Back in the day, as a gunner on the Bradley, it was Standard Operating Procedure that whenever, wherever we were conducting a mounted movement, the gunner would scan his sector, just as he would be expected to in a wartime environment. Train as you fight, and it is always the threat you don’t see that kills you. So I spent a lot of time with my face plastered to the Integrated Sight Unit, and my hands on the Gunners Hand Station, scanning back and forth, usually to the right flank of the platoon, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to spot anything more nefarious on Fort Carson’s tank trails than an antelope, or possibly a coyote. Given my druthers, I’d just leave the turret pointed straight ahead, and stand up in the hatch side by side with the Bradley Commander (BC) and enjoy the fresh air and nice breeze.* But the SOP was to scan, and so scan I did.
Now, I didn’t really mind this. It was boring, but even then, the view was a lot better than what the dismounts in back had. And while the ride was bumpy and the turret was a pretty snug fit, it wasn’t too bad. But what really made me angry was that for all the money the Army had spent on the design and layout of the Bradley, one little flaw caused me no end of discomfort, and could have been easily avoided.
Here’s the Gunner’s Hand Station that controls the turret of the Bradley.
You’ll note the careful lines of the actual hand grips. Looks like care has been taken to make them comfortable, no? Actually, they are not. You’ll notice they’re exactly parallel with one another.
Sit in a straight backed chair. Make fists with both your hands and hold them out in front of you, with your elbows by your sides, like a Rock-em Sock-em Robot. You’ll notice your fists are exactly parallel with one another. But they’re also about 18-20 inches apart. Now move those fists together until they’re only about 8 inches apart. You’ll notice that as you move them closer, your fists are no longer parallel, but rather at an angle of around 60 degrees. Now, with your fists still 8 inches apart, rotate your wrists until your fists are parallel with one another again. It is a very unnatural position, isn’t it?
Holding the GHS for more than a few minutes, or an hour at most, begins to cause significant pain in the wrists, and because of the way the hand fits to the handle, to the palms of the hands. And while it is easy to operate the GHS with one hand, that only provides temporary relief. Sooner or later, both hands hurt.
Here is what really, really irritates me about this. At the same time the Bradley was being developed, the M1 Abrams was being developed. And the Gunners Hand Station on an Abrams has it’s handgrips angled in, about 30 degrees for each grip. As an added bonus, the tops are tilted in a bit for an even more natural, ergonomic fit to most hands.
The mechanical complexity of both control systems is almost identical. In fact, I never understood why Bradley’s didn’t simply use the very same control. While the Bradley, in my mind, is primarily an Infantry branch vehicle, the folks in the Armor community were there for the development of the system. Armor branch had had folks struggling with gunnery controls for over 40 years by the time the Bradley came along. They knew what they were doing.
Even worse, the picture of the controls above? When the Army upgraded it’s Bradleys after Desert Storm and added Laser Range Finders, they had to upgrade the controls. And that’s what is in the picture above. So they had a second bite at the apple, and still didn’t fix the poor, pain inducing ergonomics of the GHS on the Bradley. It wouldn’t have cost a dime to ease some poor grunts lot in life, had only they taken a moment to add a tiny change to the plans.
And that still irks me.
*Except in the winter. I kinda liked being inside when the temps dropped below zero.