A new viral video shows the crew of a Russian T-90M Breakthrough tank getting a first-hand lesson in the devastating firepower of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s Bushmaster M242 25mm automatic cannon. The War Zone reached out to highly-experienced armor experts to explain exactly what we are seeing in the intense combat footage and how the Bradley was able to take on Russia's most capable frontline tank.
You can read all about the Bradley and what it brings to the fight in Ukraine in this past feature of ours.
Produced by Ukraine’s 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which trained on the Bradley in Germany before putting the type to use on the battlefield, the drone-shot video shows Russia's most advanced frontline tank being rapidly hit with 25mm rounds at relatively close range. The video cuts to another view of the engagement, near the town of Stepovoy in Donetsk Oblast, which shows a closer look at the tank being pummeled.
A second video that appears to be from the same engagement shows the tank turret spinning out of control as it approaches a tree before slamming into it. Crew members are seen fleeing before the tank is finished off by a first person view (FPV) kamikaze drone.
An armor expert with direct knowledge of the Bradley and a Bradley master gunner told us that the videos highlight both the capabilities of the weapon and the skill of its crew.
“The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is very survivable, very maneuverable,” said the armor expert, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It looks like this crew has had a lot of training as well as experience and is very comfortable with the Bradley and able to quickly make decisions under extreme stress when confronting a tank knowing that they're going to have to engage it. And it looks like this crew knew that they could disable the T-90 tank as its rear end was shown to them.”
Tanks are traditionally far more heavily armored at their front than their rear.
It was a particularly impressive engagement, said the armor expert, considering that the T-90M has a 125mm main gun compared to the Bradley’s 25mm Bushmaster and much thicker armor than than the Bradley, especially in the front.
The “well-trained crew didn't panic under fire, making correct decisions,” the armor expert expounded. “A well-trained gunner aimed their gun in the correct manner, not at the top of the turret so much as the rear of the tank knowing that its fuel tanks and obviously the engine itself are right there. They knew if they chewed it up fast enough, they’d be able to quickly disable the tank and there's nothing the crew can do. They'll have to abandon the tank or worst case scenario, they keep firing rounds and something happens where there's a cascading effect that leads to an explosion within the turret."
The video also displays the rapid-fire value of the Bushmaster chain gun, which can spew 200 rounds per minute. It can fire two different types of ammo, fed from boxes via chutes into the autoloader.
The gunner, sitting to the left of the tank commander, can flip a switch to select between high explosive (HE) rounds to strike lightly armored vehicles or armor-piercing sabot rounds, to hit more heavily armored vehicles like infantry fighting vehicles and even tanks, according to the armor expert. He added that he believed the rounds seen in the video were depleted uranium (DU) armor-piercing sabots. The master gunner, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, was unclear about which kind of round was used.
The DU rounds are incredibly potent, said the armor expert.
"Our DU rounds can literally hit one side of a an armored personnel carrier or infantry fighting vehicle (like a BRDM or BMP) and exit the other side and will have enough kinetic force to disable another one."
The gunner can also select between single- or multiple-shot modes. In the case of the video, the they clearly chose the latter of those options, according to both of our sources.
“It’s automatically fed like a machine gun,” said the armor expert. “So if you imagine a machine gun, that's what the Bradley Fighting Vehicle has with the Bushmaster and it keeps firing until it runs out of ammo and you have to reload the ammo can.”
The second video shows that two Bradleys trapped the T-90. It also offered visual evidence of how the Bradley’s fire control system was able to adjust for the movement of both itself and the T-90.
“The Bradley gun system is a stabilized platform, so as long as you put the reticle on the target, it will stay on it regardless of hull movement,” said the armor expert.
The Bradley’s crew was on target, said the master gunner.
“They inflicted enough damage to the tank to make the crew deploy a defensive smoke grenade array and then back up and abandon the vehicle,” he said. “What likely happened is they damaged the tank’s various sights and weapons systems, as well as some other penetrations on the turret and hull. Might have taken out some crew as well. Why I think they damaged the sights is due to the tank crew losing orientation while they were driving away, with the turret spinning and then hitting a tree in the other video.”
Another interesting aspect of this battle is that the Ukrainian Bradley crew used its Bushmaster to fight the T-90 instead of its Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) anti-tank missile system.
"The training for fighting tanks is generally to use the TOW," said the armor expert. "Not sure why the didn't use it here, unless they were out."
"The 25mm is when you have no other option," the armor expert explained.
He added that, "really, there is no 25mm official training [for encounters like these], to prevent the bad habit of crews believing they will have a high probability of destroying a tank." Still, in these situations, the object is to go for the mission systems, not the hull, which appears to be what happened in this situation.
"It is the experience of the Bradley commander to shoot the tank's gun tube, optics and engine," the armor expert told us. This would cause a 'mission kill' and leave the tank unusable, although possibly not destroyed.
However, in our deep dive how the Bradley could help Ukraine, the master gunner said not to dismiss the Bushmaster.
The 25mm Bushmaster main gun “gets discounted by many because it’s ‘smaller’ but it’s still a very capable gun with modern ammunition types, as displayed by performance in Desert Storm and OIF,” the master gunner said. “The gun itself is just as good as the TOW in certain situations against tanks.”
In addition to highlighting what the Bradley and a well-trained crew can bring to the table, the videos also displayed the deficiencies of Russia’s armor troops, even operating its most capable main battle tank available for deployment.
“It looks like a T-90 crew panicked and didn't know what, to do,” said the armor expert. “It looks like they were just trying to get the hell out of there without turning the turret toward the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.”
The reason, he posited, “is most likely because the best tankers that Russians have are all dead because of the failed initial invasion, where the best units were destroyed so they are sending replacements who are very well undertrained and poorly led.”
This incident is just the latest example of how well the Brad has fared against Russian tanks, something it has a history of doing dating back to Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
“We've seen it on the battlefield on multiple fronts, from its fight in Desert Storm to its fight in Operation Iraqi Freedom and now on the Ukrainian battlefield," said the armor expert. "It’s proven itself to be the most lethal, battlefield-proven infantry fighting vehicle in the world.”
That may so, but they are not impervious.
The Oryx open source tracking group says that Ukraine has lost at least 65 of the 190 Bradleys promised to Ukraine by the U.S. Of those, at least 30 have been destroyed, 23 damaged, 11 damaged and abandoned and, as we previously wrote about, one was captured. Those figures could be higher because Oryx only tabulates losses for which it has visual confirmation.
Still, the 47th Specialized Mechanized Brigade seems to like its chances with the Bradley.
“Bradley infantry fighting vehicle against the enemy T-90M tank Breakthrough Failure in the area of Stepovoy, in the Avdiiv direction,” the brigade said on its Telegram channel. “American equipment won.”
Given that Ukraine still likely has scores of Bradleys, and the ubiquity of drone video, we will probably see more vivid examples how it performs.
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