|NOTES:||Advantages: Extremely detailed, contain full interior with Bradley Power Pack, includes latest details for the M2A3 with CITV, Bradley enhanced viewer, air condition units etc. Disadvantages: M242 Bushmaster missing its breech, TOW reload rounds missing, wrong radio outfit, missing some electronic units.|
By the time the tank entered battle into World War II, it soon became apparent that infantry were hard pressed to keep up. In the beginning, infantry simply followed up on trucks, motorcycles or other mechanical means, even riding bare on the tanks themselves (see Russians and their tank desants. Unfortunately, as can be imagined, tank desants are vulnerable to just about everything harmful on the battlefield. One good machine gun burp usually will kill just about every one of them. In fact, the average life of a tank desant was about three days and they were usually given enough food and ammo for just that amount of time. If they survived, they can always go back and get more. One amazing book about a certain Russian tank desant survivor describe this daily life in absolute detail. He should know, he was one of the few that beat the odds all the way to Berlin!). However, as the firepower on the battlefield grew bolder and meaner, trucks and motorcycles just does not have the armor and protection to survive long. Later on, both sides started to use half-tracks to carry infantry to the front. However, despite the fact they were an improvement, half-tracks are still vulnerable since most of them are open toped and still cannot keep up with the tanks in a break through.
After the war, Americans eventually developed a classic, the M113 APC or armored Personnel Carrier. Produced in the thousands, used by over dozens upon dozens of countries and still in service today, the M113 is the classical armored infantry support vehicle. Carrying almost a dozen or so infantry and their equipment under armor designed to repel .50 cal bullets and with a single .50 cal of its own as its weapon, this vehicle was a no frill “battlewagon” designed to get infantry to where they belonged, under armor, following tanks to achieve a breakthrough and support them if the needs arises. The M113, along with the Huey helicopter, became an indelible image during the Vietnam War.
But even when it was just entering service, people were already asking if there is a better option out there than the M113. In 1967, that answer was found when on November 7, during a parade to commemorate the Great October Revolution, the Russians paraded out their first BMP-1. More than a derivative of the APC, the BMP-1, the world’s first IFV or Infantry Fighting Vehicle, could not only carry a squad of infantry to the front under armor protection, but could support them with its short barreled 100mm cannon, the troops can shoot their weapons out from small portholes, and in a pinch could also fight tank with its AT-2 Sager missile. It was quite a shock for Western viewers and NATO scrambled to develop an answer. Of course, as with many things, especially first things, BMP-1 had a lot of faults. It was so short that any guys over 6ft will find the fit extremely uncomfortable, it’s main weapon was not stabilized and if you want to reload another AT-2, you have to climb half way out of the hatch, somehow get the missile on the rail, which is on top of the cannon barrel, and unfold the fins with a stick. But still, Western nations scrambled for an answer.
The first Western IFV was the (W) German Marder. For the U.S. the answer that eventually led to the Brad was started in 1972. In November of that year, FMC corp.’s (later United Defense before finally sold to BAE and is now BAE Land Defense) prototype was chosen as the winner. In 1976, the XM723 was tested and improvements were ordered, mostly replacing the turret because new weapons, including adding a launcher for the TOW missiles were ordered. In 1978, the XM2 was tested and the following year, 6 pre-production vehicle was ordered. In 1980, this vehicle was officially christened as the M2 Bradley IFV, in honor of the 5 star general Omar N. Bradley. Full production picked up in 1981. A similar vehicle (same on the outside but different on the inside) was also produced, the M3A3 CFV, or Cavalry Fighting Vehicle, basically a fancy term for a recon unit. The major difference is the inside. The M3 only carried two scout troopers and more TOW missiles, 11 reload rounds instead of 5 (later 4) on the regular M2 IFV.
The M2 had a wielded aluminum hull capable of defeating .50 cal rounds and shrapnel. It was initially powered by a 500 hp Cummings VTA-903 diesel engine with an HMDT-500 automatic transmission. It has a 2 man turret including a M242 Bushmaster Chain Gun as its main armament with a co-axil M240C .30 machine gun. On the turret left side, a box 2-round TOW launcher was also included. Further reload rounds were carried in the hull and an infantry man can reload it through a roof hatch. However, to fire its TOW, the Brad has to stop in order to launch it. The initial Bradley also feature the fact that its 6 infantry men can also fire a special M-16 out of six firing ports, 2 on the left, 2 on the right and 2 to the rear. Along with a driver, the vehicle has a crew of 3 and a squad of 6 infantry soldiers (there is also a seat for an observer right behind the driver but this is hardly used when in operation).
As soon as it was in production, question about its armor, survivability, costs etc (especially compared to the “Cheap and superior” Russian vehicles) were thrown at the new vehicle. Just before “Operation Desert Storm”, CBS 60 Minutes did a scathing report on the Bradley and wondered in no small uncertain terms, whether it’s a weapon of war or death trap. Question about the Brad lingered on all the way before the Gulf War started.
