Tactical Vehicles

An Army Armor Officer’s analysis of the Bradley in Ukraine

With Russia and Ukraine offering conflicting accounts of Bradley performance on the battlefield, WATM sat down with an expert to clarify.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
m2 bradley in ukraine
M2 Bradleys in Ukrainian service (Ukraine MOD)

In 2023, we saw a massive escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian War, with international support for Ukraine taking the form of heavy weapons and vehicles. On January 5, 2023, the United States announced that Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles would be sent to Ukraine. As Ukraine’s spring counteroffensive takes shape, the Bradley has seen some of its most intense fighting since Operation Iraqi Freedom. With Russia and Ukraine offering conflicting accounts of the vehicle’s performance on the battlefield, WATM sat down with an expert to get a professional opinion.

ukraine bradley aid package
Over 60 Bradleys were sent to Ukraine as part of the initial aid package (USTRANSCOM)

Army Capt. Josh Kilian commissioned as an Armor Officer in 2017. In addition to the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course, Kilian completed the Army Reconnaissance Course at Fort Benning, now called the Scout Leader’s Course at Fort Moore. He served as an Armored Scout Platoon Leader on M2A3 variants of the Bradley and offered insight into the vehicle’s action in Ukraine. These are his professional opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Army.

bradley in OIF
Bradleys suffered greater losses during Operation Iraqi Freedom (U.S. Army)

The Bradley was one of the Army’s Big Five systems designed to carry the force into the 21st century. During Operation Desert Storm, the M2 actually destroyed more Iraqi armored vehicles than the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and suffered just three losses to enemy fire. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bradley suffered greater losses as its role changed from scouting to infantry support. “IEDs claimed a lot of those vehicles, and so although there were a large amount that suffered some form of catastrophe during Iraqi Freedom, a lot of that comes from the utilization of IEDs to penetrate the Bradley’s thin and vulnerable under-chassis armor,” Kilian noted.

leopard 2s and bradleys
A screenshot of the video showing destroyed Leopard 2s and Bradleys in Ukraine (Russian Defence Ministry)

On June 11, 2023, Russia released a video depicting the destruction of at least seven Leopard 2 tanks and five Bradley IFVs as its army repelled Ukrainian attacks. Kilian offered his analysis of the unverified Russian footage. “Early on, a Track Commander (TC) has to learn how to think of the Bradley like any other infantryman with a rifle, and how the exact spot on the battlefield enables that rifle to be utilized efficiently and, ideally, safely,” he said. “How a TC employs his crew will ultimately correlate directly to how successful the vehicle is at engaging targets and is a direct correlation to survivability in vehicular combat.”

damaged ukraine bradley
The aftermath of a Bradley in Ukraine after reportedly taking a direct rocket hit (Hanna Maliar via Telegram)

Speaking of survivability, despite the Russian claims of Bradley kills, Ukraine highlighted an impressive success story for the vehicle. On June 15, 2023, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar posted an image on Telegram of a Bradley that reportedly took a direct hit from a Russian GRAD rocket. Maliar reports that the entire crew survived and evacuated the vehicle, noting the Bradley is now undergoing repairs.

ukraine bradley crew
“The crew of this ‘Bradley’, which successfully evacuated after being hit and continues to perform tasks on other equipment” [translated from Ukrainian] (Hanna Maliar via Telegram)

“[A] major takeaway about the design of the Bradley compared to that of the BTR or BRDM series Russian vehicles is that the crew enters and exits the vehicle from rear of the Brad,” Kilian noted. “This is different from some Russian vehicles where the crew exits from the flank of the vehicle. In the event of an immobilization, if my crew and my dismounts can bail out the back of the vehicle and retrograde away from the incapacitated vehicle and utilize that as a form of cover, that’s a win and builds survivability for the physical crew members to make it out of the vehicle.” Kilian also credited the fire suppression system, which is located in all compartments of the Bradley, for the vehicle’s survivability.

Attrition is an accepted reality of a near-peer fight. Still, proper employment of weapons and vehicles is crucial to minimize losses and achieve victory. “I think if better spacing was utilized by the Ukrainians, and a better knowledge base and understanding of how to utilize defilade and inter visibility lines (IV lines), we’d find that some of those vehicles in that minefield near Bakhmut would’ve probably been fine,” Kilian concluded. “These [vehicles] can engage and support each other a long ways away. There is no need to be right up in my wingman’s business.” On June 13, 2023, the Pentagon announced that an additional 15 Bradleys would be sent to Ukraine to replace those lost in combat.