Australia’s Birdon handed over the first of 374 Australian designed Bridge Erection Boats to the U.S. Army under a $325 million contract, on April 14, 2018.
The first 34 boats were handed over during a First Unit Equipped Ceremony at the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The boats for the U.S. Army are built in Birdon’s facility in Denver, Colorado.
Birdon is a family-owned engineering and services business headquartered in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. The company recently completed the upgrade of the Australian Army’s own Bridge Erection Boats under a $16 million contract. The upgrade of Australia’s boats sustained over 20 Australian jobs in Port Macquarie.
The vessels are road, air and sea transportable and are used to construct and manage floating ribbon (pontoon) bridges for mobile armoured units. When coupled to a bridge section they can also be used to ferry military vehicles across open water.
A key component of the design is the Twin NAMJet TJ-381HH waterjets which provides significantly more thrust at lower speeds than other water jets on the market today whilst maintaining a top speed of more than 25 knots. Namjet (North American Water Jet) is now owned by Birdon.
BEBs are a vital mobility asset for any army requiring water crossing capability. They are used to manoeuvre floating modules to create bridges or act as ferries across strategic waterways while also providing thrust anchorage against strong currents during bridge construction and operation.
The importance of this type of bridge system was reinforced during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 when the US Army took only five hours to build a 600-metre ribbon bridge across the Tigris River. This was the longest floating bridge constructed in a combat zone since WWII.
Birdon is delivered an initial run of 25 vessels –known as the Low Rate Initial Production phase (LRIP) –for a fixed sum of just over US$9 million. This LRIP phase was used to finalise key design factors and bed down production processes before final delivery targets were set and full production begun.