In a news segment broadcast on Russian television Wednesday, a reporter gave a tour of an M2A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicle recovered from the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia claims the effort to retrieve the vehicle intact was a challenging one.
Broadcast on Russia’s Channel 1, the segment also shows several masked members of the Russian recovery crews examining the vehicle as they seek to gain insights about the Bradley. Unlike U.S. foreign materiel exploitation (FME) programs, however, this was all showcased for public consumption. U.S. FME programs, operating behind closed doors, works to gain information on foreign equipment via hands-on study, including gaining insights into its capabilities and vulnerabilities through reverse engineering and testing. Vast amounts of advanced Russian gear that has been lost in Ukraine has fed into these programs.
Russia too has major FME programs, but in this case, the propaganda value of the capture seems to have outweighed any need for secrecy surrounding the effort.
The segment begins with the reporter in the driver’s hatch, later holding up an overlay for switches on the driver’s panel with instructions printed in Ukrainian.
He then shows belts of ammo for the 7.62 coaxial machine gun and several dozen 25mm shells for the Bushmaster M242 automatic cannon.
The video cuts to a sheet with instructions on how to feed the ammunition belts into the gun system.
Later in the video points to numerous bullet holes, which the presenter said had been left by Ukrainian forces trying to destroy as much of the hi-tech equipment in the abandoned vehicle as possible.
At around the 1:40 mark, the video shows some of the remaining Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (BRAT) explosive reactive armor bricks still attached.
About a minute later, one of the soldiers flips a switch and fires up the Bradley’s eight-cylinder 600-horsepower diesel engine, which still worked. Several seconds after that, one of the maintenance diagnostic screens is seen.
While the segment shows the 7.62 coaxial machine gun intact, it does not show the Bushmaster's barrel or a dual-tube BMG-71 TOW (Tube-Launched, Optically Tracked, Wireless-Guided) missile launcher that Bradleys can also be equipped with present. Video posted by the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel shows the TOW on a captured Bradley being towed by a Russian vehicle. However, it is unclear whether this is the same Bradley. The TV presenter said the one he was in was captured in Luhansk Oblast while Ryber says its video is of one captured in Donetsk Oblast, near the Avdiivka Coke plant.
Getting the Bradley - one of 186 ODS variants promised to Ukraine - off the battlefield proved to be problematic, according to the Russians.
The recovery crew members said they had to go back to retrieve the vehicle under cover of darkness and thick fog in the "grey zone" about 500 yards from Ukrainian forces, according to a translation by Reuters. They had to tow it between minefields after a first attempt to haul it out failed.
“Transporting the armored vehicle to the rear was fraught with numerous difficulties,” Rybar wrote. “The area was clearly visible to the enemy from the heights of the coke plant, who detected any activity and opened fire from a tank, as well as launched anti-tank guided missiles and [First Person View] FPV drones. One Armor Recovery Vehicle, in the process of removing the stuck Bradley, hit a mine and the driver was injured.”
Despite Ukrainian attempts to destroy the Bradley, Russian troops managed to move it using two tractors at once to tow the vehicle, Rybar said.
For their efforts, the members of the recovery team all received the Russian Medal of Courage, the Channel 1 presenter said.
The story behind the recovery, Rybar noted, “perfectly illustrates the difficulties of evacuating damaged equipment." Rybar pointed to unsuccessful efforts by Russia to recover Leopard 2 tanks and Bradleys from the Ukraine abandoned during the start of the Ukrainian offensive in Zaporizhzhia Oblast in June. Those vehicles are visible in the video below.
The Pentagon declined say whether it has concerns about the captured Bradley.
"I'm not going to speculate on whether this vehicle was captured, nor would it be appropriate to discuss intelligence matters that could be of use to Russia in their war of aggression," Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone.
One armor expert with intimate knowledge of the Bradleys told us that the Russians "were picking over a vehicle that's completely unclassified," adding he had "no concerns" about any sensitive technologies the Russians might find. As we mentioned previously, though, bringing this back relatively intact gives the Russians insights into the Bradley they may have not had before, as well as the exact configuration Ukraine is using.
How much that actually matters is unclear at this time. It's very possible other examples have fallen into Russian hands, as well.
As we stated repeatedly prior to the deliveries of the M2 and other advanced Western armor, it was inevitable that losses would occur and these possibilities were factored into the decision to provide these platforms, and in what configuration, prior to promising to do so.
It's odd to see, nonetheless.
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