The U.S. Army Wanted to Replace the Bradley 38 Years Ago
But the alternatives were gigantic and costly
Thanks to the famous made-for-TV movie The Pentagon Wars, many Americans are aware of the problems with the U.S. Army’s Bradley fighting vehicle.
It’s too weak to battle tanks, too big to make a good scout—and too compact to carry enough soldiers. The Bradley’s tortured development makes it one of the more notorious weapons programs in recent decades.
Even before troops got these tracked combat vehicles, the Army went shopping for a replacement.
In 1977, Congress wanted to know if the new armored personnel carrier could survive a fight against Soviet forces in Europe. By that time, the Army had worked on the Bradley—while repeatedly changing its requirements—for years.
“The Army requires an infantry righting vehicle [and] the design of the IFV is acceptable,” concludes an Army study, which the Pentagon declassified in 2003, and recently released online at the Army’s Heritage and Education Center.
The Bradley would enter service. But now legislators wanted plans for a better design that could be ready within the decade.
The problem was that future Soviet tanks might turn the Bradleys into veritable coffins. If World War III broke out, the U.S. could face Russian armored beasts with huge main guns, long-range missiles and thick armor.
“In the 1987 time frame, the Warsaw Pact 130-division force … would contain more than 34,000 tanks, the majority being T-72s, with a good proportion of the successor tank,” the Army’s study warns.
“The Warsaw Pact will be turning out larger numbers of tanks with guns of 120-millimeter or larger bore and advanced armor,” points out a now-declassified CIA article, published two years later.
With these threats in mind, Army weaponeers proposed a heavily armored infantry carrier using the same chassis as the prototype XM-1 Abrams tank, including a similarly shaped hull.
Using American and European designs as starting points, officials drew up four possible variants—with different kinds of weapons and armor.
Two versions had manned turrets—just like the Bradley—with 25-millimeter cannons and flip-up, anti-tank missile launchers. But one had slightly less armor than the other. A third model had the same weapons, except mounted in a remote-controlled turret.
To ward off enemy infantry, all three had a 40-millimeter grenade launcher mounted on the back.
These variants were similar to German Marders, French AMX-10s and Dutch YPR-765s. Early Marders also had rear-mounted remote-firing machine guns.
The fourth proposed model featured an experimental, rapid-firing 75-millimeter gun. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was already exploring the potential of this “Super 75” as a light-weight anti-tank weapon—another project that eventually faded into obscurity.
Like the Bradley, all four models had a crew of three—a driver, gunner and commander—and could transport six fully-equipped soldiers straight into battle. If the bad guys got too close, the troops could shoot through firing ports mounted along the hull.
Most importantly, each design would use “special armor” technology, according to the Army document. The document doesn’t define this term, but it likely refers to advanced—and still classified—blends of depleted uranium and ceramic plates.
The whole family went by the name Special Armor Infantry Fighting Vehicle, or SAIFV. Army officials estimated that new, heavier armor would make these SAIFVs more survivable than the Bradley, according to the study.
The Army Tank and Automotive Research and Development Command believed the first APCs could be ready to go sometime between 1983 and 1986. Private analysts thought it would take an extra two years, according to the official report.
Unfortunately, the planned vehicles would be gigantic when compared to existing APCs. They’d be almost 40 tons heavier than the prototype Bradleys.
That’s huge. Worse, the fully-armored version would actually weigh more than the Abrams tank.
And the new vehicles would be expensive as heck. The Army estimated the cost at around $1 million each—more than twice as much as the Bradley.
The ground combat branch didn’t believe the extra protection outweighed this enormous price tag.
Army designers offered to blend the Bradley’s turret and hull together with the Abrams’ engine and suspension. But the service rejected both the SAIFV and this “High Mobility IFV” concept.
In the end, the Army concluded that the available designs for “a more survivable follow-on vehicle” simply weren’t practical. Still, the study recommended that generals keep looking for alternatives to the Bradley.
When the Cold War ended—and the Soviets ceased to be a major threat—the Pentagon’s interest in heavy armor waned.
But with Russia’s aggressive posture in Eastern Europe and the rapidly expanding Chinese military, the Army has again taken interest in armored fighting vehicles.
However, the Pentagon canceled its latest program to replace the Bradley in February 2014. The planned Ground Combat Vehicle suffered from many of the same problems as the SAIFV. It was heavy and too expensive.
“Do we need a new infantry fighting vehicle? Yes,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the Association of the U.S. Army the month before.
“Can we afford a new infantry fighting vehicle now? No,” Odierno added.
A year earlier, the Congressional Budget Office predicted the final design would weigh more than 80 tons. The GCV could also cost as much as $13.5 million each—more than 10 times as much as the first Bradleys—according to the CBO.
“What I am hoping for is technology will continue to allow us in three to four years from now build a new infantry fighting vehicle that is absolutely necessary,” Ordierno said.
American soldiers still ride around inside improved Bradley fighting vehicles. Now, the Army is upgrading those vehicles again while it continues to look for a true replacement.
Aspiring screenwriters take note.