How Bradley Fighting Vehicles Work

M2A1 Bradley Fighting Vehicle
M2A1 Bradley Fighting Vehicle

Before and during combat, the U.S. military uses the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to scout enemy positions and transport troops into hostile territory. This 500-horsepower, amphibious vehicle has enough armaments to destroy enemy tanks and provide protective fire for the troops it carries to battle.

Developed as a replacement for the M113 series of armored personnel carriers, the Bradley is more powerful and faster than its predecessor. There are two main variations of the Bradley: the M2 and the M3. The primary purpose of the M2 is to provide transport to battle, and the M3 is designed to battle enemy tanks and perform reconnaissance.


In this article, we'll ride into battle with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. You will learn about the Bradley's power and weaponry and how it was developed.


The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is equipped with tank-like tracks. Soldiers operate their Bradley during an operation to search for weapons and munitions in areas of anti-Coalition activity along the Iraq-Syria border.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is equipped with tank-like tracks. Soldiers operate their Bradley during an operation to search for weapons and munitions in areas of anti-Coalition activity along the Iraq-Syria border.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army

The M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles are light armored personnel vehicles that are designed to be fast. The standard 24.9-ton Bradley is powered by a 500-horsepower, supercharged, eight-cylinder, liquid-cooled diesel engine, giving it enough power to keep up with other armored vehicles like the M1 Abrams tanks. With a power-to-weight ratio of 20 horsepower per ton, the Bradley can reach a top speed of 40 miles per hour (64.4 kph) on paved roads. In comparison, the M1 Abrams tank is powered by a 1,500-horsepower engine and travels at 30 mph (48.3 kph). The Bradley models have a fuel capacity of between 175 gallons and 197 gallons (662-746 liters).

An upgraded M2A2 Bradley has a 600-horsepower engine that delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 24 horsepower per ton.


Similar to a tank, the Bradley is a tracked vehicle with six dual-tired road wheels and three track-return rollers on each side. One track-return roller is a double roller. The other two rollers support only the inside half of the track.

The Bradley is designed to cross any terrain, even water, and can transition to amphibious mode in five minutes. The newest Bradley models, the M2A3 and M3A3, have an inflatable pontoon that is fitted to the front and sides of the vehicle.

The tracks propel the Bradley through the water at a top speed of about 4 mph (6.4 km/hr).

Riding in the Belly of the Beast

A U.S. Army M2A2 Bradley crew member stands up through the open turret hatch.
A U.S. Army M2A2 Bradley crew member stands up through the open turret hatch.

The M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle has a three-man crew, including a commander, gunner and driver. The original M2 also carries seven, fully equipped soldiers. The enhanced M2A2 carries six soldiers. The M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle has the same three-man crew, but only accommodates two additional soldiers.

Inside the vehicle, the driver sits in the left front of the hull in a two-thirds reclining position. The only vision available to the crew is periscopes. The driver's station has four periscopes. The center periscope can be interchanged with a night vision scope.


Interior view of the M3 Bradley

The commander sits to the right of the main armament. An M13A1 filter is located in the commander's station to provide breathable air in case of a gas attack. The gunner is located to the left of the turret. The turret is a large section on top of the Bradley that is equipped with a machine gun (more on firepower later). Two-power day/thermal sights and the customary periscopes are available to the gunner. The gunner's view also includes an optical relay to the commander.

A compartment for transported troops is in the back of the vehicle. This compartment includes a single-piece hatch in the roof and a hydraulically operated rear ramp for troop entry and exit. The M2 also features six firing ports.

The Bradley is equipped with an automatic fire detection and suppression system, which is also included in the engine compartment, as well as a central nuclear, biological and chemical protective suite.

The entire Bradley is covered with aluminum armor, and the rear and sides are also covered with spaced laminate armor. The turret has an additional layer of steel, and the hull bottom has additional anti-mine armor.

