Transmission Problems Cited : Soldiers Give Machine Mixed Reviews

Associated Press

The soldiers training in the controversial Bradley Fighting Vehicle generally share their officers' enthusiasm for the war machine.

There are, however, some exceptions.

One infantryman, who asked that he not be identified because "if the colonel ever heard me talk like this, he'd have my neck," said he would rather go into battle in an M-113, the lighter armored personnel carrier the Bradley is replacing.

"It's more maneuverable," the soldier said.

He also pointed out that "on the Bradley, they have to have civilians do a lot of the maintenance."

One soldier who complained about the vehicle's transmission, George Wilson, died last March 24 in Germany when the Bradley he was driving pitched into a sinkhole that could not be seen from the surface.

Six weeks before he died, Wilson wrote to his father complaining that publicity about the Bradley's faults "didn't tell you everything about that big piece of . . . like the fact that if you push it too hard, the transmission will drop out like a rock."

Lt. Col. John Fuller, commander of the 29th Regiment at Ft. Benning, says the Bradley's engine "has given us extremely good performance, although when we fielded the vehicle in 1982, we did have some problems with the transmission." But he said it could be repaired by uniformed Army mechanics near the front line.

"In Germany, we do have civilian maintenance teams training our guys as we switch from M-113's to Bradleys," Fuller says. "But they won't be around long."

The Bradley's transmission and engine have performed better than its contract specifications require, which called for a minimum of 240 miles between an operational failure of either, says Lt. Col. Bob Pilnacek, a spokesman at Benning. In the two most recent tests, he says, Bradleys were driven hard for 720 and 800 miles without a major failure.

Although that sounds terrible compared to a new automobile, he says, it appeared to mark an improvement over figures released by the Army's Logistic Management Summary in 1986, which showed the mean miles between transmission failure at 483 for the Bradley, 1,326 for the M-1 tank and 610 for the older M-60-A3 tank.

Complaints over the Bradley's maintenance problems prompted Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on investigations, to order a new probe of the beleaguered vehicle by the General Accounting Office.

And that means that the Bradley is in for more fire from Congress in a debate over whether it could prevail if the real shooting starts in Europe.

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