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Navy Replaces Amphibious Connectors

by Kris Osborn on August 29, 2014

120106-N-PB383-070The Navy is starting a modernization overhaul designed to replace its existing fleet of connectors in order to better transport personnel, equipment and weapons from ship to shore.

The Navy and Marine Corps are now working to replace and recapitalize the existing fleet of Landing Craft Utility vessels, or LCUs, and Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs.

“When we talk about operational maneuver from the sea with a landing force and ships, we get the landing force ashore with the landing craft or connectors,” Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, Navy director of expeditionary warfare, told Military​.com in an interview.

The Navy and Marine Corps currently operate 32 Landing Craft Utility vessels, which are large over-sea troop and equipment amphibious transporters able to transit as much as 125 tons worth of gear from ship to shore.  The current fleet of LCUs, which have an average age of about 43-years, can travel as far at 1,200 nautical miles over periods up to 10 days, Walsh said.

The Landing Craft Air Cushions are smaller, newer, faster and higher tech than the LCUs. The Navy’s 72 LCACs can transport up to 60-tons, reach speed of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles, Navy officials explained.  The LCACs were first produced in the 80s.

The Navy recently signed a deal with the initial maker of the LCAC, Textron Marine and Land Systems, to engineer up to eight new LCACs, Walsh said.

“We’re trying to recapitalize what we have. The LCACs were fairly revolutionary when we built them. We started building them in 1986. They are impressive hovercraft able to come up on a skirt, go fast, and carry a lot of equipment. They can actually come up onto the beach,” he added.

The new LCACs, slated to be delivered in May of 2017, will include upgraded engines, software and digital controls. The Navy plans to have six new LCACs delivered by 2020, Walsh said.

“We’re looking at recapitalizing the design we have and adding capability like increased payload, better engines and better digital controls,” he said.

The new LCAC is being engineered to carry up to 74-tons of equipment and gear, a sizeable jump from its current capacity to carry 60-tons.

The approximate price of the first LCAC is $60 million, however the Navy plans to drop the cost down to about $45 million each once more LCACs are produced.

With some of the existing fleet of LCACs approaching 30-years of service, the Navy needs to begin replacing them with new ones soon, Walsh added.

“The LCACs are going to start dropping out of service. The LCAC’s over-the-horizon speed makes us different than any other Navy. We’ve got a capability to take us in and maneuver from anywhere along the coastline beyond the horizon. In a contested environment, this allows us to find gaps where the enemy is not,” he explained.

LCACs are also designed for disaster relief because they can deliver personnel and supplies into areas where the existing infrastructure may have been destroyed.

“LCACs can go over rocks and go inland. They don’t just drop off in the water. WWII landing craft would have to drop the forward door so Soldiers and Marines would step off. LCACs can drive right off that ramp and onto terrain,” he said.

The new LCACs are called Ship-to-Shore Connectors, or SSCs. While it waits for the SSC to come to reach operational readiness, the Navy continues to work on a service-life extension for its existing fleet of LCACs.

Designed to add at least ten more years to the service life of LCACs, the extension program upgrades communication, navigation, software and electrical systems.  The Navy is even doing a post-service life extension designed to add five to seven more years to the LCACs on top of the initial ten.

Walsh said the Navy is also looking to replace its fleet of 32 LCUs, which are now at an average age of 43.  The Navy recently finished what’s called an analysis of alternatives on the LCU, a thorough examination of requirements and mission sets the new LCU will be built to take on.

The new LCU, called the Surface Connector XR, or SCXR, program, will be based closely on the existing design, Walsh said.

“We like them and we are not going to change a lot,” he explained.

One key difference is that the SCXR will be configured to transport as much as 170 tons of payload, considerably more than the 125-tons the existing LCU can carry.

The Navy plans an industry competition for the SCXR with the first contract slated for 2018. The SCXR is expected to be operational by 2022, Walsh explained.

Alongside these existing efforts to replace and modernize the LCACs and LCUs, the Navy is also in the very early stages of a program they call “connector next,” an attempt to envision what a next-generation connector will need to look like.

