BAE is using Bluetooth sensors and tanks to test how sturdy bridges are

Tanks may seem like immovable objects, flattening everything in their path but they do have a nemesis – water.

BAE is using Bluetooth sensors and tanks to test how sturdy bridges are

When faced with crossing a large stretch of deep water, soldiers lay down portable, deployable military bridges to allow tanks and entire armies to journey into new or uncharted territory. Like traditional bridges, these structures suffer significant stresses but they’re harder to analyse due to their temporary nature.

That’s where Bluetooth comes in.


Engineers at BAE Systems are trialling so-called “fatigue-monitoring” technology made of integrated Bluetooth sensors that continuously detect the stress and strain on military bridges. Some of these bridges have to withstand the weight of more than 60 tonnes, and each of these sensors wirelessly transmit data to a handheld device so soldiers can assess the health of the bridge as the hefty vehicles travel across.

In particular, the technology uses a series of sensors fitted to the bridge components that undergo the most strain and records around a hundred strain readings per second. Computer-analysis then gives a component-by-component breakdown of bridge health.


Without the use of an automated system, the service life of bridges is based on manual records and is difficult to judge, resulting in bridges being retired early or overused. The system is being tested by BAE Systems’ military bridging team in Telford, UK, which operates Europe’s Bridge Test Facility. The Facility simulates thousands of bridge crossings by various wheeled and tracked vehicles.

 BAE Systems first designed and manufactured the British Army’s military bridging system, the BR90, in the 1990s but the concept of tactical bridges was used as far back as 55BC when Julius Caesar built a 100-metre span bridge across the river Rhine in less than two weeks. This bridge was dismantled at the end of his military campaign to avoid the enemy or other armies benefiting from it.

Today, the BR90 consists of 74 bridging systems and can add up to a total of 5.2 miles of bridge trackway.

“The biggest obstacle to monitoring bridge health is achieving a continuous flow of accurate data telling you what the bridge is experiencing,” said John Lees, bridging business manager for BAE Systems Land. “Simply monitoring the number of crossings – as most military users do now – doesn’t give an accurate picture.

“Our new solution monitors and analyses all of these variables to give a real-time, accurate assessment of bridge condition. It will make it easier to use our bridges in civilian situations such as disaster relief, where keeping accurate data on crossings is very difficult.”

BAE Systems’ specialist team is now developing and testing a next-generation Modular Bridging System to be even more agile and reliable.

Images: BAE Systems

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