Australian Army – Bridge Erection Propulsion Boats
Birdon was contracted by the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) to design and build 24 Bridge Erection Propulsion Boats (BEPBs) to replace the existing fleet of Bridge Erection Boats (BEB) which began life in 1969. The $14 million contract included integrated logistic support, technical documentation and initial in-service training.
Australian Defence Force BEPBs are based on the German Type MB 3 with the exception of their hulls, which are Australian-designed and driven by two 210hp Cummins water-cooled marine diesel engines powering Schottel water-jets. Unlike the German boats, the BEPBs have their engines mounted centrally so that the operator has all-round access on the deck while manoeuvring Floating Support Bridge (FSB) modules into place.
The Schottel jets can rotate through 360 degrees and, being flush with the hull, do not protrude from the boat’s stern or bottom, reducing the risk of fouling the water jets or injuring sappers working in the water nearby. The new BEPBs can operate effectively in less than half the depth of their predecessors. Their engines have enough thrust to manoeuvre an Abrams tank on an FSB raft across a river.
The BEPB/FSB combination provides vital mobility for any army requiring a wet-gap crossing capability. Their importance was reinforced during Operation Iraqi Freedom, when the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division took five hours to build a 600m Improved Ribbon Bridge across the Tigris River near Tikrit. This was the longest floating bridge constructed in a combat area since WW2.
Birdon retains responsibility for all survey requirements and ongoing maintenance for the entire fleet of BEPBs and has further developed the design as Series 2, now in production for the US Army.