US Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition Day 2 (10 April 2018) Mid-Day Report
The US Navy’s Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) is the evolutionary replacement for the existing fleet of Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. The SSC’s numerous operational improvements over the legacy LCAC fleet will include its rated load (74 short tonnes (up to one M1A1 Tank)) compared to the 60t, normal loadout for its older LCAC sibling.
The sea service has a programme of record for 73 SSCs (one Test and Training and 72 operational craft). The craft will carry designations of LCAC 100 and higher. The first craft, LCAC 100, remains on schedule for delivery from Textron Systems to the service customer, “this summer,” according to Scott Allen, Vice President for Marine Systems at Textron Systems. LCAC 100 will be used for testing and training. LCAC 101, designated for testing by the service-industry team, will be delivered three months later. Textron Systems is on contract to furnish the first nine LCACs (100-108) in this programme. The company’s Marine & Land Systems main facility in New Orleans, Louisiana and adjacent offices in Slidell, Louisiana, has a work force of several hundred employees supporting this programme.
The run up to delivering LCACs 100-101 is a critical time for the service-industry team. Mr. Allen emphasised: “For instance, this is about what we’re learning with the interfaces themselves, taking two components that have a very high TRL[technology readiness level]-MRL [manufacturing readiness-level] because you have never joined them together at an interface point. There is still some learning that needs to go on. Sometimes you end with an engineering change that is issued to ensure that interface is as mature as it needs to be for testing. That’s some of the learning that has been rolling back. And let’s not forget SSC is a ‘fly-by-wire’ vessel, so there are always little adjustments that have to be made to software to get everything ‘hitting on all cylinders’. That’s also some of the effort that rolls back to the next craft.”
Preliminary acceptance trials for this tranche of Textron Systems-manufactured LCACs will occur in the waters contiguous to the New Orleans East manufacturing facility, Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. During this phase, service crews are expected to train with the industry team for about six-to-eight weeks, before the LCACs are then transferred to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Florida for further testing and acceptance trials.
A partial list of Textron Systems’ major SSC-subcontractors are L-3 Communications (Camden, New Jersey) and Rolls-Royce Naval Marine (Indianapolis, Indiana).
Nations allied or friendly to the US, including Japan, are enhancing their amphibious warfare forces. These nations’ investments in new ships and other expeditionary capabilities, should present emergent opportunities for the sale of SSCs. Of note, the US Navy and Textron Systems confirmed no discussions or negotiations are underway for non-US sales of SSCs at this early point of the programme life cycle.
Mr. Allen concluded: “Textron Systems is making really good progress on the production line as well as on LCAC 100 (SSC ship 1). From our workforce to the engineers we have (in New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana), it is one team, and it is excited and optimistic about this programme, and what it can do for the men and women in uniform.”