The Marine Corps warfighting lab and the Office of Naval Research are involved in the effort, which includes early discussions of concepts and missions for this future technology.

“What are some of the options following on the SSC and SCRX? We want the speed, maneuverability and beyond the horizon capability of the LCAC. We’re working with industry to drive toward something for the future,” Walsh added.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Big-Dean August 29, 2014 at 5:15 pm

But the F-35 JSF can do that mission too… ;-P

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steve August 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Sounds really cool and just what the Corps needs.

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Lurker August 29, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Good to see the Ship-to-Shore Connector program making progress. It seems like it's been staying on schedule so far without any big headaches.

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Kostas August 29, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Given the new AD/AA capabilities of some competent opponents, I highly doubt the survivability of the current/proposed vessels potentially involved in an amphibious operation. For the less capable opponents you can just air deliver the ground forces.

My point is that the USMC needs to come up with a credible concept of operations, based on a radical new ship-to-shore connector technology. Otherwise, its own existence as a separate branch will be questioned.

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oblatt22 August 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm

The Marines have spend 70 years trying to come up with a "viable concept of operations" which didn't require blasting die hard japs out of holes on pacific atolls, and they never managed it.

Time to call game over.

Marine units should be merged into the Army , Navy, Air force, State department, Social Services and where they can, and the rest let go. In one fell swoop it would improve Americas budget, security and military procurement practices.

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Slim August 30, 2014 at 8:27 am

Visit the beach @ any USMC landing site, the Leatherneck Ghosts cry out for R/D landing craft.
Ur tax $$ are far better spent here, than Regs on personal life.

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blight_asdf August 30, 2014 at 10:23 am

Waiting for them to develop armed hovercraft for the amphibious assault and for littoral combat missions. They might even make great transporters to put Marines on the beach, and would dissuade the Marines from fanciful ideas such as moving people around in enemy territory in AAV's that are light enough to float and thus light enough to shoot full of bullets.

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steve August 30, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Yeah, making an AFV also a fast boat was a dumb idea that didn't work. Make a fast connector to bring a proper AFV ashore.

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Tiger August 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Not dumb, You still need amphibious mobility. Not just at the beach.

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steve August 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

The vehicle they were testing that they tried to make as fast as a hydrofoil AND an IFV was not a good idea. Pick either feature. Yes, amphibs come in handy, but, don't try too do too much at one time.

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blight_adfslwtd September 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

Amphibious mobility is probably not critical to the Marines if they elected to use a heavyweight MBT that is definitely not amphibious, elected to bloat the LAV-25 until it was no longer amphibious and have Humvees that are not amphibious.

It is /useful/, but not excessively critical. We only need enough amphibs for the fleet Marines, but charging into nation-state combat with AAV's is unwise, as is trying COIN using these vehicles in situations where the advantages of lightweight and amphib mobility is offset by their fragility. The same is true of the M113, despite all of Spark's love for that other lightweight vehicle.

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Tiger August 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm

You can't expect every river to have a bridge. Nor is building one practical. You need a a mover that floats.

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oblatt22 August 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Used to be the marines talked about hitting enemy held beaches, now they talk about making unopposed river crossings. Soon it will be about how not the get wet in the rain.

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Riceball September 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Weight has nothing to do with the ability to float, just look at a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, going by your logic there's no way that it should be able to float given how much it weighs. The key to floating heavy objects is being able displace enough water to overcome its weight, you could make a floating MBT if you sealed it up so it was watertight and designed the shape so that it wouldn't capsize. The big downside of having a heavy, floating object is being able to make it move at a decent speed especially when you need the internal space to carry troops, that will limit the size and shape of the propulsion system.

I've always wondered if it would be possible to build some sort of sled or detachable motor, like a giant outboard, for a next gen AMTRAC, something that would allow the AMTRAC to get the speed it needs on the water but can be ditched once it gets within a certain distance from shore. This seemed like it would be much better than some complicated system of pulling in the treads so the vehicle can act like a hydrofoil.

