Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and entering service in the 1980s, the M2/M3 Bradley series of fighting vehicles was designed to counter first generation Soviet BMP and BTR series vehicles. As such, the Army equipped it with the 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun. The M242 performed very well against Russian and Chinese built armored vehicles in Desert Storm, and later in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But the threat is not static. More and more, infantry carriers and other armored vehicles are getting bigger and bigger, and carrying more and more armor. And small anti-tank missile teams are employing longer ranged missiles. The armor piercing ammunition for the M242 has been improved, but there is little room for growth. To achieve more armor penetration, the Bradley will simply need a larger gun. And to that end, the Army is experimenting with a 30mm autocannon.
The 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II gun isn’t new. It’s been around in various forms for almost as long as its little 25mm brother. It was intended to be the main armament of the cancelled Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. And it is mounted as secondary armament on the Navy’s LCS and LPD-17 ships. Various foreign powers have evaluated or adopted it. So adapting it to the Bradley would seem to be a simple matter.
But it isn’t quite that simple.
The Bradley was designed with the smaller 25mm in mind. The size of the gun here wasn’t so important. The gun and its mount are in the gunhouse portion of the turret, above the hull of the vehicle proper. The size of the gunhouse itself wasn’t critical.
But the ammunition cans for the gun are stored inside the turret basket. That’s the part of the turret, the ammo system, turret drives, and support that extends down inside the vehicle, and rotates on a roller path on the bottom of the hull. And the turret basket size, essentially its diameter, went far to fixing the exact size of the Bradley.
You can simply put a new turret on the Bradley, with the same size turret basket. The 30mm round isn’t that much larger than the 25mm. 25mm ammo is 13.7 centimeters long. The Bushmaster II 30mm ammo is 17.3cm long.
But that extra inch or so of length cuts into the crew space of the Bradley. Already fairly cramped when designed, the turret crew space has further been crowded by installation of additional electronics, fire control, and networking equipment. An inch doesn’t seem much, but even my relatively small 5’10” frame, when seated in the commanders seat, had my knees in uncomfortable contact with the ammunition cans.
We’ll see if the Army decides to pay to upgrade the Bradley, search instead for a whole new vehicle, or just continue to move along with what we have and hope for the best.