Armament and History

Close-up view of the 25mm chain gun mounted on the top of a U.S. Army M3 Bradley
Here you can see the side of the box that holds the missile launchers (center) and the four smoke-grenade launchers (lower left). A soldier provides security from the turret as his fellow soldiers uncover a weapons cache in Ramadi, Iraq.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army

The Bradley is a formidable vehicle: It has teeth in the form of high-powered machine guns and anti-tank missiles. These armaments are used to provide protective fire for the troops it transports, as well as to suppress and destroy enemy tanks. Combined with its speed and agility, the Bradley is well equipped to combat enemy vehicles.

The primary weapon of both the M2 and M3 is a 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun, which features a single barrel with an integrated dual feed mechanism and remote feed selection. The M242 is mounted on the turret, which is the rotating component that sits on top of the Bradley's main chassis. The gun has a maximum fire rate of 200 rounds per minute. The M2 carries 900 rounds of 25mm ammunition (300 ready-to-fire, 600 in reserve), and the M3 carries 1,500 rounds.


Both Bradley models also have twin BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missile launchers mounted on the left side of the turret. TOW is an acronym that stands for Target-sensitive, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile. An optical sight is used to track each target. After firing the missile, the launch transmits flight data to the missile's guidance system. The missile can reach any target within a 2.33-mile (3.75-km) range. The M2 carries seven BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, and the M3 carries 12.

Additionally, the Bradley is equipped with an M240 7.62mm machine gun, for which the M2 carries 2,200 rounds of ammunition (800 ready, 1,400 in reserve). The M3 carries 4,400 rounds of ammunition for the M240.

The Bradley is equipped with two M257 smoke grenade launchers, each loaded with four smoke grenades. These grenades are deployed during battle and release smoke to conceal the Bradley from visual observation.

History of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle

M113 Armored Personnel Carriers
M113 Armored Personnel Carriers

The development of the Bradley dates back to the pre-Vietnam era. The early plans of an advanced armor personnel vehicle were being discussed in the early 1960s, even as the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier was just entering service. The U.S. military recognized the need to address the needs of battlefield transport as far into the future as the 1980s and beyond. The search for a Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV) began in 1963.

The search for an MICV was long. The Army tested and rejected the MICV-65 created by Pacific Car & Foundry in 1965. It was not until 1972 that the Army signed a contract with FMC Corporation for its XM723 MICV design. Four years later, the Army merged the MICV program with the Armored Reconnaissance Scout Vehicle program, noting similarities in requirements. The resulting vehicles were the XM2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and XM3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle, each of which incorporated the 25mm M242 Bushmaster, which was also under development at the time.


The Bradley Fighting Vehicle entered production in 1981 and became a replacement for the M113. The Bradley is considered to be a more powerful and faster vehicle than the M113, and its better suspension increases speed on off-road terrain.

Within just a few years after the Bradley rolled into service, its survivability and combat effectiveness became targets of concern. In 1985, it underwent a series of tests as part of the Joint Live Fire Test Program, during which several U.S. and Russian munitions were used to fire on a fully loaded Bradley. In 1988, modifications were incorporated in the M2A2/M3A2 model, including:

  • New composite armor
  • Improved ammunition storage to protect personnel
  • Higher water barrier skirt to improve amphibious operation
  • Improved suspension system

These and subsequent enhancements have made the Bradley a highly survivable combat vehicle. In Operation Desert Storm, 2,200 Bradley vehicles were deployed for battle, and only three were lost to enemy fire.

M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle with its 25mm cannon elevated

In 1991, following Operation Desert Storm, further enhancements were made. The Operation Desert Storm (ODS) upgrades were implemented in the upgraded M2A2 ODS and M3A2 ODS models and included:

  • GPS capability
  • Anti-tank missile countermeasure device
  • Redesigned seating
  • Improved storage for ammunition

The M2A3 and M3A3 Bradley models were also a result of upgrades made after Desert Storm. The M2A3/M3A3 package is the most technically advanced of the Bradley models, and was approved for production in 1994. This package includes:

  • Commander flat-panel display unit
  • Mass memory unit
  • Driver display unit
  • Squad display unit in the troop compartment

With continued modification, the Army has reported that the Bradley will continue to be a key armored vehicle for the U.S. military through the first quarter of the 21st century.

For more information on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and other war technology, check out the links on the next page.

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