Even before the Gulf War started, efforts were underway to improve the Brad’s survivability. These eventually resulted in the M2A2. The biggest difference is the side armor. The A2 version had slab armor capable of defeating 30mm armor piercing cannon rounds, specially designed to defeat the main weapon of the BMP-2. These armor can also be attached with ERA armor modules designed by General Dynamics to defeat portable anti-armor weapons like the RPG. This raised the vehicle weight to over 30 tons and thus, a more powerful engine, a 600hp Cumming was added. Ironically, two of the vehicle’s original requirements, the ability to swim and having its infantry firing from the inside were eliminated. The ability to swim, although included in the basic Brad was hardly if ever used since it made the heavy set vehicle barely able to swim. Not only that, the preparation needed, by first pumping air into the side plastic floatation skirts, water proofing it, and then then adding a floatation basket takes over 20 minutes and would next to impossible to do under real life conditions. And now with the vehicle weighting over 30 tons, whatever little extra buoyancy the vehicle had left was gone so it wasn’t missed. The left and right firing port was eliminated because in real operation, it was soon discovered it was hardly ever used since the vehicles powerful 25mm cannon, co-ax machine gun and TOW’s were more than up to the job. The two rear ones were kept just so the vehicle has something to defend the rear in a pinch.
All questions about the Brad survivability etc was settled after the Gulf War, in which the Brad destroyed more vehicles than tanks and was even more versatile than expected (There was at least one incident in which a Brad, which kept on firing its 25mm cannon was able to eventually to penetrate the front armor of a T-55). However, there were some really hard lessons too, not the least of which was the Brad was exceedingly vulnerable to friendly fire incidents, several which killed more allied soldiers than the entire ground assault. By 1994, all M2’s were upgraded to the M2A2 version, with 1423 of them upgraded to the “ODS” or Operation Desert Storm variant. These vehicles includes an eye-safe laser rangefinder unit (ELRF), a tactical navigation system (TACAV) including a precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR, say “Plugger”), the Digital Compass System (DCS) and the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) Battlefield Command Information System. 4 thermal imagers were also installed. Lastly, 3-man foldable bench seats replaced the original fixed seats since it was found these interfered with the passenger disembarking from the vehicle.
The FBCB2 system especially was considered critical since it is considered to be a critical piece of equipment for the Army’s Force XXI program. Every vehicle installed with this system becomes a node in the information network with each node having the ability to download and upload all of its information to the network and also to download all pertinent battlefield intelligence and information as well. This system not only upgrade and improve each Brad’s individual performance, but it’s also a critical guard against friendly fire incidents, or at least reduce them.
In 1995, ODS variants started to receive new upgrades to bring them up to the M2A3 standards. The most obvious outside differences is the A3 have a CITV (Commander Independent Thermal Viewer). Other additions includes the Driver’s Vision Enhancer. Inside, there is a new CO2 Laser Rangefinder, a new digital fire control system and improved Bradley Acquisition System (IBAS).
By the time “Gulf War II” was done, M2’s eventually found themselves doing something they had not done when initially designed. Fighting in urban combat situation against insurgents, gorillas, and other ad hoc enemies. IED’s or Improvised Explosives Devices, RPG’s and other such homemade bombs became the greatest threat. To deal with these, the BUSK, or Bradley Urban Survival Kit program was started to provide Brads with protection in an urban setting, much like the MBT counterpart, TUSK.
The BUSK program was initiated even before Iraqi Freedom. The first version of the BUSK, which eventually became BUSK I, contained a series of ERA blocks. These did not prove satisfactory. BUSK II was an improvement, but felt better options could be added still. These additions eventually became the BUSK III. These include. Blocks of modular ERA blocks for the side skirts, turret faces and the front glacis plate. Better improved engines and transmissions to deal with the heavier weight. Sand screens for IBAS and other vision devices to provide protection against sand. Better survivability seats, improved fire extinguishers, and a hot box restraining kits. Additional protection for the commander and gunner when they are out of their turret to protect them against snipers. And finally, improved air conditioning units for both crew comfort and to cool down the electronics inside the vehicle.
With these improvements, the Brad quickly proved to be an extremely hard nut to crack. Their smaller size also help them to better move around in more confine spaces such as an urban setting. The BUSK III are continuously provided to frontline units, with a large number of them already in service.
So, I got this kit a while ago. But just could not find the time to even get started on it…or write a preview, what with that USS MISERY and now a 1/350 scale NCC-1701-A USS Enterprise tying me up….DOH!!! What is it with me and large things?!?!?!?
