has been one of the Army’s workhorse machines in the wars of the last two decades, moving troops in and out of combat.

But the vehicle earned its reputation — and perhaps gave a preview of what to expect in Ukraine — during Operation Desert Storm, where it proved that it was more than a match for Russian-built tanks.

At the tail end of the Gulf War in 1991, US forces, primarily composed of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, engaged in what is considered the last large-scale tank battle of the 20th century. At the Battle of 73 Easting, a heavily outnumbered coalition force devastated an Iraqi Republican Guard tank unit, with much of the damage done by Bradleys.

During the battle, then-1st Lt. Paul Hains led a two-Bradley reconnaissance mission to regain contact with another 2nd ACR troop, when his element was confronted with a platoon of five T-72 tanks.

Notably, T-72s remain a front-and-center component of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Hains’ outgunned duo had no alternative but to fight. Their first move was to use their TOW missiles — tube launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided missiles designed to take out tanks.

TOW Missile

Soldiers assigned to 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment conduct a tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided live-fire exercise at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on April 25, 2018. The "TOW" missile is an anti-tank missile that forms part of the US Army Bradley fighting vehicle. US Army photo by Sgt. Arturo Guzman.

“My wing man opens up a missile and blows the heck out of this thing that was turning its turret,” Hains said in a documentary on the battle.

However, a misfire on the Bradley’s dual tube TOW missile launcher slowed Hains’ crew down. With two T-72s down, Hains’ Bradley continued the fight with the M242 while his wing man reloaded.

“Sir, it’s bouncing off ... we’re just pissing it off,” Hains said, recalling his gunner’s reaction as they provided cover fire.

“Then, at that time, my wing man pulls up,” Hains said. “Almost instantaneously he services that tank with a missile.”

Hains and his wing man were able to destroy five T-72 tanks in a matter of minutes.

The decision to send the armored fighting vehicles came after pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to send tanks to Ukrainian forces. US defense officials have argued, however, that Ukraine has enough tanks and that the M1 Abrams — Zelenskyy’s tank of choice from the US — is too complicated for Ukrainian tankers.

The armored fighting vehicles provide a solid middle-ground alternative, and though the French Defense Ministry refers to their fighting vehicle, the AMX-10 RC, as a “light tank,” these armored behemoths are not tanks.

Syria

US soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/163rd Combined Arms Battalion, make an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle operationally ready in northeast Syria on Feb. 1, 2022. US Army photo by Spc. William Gore.

Production for the Bradley began in 1981, when it replaced the M113 armored personnel carrier, greatly exceeding the M113’s speed and power. The Bradley has been a staple of the Army’s armored troop-carrying capability since its introduction to the battlefield during Operation Desert Storm, losing only 3 of the 2,200 that were deployed.

BAE Systems makes the 80,000-pound tracked, medium-armored vehicle, operated by a three-man crew that can carry up to six soldiers over a 300-mile range. The Bradley comes outfitted with the M242 25-millimeter turret-mounted gun and an optional TOW missile system.

The White House’s announcement was made in a joint statement on Thursday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledging to send an estimated 40 Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles, along with the US Bradleys.

Marder

German soldiers train with infantry combat vehicle Marder from the mechanized Infantry Battalion as part of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the military training ground in Rena, Norway, Oct. 23, 2018. Courtesy photo by Marco Dorow.

“The United States intends to supply Ukraine with Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and Germany intends to provide Ukraine with Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles,” the statement read.

Similar to the US's Bradley, the Marder is a tracked armored vehicle crewed by three soldiers. It can carry at least five additional soldiers, depending on other equipment. Outfitted with 20-millimeter automatic cannons and the MILAN anti-tank missiles, the Marder brings significant firepower to the fight.

The US and German machines were matched by French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to send French armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

“This is the first time Western-made armored vehicles are being delivered in support of the Ukrainian army,” a French official told reporters after a phone call between Macron and Zelenskyy.

AMX-10 RC

US soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) receive a capabilities brief from a French Forces in Djibouti service member about the AMX-10 RC wheeled tank during the CJTF-HOA Partner Appreciation Day 2022 celebration at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Nov. 10, 2022. Department of Defense photo by US Air Force Senior Airman Destani K. Matheny.

The AMX-10 is markedly different from the Bradley and Marder fighting vehicles, as it sports wheels rather than tracks. It’s forgivable to mistake the AMX-10 for a tank as it sports the massive 105-millimeter cannon, however its light armor ends the tank argument for the French vehicle.

The US will also send 500 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250,000 rounds of 25-millimeter ammunition to go along with the 50 Bradleys.

Read Next: In Hawaii, 'America's Battalion' Folds Its Colors and Fades Away

Tom Wyatt
Tom Wyatt

Tom Wyatt is an intern at Coffee or Die Magazine. He is an active-duty Naval Special Warfare boat operator and a proud father living in San Diego, California. Tom is a budding reporter, looking to pursue journalism and fiction writing upon exiting the Navy.

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