After the pipe fascine, Number 8 and 9 Tank Bridges and the Medium Girder Bridge came into service a series of wide ranging changes to the research and development of all types of military equipment, the establishment of a tri service procurement executive and the mergers and ultimate run down of the various research establishments.
MEXE were given the Freedom of Christchurch in 1965, in 1970 MEXE and the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) were merged into the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE). The evolution to DERA and QinetiQ is very complex and beyond the scope of this article but that is where the hugely successful MEXE ended up, shutting its doors in February 1994.
After a number of multi-national concept studies the International Concept Study Team comprising military engineering experts from the UK, Germany, United States and France created the Bridging for the 1980’s Project, or BR80, although as usual, France dropped out early. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1972 and a small team established at Christchurch.
The team carried out a significant piece of operational analysis, looking at likely obstacles, future vehicle designs, materials and manufacturing techniques. The emerging concept, despite numerous disagreements, was that the bridging system should take advantage of powered launch and recovery, have a high degree of commonality and use the latest materials to reduce weight.
Three basic bridge types were proposed;
Assault Role; 20m (66 feet) as a minimum with a 30m (98 feet) being desirable with a sub 5 minute launch time with crew protection during all phases of launch and recovery.
Dry Support; 40m (131 feet) span with the ability to be used at shorter spans with a day or night build time of 15 minutes.
Wet Support; 120m (395 feet) to be constructed, crossed by a battle group of 150 vehicles, stripped out and dispersed to a distance of 4km in under 1 hour.
All bridges were to be MLC 60 and the whole system would use a series of common panels, ramps and other fittings.
The final report and recommendations of the ICST were published in 1974 and this proposed the three nations continued development, each nation taking responsibility for different elements.
The UK was to work on rectangular bridge sections, reinforcing kits, wheeled vehicle launcher and a review of the Trilateral Design and Test Code. The US programme included work on other bridge sections, a different wheeled vehicle launcher and mobility trials for the assault bridge. Germany was to work on a triangular cross section bridge, two designs of wheeled vehicle launchers and catamaran pontoons.
Before the final ABLE design was selected the Bridge Articulated Vehicle Equipment concept was trialled that consisted on a single 32m bridge section carried on an articulated trailer but this was not taken forward. The Automotive Bridge Launching Equipment (ABLE) proposed a specially designed vehicle equipped with a crane and assembly platform where the launching rail could be constructed launched from the vehicle. The launching rail is levelled and bridge sections added until the gap has been spanned. The launch rail is then recovered and bridge finished.
By 1976 harmony had broken out and all the requirements had been agreed, bar one or two minor details but with the likely introduction of the Challenger tank the load classification had to be increased. The US and Germany were not willing to accommodate this and although it is a long story, the cracks started to appear over this a number of other issues, with disagreements over requirements, programme priorities and designs.
The US Rapid Deployment Force concept meant that air portable bridges took on a greater priority and they withdrew from the programme in July 1981, in October 1981 Germany withdrew from the project.
After over a decade and many millions of £, $ and DM the project closed, this was at a stark contrast to the wartime Bailey bridge development cycle or even the Medium Girder Bridge which in peacetime progressed from requirement to deployment in less than a decade.
It was not all doom and gloom however; much of the work carried out would prove to be invaluable and thus was born the requirement, BR90.
BR90 harmonised the terminology, for example, it was likely that the assault bridge would be used in a variety of circumstances and therefore renamed to the Close Support Bridge. The dry and wet gap bridges were ultimately called General Support Bridges.
Manufacturing the demonstrators was carried out by Fairey Engineering, Dowty, Royal Ordnance Factories, NEI Thompson and Freeman Fox Consulting Engineers, now Hyder Consulting, click here for a detailed history.
After the development phase the final production contract was awarded to NEI Thompson, part of the Rolls Royce group. Rolls Royce sold Thomson to Vickers in June 1995 with BAE now the design authority and ‘owner’ of the BR90 system.
I looked at the close support bridge elements in the post on assault bridging (see below) but the goal of BR90 was to have as much commonality as possible so the basic panels and ramps are the same for the close support bridge and general support bridges.
The base vehicle chosen was the Unipower 8×8.
A parliamentary question in 1993 revealed the following;
Mr. Couchman : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the production order for the “Bridging for the 90s” equipment.
Mr. Aitken : I am pleased to announce that the “Bridging for the 90s” (BR90) production contract negotiations have concluded very satisfactorily. The production order was issued and accepted on 22 October 1993. The value of the order is approximately £140 million. The BR90 family of bridges is planned to enter service between January 1996 and June 1997 as follows :
January 1996, General Support Bridge
November 1996, Close Support Bridge
May 1997, Two Span Bridge
June 1997, Long Span Bridge
BR90 will be deployed with Royal Engineer units in both Germany and the United Kingdom.
This order will secure up to 250 jobs at the prime contractor, Thompson Defence Projects in Wolverhampton, as well as 50 jobs at Unipower in Watford and Tipton and many more at the other sub-contractors.
The quantities ordered, unit costs and definitions were as follows;
Close Support Bridge
A bridge of up to 24.5m span, which is launched by bridge laying tanks (Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge AVLB) in the forward areas of the battle zone
There are three basic Tank Launched Bridges (also known as Close Support or Assault Bridges), the No 10, No 11 and No 12.
48 sets each comprising; 1 modification to an Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB), 1 Tank Bridge Transporter, 1 No 10 bridge and 2 No 12 bridges.
No 10 Bridge, £476k
No 12 Bridge, £181k
Tank Bridge Transporter, £540k
For more information on the Close Support Bridge system look at the article in this series on assault bridging (see below for link)
General Support Bridge
A bridge of up to 32m, used in other battle areas and launched using the Automotive Bridge Launching Equipment (ABLE) mounted upon a common Unipower chassis. This system utilises the Automated Bridge Launching Equipment (ABLE) that is capable of launching bridges up to 44 m in length.