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John August 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

What decade did the USMC make their last amphibious landing?

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scot7 August 31, 2014 at 11:45 am

Oh, I don't know – how about every one since the Revolutionary War

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blight_adlkiew September 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

My revised history books say the United States marines stormed Sicily, Italy, northern and southern france, and made the Rhine river crossing.

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Brian B. Mulholland September 2, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Inchon was the last assault on a defended beach, I think. I believe there was a landing, albeit not genuinely contested, during the operation on Grenada, in President Reagan's tenure.

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TartanSixNine September 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Also a good portion of the strategy for the Operation Desert Storm was based around faking an amphibious landing by the Marines in Kuwait. This worked only because the USMC had the capability to go along with its reputation for being able to conduct such a mission successfully.

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tiger September 7, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Try Wonsan, a few weeks later in Oct, 1950.

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Joe Biden August 31, 2014 at 4:05 am

A tracked, landing craft submarine is the way to go!

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Kostas August 31, 2014 at 9:06 pm

How vulnerable this craft would be to mines burried in the shallow waters? These mines are virtually undetectable, very cheap and very low tech. The only way to neutralize them is by explosives, but still, the enemy might come up with armored ones that withstand blast.

Nevertheless the tracked submarine makes more sense that any other proposed ship shore connectors that takes for granted that the enemy would be totally incompetent.

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Brian B. Mulholland September 2, 2014 at 8:11 pm

An LCAC successor is probably going to use a rubber skirt, exactly as the current version, and I can't see a plausibly better way to cross a mined beach, Kostas. What else offers a low pressure footprint and surface contact made by something nonmagnetic? Certainly a mine could be made to destroy an LCAC, as with anything else, but being able to avoid a defended beach in favor of one that isn't is surely better than any other option.

I don't think the Marines will ever again storm a defended beach. The American public will not accept the casualties inherent in that; the public knowledge of casualties is too instantaneous to permit the kind of obfuscation practiced in WW II.

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Pharsalus September 3, 2014 at 6:07 am

Brian,

I agree, both to the technical aspects as the cultural one. The American public will indeed not allow massive casualties like in WW2… not unless someone lobs a nuke at Washington.

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Riceball September 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I wouldn't guarantee that the Corps will never storm a defended beach ever again, certainly they would prefer not to but the enemy can't always be counted on to cooperate. I can certainly see a scenario where hitting a defended beach is the best and only option if it's the only suitable beach for a landing and/or the nearest beach to their ultimate objective. Let's take CA for example, say you wanted to hit LA but all of the beaches nearest LA are all heavily defended, but the beaches around San Francisco are relatively lightly defended or not defended at all but the area between SF and LA is heavily guarded by enemy troops. This gives you a choice, do you risk the amphibious landing for a more direct route to your objective, even if it is (heavily) defended, or do you go for the easier landing only to have slug it out with enemy forces for hundreds of miles?

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Doc August 29, 2014 at 9:39 pm

That is an astute institutional/social analysis applicable to many organizations, especially governments!

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William_C1 August 29, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Amphibious assault isn't a mission? Does whatever planet you live on lack water or something?

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Tiger August 30, 2014 at 1:49 pm

If you want to whine about missions? The USAF & nuclear delivery is target one. The triad is not needed. The Minuteman force & B-2's can go away.

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freddy g. September 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

some people can't understand that the army is a slow top heavy organization the can only to two things well, spend money and criticize everyone else. the money spent on uniform changes alone over the past 10+ years could support a small country.
For the money, the USMC is the best organization we have on our front lines.

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oblatt22 August 30, 2014 at 6:51 am

People have to understand where the contractor shills are coming from…

mission = profit
100s of marine AFVs burning on the beach = recurring profit.

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William_C1 August 30, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Because you clearly can't read the article the purpose of designs like the LCAC is to land and establish a beachhead where the enemy isn't, so slowly swimming amtracks don't become ATGM targets.

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