A lot of innovative military equipment was designed in the last decade of the Cold War but never went into production and were generally forgotten. Happens at the end of every major war. But the ideas don’t go away and many of these Cold War projects were completed in the 1990s, or later if Russian, and have since proved very useful on those rare occasions where they are put to work. One such item is now getting a workout in East Europe as more NATO units go there for military exercises. This is the M3 Engineering Vehicle. Designed by a German firm in the 1980s it was ready for service by 1999 and so far five countries (Germany, Britain, Taiwan, Singapore and Brazil) have bought it.
What’s unique about the M3 is that it can be used to quickly form a bridge but also used singly or two or three linked together as a ferry. Each of the 4x4 M3 vehicles weighs 26 tons and looks like a large truck. The M3 has pontoons folded up when moving and deployed when used as a ferry or part of a bridge. When the pontoons are deployed each M3 is 6.5 meters (21 feet) wide and 11.6 meters (37 feet long).
Recently Germany and Britain used their M3s (30 of them) to form a 350 meter bridge over the Vistula River. This took 45 minutes and when the bridge was ready it could carry anything from hummers to 60 ton tanks. The M3 was first used in combat (by the British) during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The river country of Iraq, like most of East Europe, has a lot of rivers and streams interfering with vehicle movement (especially if the regular bridges have been destroyed) and the M3 was designed to deal with that. The M3 can do up to 80 kilometers an hour on roads and travels 750 kilometers on internal fuel.