The ABLE vehicle is positioned with its rear pointing to the gap to be crossed and a lightweight launch rail extended across the gap. The bridge is then assembled and winched across the gap supported by the rail, with sections added until the gap is crossed. Once the bridge has crossed the gap the ABLE launch rail is recovered.
A standard ABLE system set consists of an ABLE vehicle and 2 x Bridging Vehicles carrying a 32m bridge set. Each bridge set comprises four 8m ramps, two 8m panels, three 4m panel and two 2m panels and allows the bridge to be built between 16m and 32m.
A 32 m bridge can be built by 10 men in about 25 minutes although this is often exceeded by some margin.
29 sets each comprising; 1 Automotive Bridge Launching Equipment (ABLE) 2 Bridging Vehicles (BV) and 1 32m bridge
ABLE, £1.03 million
32m Bridge, £512k
Long Span Bridge
Reinforcing equipment, again launched by ABLE, will increase the span of the GSB to 44m. The LSB uses a 4m Reinforcement Panel and at this length can support a 105 tonne tank transporter and tank.
A subsequent project saw an alternative long span system that used pre tensioned aramid cables, this is called the Axially Tensioned Long Span Bridge and was purchased by Malaysia, BR90’s only export customer. The ATLSB is 52m long.
The longest and most technically demanding bridge is called the 42R/18 and this consists of two bridges, Span A and Span b. Span A is a 42m bridge with a reinforcing link and this is attached to the 18m Span B with an articulating panel.
Two Span Bridge
Equipment which enable multi span GSB or LSB to be constructed over floating pontoons or piers. This uses a 2m articulating panel and rocking roller assembly.
The total project costs were £185 million
A subsequent project saw the introduction of a two, three or four span floating pier system.
The vehicles were originally developed by Haulamatic who subsequently became Unipower, a subsidiary of Alvis, and now of course BAE.
The Bridging Vehicle, 2 of, carries the rest of the 32m bridge set
The Automotive Bridge Launching Equipment (ABLE) is used to launch and assemble the bridge.
The Tank Bridge Transporter (TBT) carries the No 10, 11 and 12 bridges
In 2010 twelve BR90 vehicles were upgraded to Theatre Entry Specification for use in Afghanistan.
Universal Power Drives were founded in 1934 producing a variety of heavy trucks and in 1992 introduced the M Series, upon which the BR90 is mounted. Alvis acquired Universal in 1994 but despite the M series being a superb vehicle it lost out to Oshkosh for the Heavy Equipment Transport project and is no longer produced.
The M series was also produced in recovery, DROPS and tanker variants
Its excellent cross country capabilities are derived from an exceptionally stiff chassis and engine mounted behind the cab which also means it has a lower profile and thus able to be carried in a C130 Hercules without modification.
The Unipower M Series of 8 × 8 designs was promoted as a new generation of specialist heavy logistic vehicles designed without compromise for demanding military applications. As a high-mobility load carrier the design had a payload capacity of up to 20,000 kg and capability to follow tracked vehicles over the most difficult terrain. Powered by an 11-litre 400 hp Cummins diesel engine and coupled to a ZF fully automatic transmission that provides constant drive to all four axles. The four GKN drive axles have cross- and inter-axle differential locks and have similar design ratings to spread the load evenly from front to rear. Taper leaf springs are fitted to the front two axles and the rear suspension is a centrally pivoted spring pack providing equal axle loading over uneven ground. Standard tyres were Michelin 24R 21 XL, but are now Michelin 24R 21 XZL.The engine-behind-cab configuration ensures that there is no engine intrusion into the cab, maximising cab space for personnel and their equipment. The cab is low, facilitating rapid entry and exit and ease of camouflage. The M Series has an unprepared wading depth in excess of 1 m
Another sad story from UK defence it would seem.
BR90 in Use
The video below shows the bridging sequence.
BR90 was used in Iraq but a good example is shown below, in Afghanistan.
A 12-man team put in a place a 36-meter long bridge across a strategic stretch of the Nahr-e-Bughra canal near the town of Shaheed in northern Nad-e-Ali. The town and canal were both seized by British and Afghan forces as part of Operation Moshtarak.
Another similar bridge in August 2011 as part of operation Omid Haft.
A recent video from BFBS below shows another GSB, this time a 32m one built at night in just 22 minutes
Rapidly Emplaced Bridging System (REBS)
In response to an urgent operational requirement the Army has also purchased a small number of REBS for use in Afghanistan.
REBS was originally developed for the US Stryker Brigades at MLC30 and is available in an armoured vehicle launch configuration or palletised. The palletised version can be deployed from any DROPS type vehicle and it is this one we have purchased.
The system deploys a 2 part MLC50 trackway bridge without infill sections to a length of 13.8m, able to span a gap of 13m it only weighs 4.8 tonnes. The pallet is self-contained, it has its own power supply and hydraulic system to deploy and recover the bridge using the horizontal rather than up and over like the No 10, 11 and 12 close support bridges.
A short sequence in this clip shows REBS being deployed, at about 9:50 in.
There is another animation of the launch sequence at the General Dynamics website, click here
The UK REBS UOR has been used with the HX77 Man Support Vehicle, Enhanced Palletised Loading System (EPLS)
REBS is a neat system, much like the ERE Logistics S80T, but an obvious limitation is its MLC of 50. This is fine for the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, any ‘medium weight’ force and in Afghanistan where there are only a handful of vehicles heavier than MLC 50 and a load of short gaps, canals and such like.
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