Warship Technology March 2022
Originally due to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) at the end of Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20), the US Navy’s next-generation landing craft air-cushion (LCAC) is at last nearing operational status. The US Navy now expects to achieve IOC with its next-generation LCAC in FY23, with Assault Craft Unit 4 (ACU 4) first in line to receive the new type.
Being procured as a replacement for the service’s existing LCAC under the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) programme, the new LCAC 100 class is being delivered by Textron Systems, Marine and Land Systems in New Orleans, Louisiana. Four craft had been handed over by the end of 2021, with post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T) activity underway from the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Panama City in Florida.
Following an industry competition, NAVSEA in July 2012 awarded a team led by Textron Systems a contract for the detail design and construction of an initial SSC test and training craft (LCAC 100). While originally planned that the SSC programme would achieve IOC at the end of FY20, construction of LCAC 100 fell behind schedule and builders trials, starting in mid-2019, revealed a number of problems requiring rectification and redesign. These included gearbox engineering issues, propellor blade cracking and a rudder mechanism not strong enough to direct the force of the propellers. Delays to C4N software development also impacted the programme.
Textron modified LCAC 100 to incorporate lessons learned during initial builders trials and embodied a series of design remediations prior to the completion of acceptance trials in December 2019. LCAC 100 was formally handed over to NAVSEA in February 2020.
LCAC 101 – the first operational production unit – completed acceptance trials in early June 2020 and was delivered in August that year. The so-called ‘fly-away’ of LCAC 100 and LCAC 101 from Textron’s production facility followed in September 2020, with both craft transferring to NSWC Panama City for PDT&T activities.
Two more craft have subsequently been delivered by Textron: LCAC 102 was accepted by NAVSEA in June 2021; and LCAC 103 handed over in December 2021. Series production activity at Textron Systems’ New Orleans facility is continuing. As of early 2022, LCAC 104 to LCAC 115 were at varying stages of construction.
The US Navy is planning for four SSC deliveries per year going forward. Initial fleet introduction for SSC will be with ACU 4 based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Virginia. Subsequent deliveries will allow ACU 5 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, and Naval Beach Unit 7 in Sasebo, Japan, to complete the transition from the legacy LCAC.