The Naval Surface Warfare Center’s division in Panama City, Florida, has taken delivery of two new air-cushion ship-to-shore connectors (SSCs) from Textron Systems’ New Orleans shipyard. The two craft—one designated SSC-100 and the other LCAC-101—are the first of the Navy’s replacements for its aging landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) class, which “fly” above water and land on inflated fabric skirts.
The new SSCs have been in development since 2012, when Textron won a $213 million Naval Sea Systems Command (NavSea) contract for detailed design and construction of an initial craft, plus options for eight more. The SSCs will replace the original LCACs, also built by the company in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Navy wants eventually to build a total of 73 SSCs, 72 for operations and 1 for training. NavSea says the SSC is the first major acquisition in more than 15 years designed primarily by Navy engineers.
The original LCACs gave the Navy and Marine Corps a huge performance advance for amphibious operations, which in the mid-1990s acquired the moniker Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS). OMFTS was an outgrowth of the Navy’s 1992-vintage . . . From the Sea strategic vision, which in 1996 became Forward from the Sea. For the Marine Corps, OMFTS defined a higher profile role in the Navy–Marine Corps joint vision, establishing the capability to move Marines and their logistics support from ship to shore faster and from a greater range than was possible with conventional landing craft.
The legacy 105-ton LCACs, powered by four Allied Signal gas-turbine engines, can carry 60 tons of supplies (up to 75 in an overload configuration), including an M1A1 Abrams main battle tank. The craft can reach a maximum speed of 40 knots but have greater range at 35 knots. The goal, the Navy says, was to allow them to land on 70 percent of the world’s beaches, compared with only about 15 percent for conventional hard-bottom landing craft.
LCACs can deploy from the well decks of amphibious assault ships—LHDs, LHAs, LSDs, and LPDs. They can perform resupply, personnel movement, and medical evacuation missions both for tactical and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, as well as mine countermeasures support. Ninety-one were built, with 72 still in service. In 2000, those original LCACs began undergoing a phased service-life extension to add ten years’ use, giving them various electronics upgrades, better corrosion resistance, and other improvements.
Navy and Textron officials say the new SSC represents numerous dramatic advances. The SSC required an operational mission radius of at least 25 nautical miles, but an actual number for the Textron design has not been reported. The new craft are outfitted with fly-by-wire steering control and incorporate composite materials and aluminum to prevent corrosion, a new propulsion drive, an improved skirt to reduce drag, and Rolls Royce M7 gas turbines.
The M7 is a variant of the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor engine. The SSC will be able to haul payloads in the range of 75 tons at 35 knots. The SSC design, the Navy says, shares about 1 percent of the parts of the older LCACs, making the new craft authentically an “evolutionary” advance. L3/Harris provides electronic switchgear. GE Dowty (UK), which built the LCAC propellers, also will build the propellers for the SSC.
The SSC design will permit addition of an enclosed personnel-transport module that will accommodate up to 145 combat-equipped Marines or 54 casualties in a medical evacuation configuration. The tenth SSC will incorporate the capability to launch vehicles into the water offshore; the first nine will then be retrofitted.
The Navy’s LCACs are assigned to Assault Craft Units (ACUs) 4 and 5 and Navy Beachmaster Unit 7. SSC-100 will serve as a test craft. LCAC-101 will join one of the ACUs and is expected to achieve initial operational capability in 2022. Textron is building 12 more SSCs at the New Orleans yard.