Anyways, when the box arrived, I had to do a double take. Now, from on top, it does not look any bigger than your average joe armor model box. It’s from the side that you will get a clue just how extensive this kit is. It’s deep. Just how deep? Well, putting against my Polar Lights 1/350 scale NCC-1701-A USS Enterprise kit, the two are almost the same depth! That is deep! The reason why is obvious, the box itself says “Full Interiors Included”! And trust me, they are not kidding with that!
Upon opening the box, God knows how many sprues greets you. They are in three colors. Your average joe tan color ones for the vehicle itself and these are the most numerous and extensive, for both the inside and mostly outside. The “sea foam green” ones (remember this color as it is the color used on most if not all inside of the US armored vehicles these days. The closest substitute is Tamiya’s Sky) are obviously for the interior and let me tell you, when they say interior included, they are not kidding! The seats, inside of the turret, driving station and god knows what else is all in there. It’s complete but for some minor things. First of all, the TOW reload rounds under the bench seats are not there. The holders are there but the rounds themselves are missing. Two missiles are provided but they are meant for the box launcher. 2. Some of the radio equipment and electronics (specially the TOW guidance boxes) are missing. 3. The M240 Bushmaster breech is missing also. It’s obvious that Meng examined an empty vehicle with some sensitive equipment removed (since all the internal extra ammo storage boxes are also not provided) and was not able to view the 25mm breech also. No big deal. The electronics and radios can be scratched build if that’s your thing. Extra TOW’s can be easily sourced if you have the old Tamiya M2 and the breech is really not gonna be seen once the turret is assembled.
To complete the detailed interior, the next color, the very dark grey sprues, contain a very very complete Bradley Power Unit with the cooling unit, detailed exhaust, the Cumming engine, transmission, and air intakes. This assembly takes a big chunk out of the interior spaces too. The only things missing are the pipes and wires that usually festoon these things.
The assembly begin with of course, the road wheels, idlers and sprockets. Now, the suspension units are designed to move. But if experience proves, they are probably going to be weak so it’s best to assemble them shut unless you are putting the Brad on a diorama, which is tempting, what with that interior…..You might want to save the wheels for later.
Next are the interior. And ohh boy are there a lot of steps. Steps 6 to 24 are needed to diagram just how extensive these are. The hardest part would be to draw out and decide what to build first, what to get put into the hull first and how to make everything easier as there are quite a few decals needed to place on various objects and putting everything in there first would definitely mean a PITA to get the decals on later.
The next step are all the hull exterior assemblies. Details such as the air conditioning units, with their gorgeous photo-etch fan blades, boarding ramp, roof hatch, exhaust outlets, NBC inlet, driver enhancement device etc are all here and they are well detailed. Now the tracks, the tracks are numerous but thankfully, they are all in one piece, rather than track + shoe (the only reason why I did not get started on Hobbyboss’s AAVP-7 was the tracks…Every time I look at the model and want to get started, one look at those pesky tracks, one link, two shoes, one on each side drove me away). They are snap tight and are designed to move. Now of course, due to the fact they are indeed one piece, on the photo etch, a shoe template is provided to provide easier painting! Great consideration by Meng here! Just a tip on tracks, do not rust them. Not only are modern tracks are made from rust resistant materials, but also, constant operation, especially in sand ensure the sand and dirt “sandblast” any rust right off!
Hull ERA blocks are next. Now, you have your choice. The ERA blocks are separate from their mountings so you can show them without the blocks. A lot of pieces goes in here but it’s not all that difficult.
Finally, at step 44, construction of the turret begins with the interior. The radio, co-ax machine gun, ammo holder, turret basket and the Bushmaster’s barrel holder are all assembled. Once the turret halves are assembled, it’s not over yet. The outside is festooned with armor, details, hatches, ERA blocks (again, you have your choice to leave them on or off), smoke grenade launchers (with or without grenades), the Bradley sighting unit, CITV, commander and loader screen, and rear ammo storage boxes (with your choice of filled or empty containers). Finally, a nice TOW box launcher assembly, with your choice of either filling the launcher or leaving it empty round out the assembly. Three markings are provided for vehicles ranging from the buildup in Kuwait in 2003 to 2005.
WHEW!!!! Finally done. Sorry if I had to rush it in the end. This is one monster extensive of a kit and it needs a detailed description. Like the Hobbyboss AAVP-7 kit, this kit beats the pants so off its ancient Tamiya (and its copycats) brethren it’s not even funny! The extensive interior alone is worth the price of admission. Seriously, go out and get this kit. You will not regret it. And on top of that, Meng recently came out with the M3A3 Cavalry version (although the interior is separate) so here is hopping Meng will eventually back date this kit to a M2A2 and eventually the original M2 version. This kit is so seriously recommended it’s not even funny cause for a guy like me, it will probably keep me entertained for at least year…Provided I can get around to it one of these days!
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