Anyone who has watched a Vietnam War movie has seen an M113. The squat, boxy vehicle, which looks like a tank without a gun was the United States’ Armored Personnel Carrier of choice for much of the Cold War era. It was flexible, able to traverse rough terrain, afford a dozen or so troops protection from small arms fire, mines and small projectile weapons, and could even float for water crossing maneuvers. It was a proven, dependable workhorse.
As weapons systems advanced and the Soviet threat continued to evolve through the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. military decided it needed a replacement for the M113 APC. What it desired was a faster, more maneuverable vehicle for the battlefield of the future. That was the conception of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, named for World War II General Omar Bradley, who played an instrumental role in liberating Europe and defeating Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.
Bradley, who served under then-General Dwight Eisenhower and commanded General George Patton, was known for being a pragmatic and disciplined leader who deftly managed the battlefield and acted in the best interest of the common soldier. The Pentagon’s choice to memorialize the new APC after Bradley would ultimately prove ironic given the mismanagement of the entire development program.
The Army and Marine Corps had two simple requirements for the Bradley: protection for soldiers, and the speed to keep up with the new M1 Abrams tank – which moved over the terrain at 60 miles per hour, an unthinkable pace for a machine with eighteen inches of steel armor, weighing in at fifty tons.
Upsetting the plans were innovations made by the Soviet Union, which in the 1970s introduced an armored personnel carrier known as BPM infantry fighting vehicles. These weapon systems had the armor of a conventional personnel carrier, plus the speed of a scout vehicle and a weapon slightly bigger than a large-caliber machine gun.
The Soviet’s BPM deployment greatly distressed the Pentagon — although some people would say it gave the Pentagon just the excuse it needed to turn the Bradley over to its corrupt, inefficient and wasteful procurement system. Planners submitted a series of change orders to modify the Bradley to counter the Soviet threat and its perceived capabilities.
On top of its original requirements, the Bradley was given a 20-millimeter gun for firepower and a TOW anti-tank weapon, giving it the ability to take on the Soviet T-72 and T-80 tanks, which outnumbered NATO forces by five to one in quantity.