Production Line is Full for Follow-On Craft
LCAC 100, the initial craft and dedicated test and training hull for the US Navy’s Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) programme, started its on-water test regimen this 10 April. And let’s cast aside possible confusion early on. While “SSC” is the naming convention the service has placed on what is truly the next-generation LCAC, even service leaders are increasingly using the naming convention “LCAC 100”. The next generation label for SSC is justified by the new craft’s payload capacity (74t) compared to 60t in the legacy fleet, as well the addition of a fly-by-wire control system, a new drive and propulsion system and more powerful engines – all while reducing the total number of parts to simplify the logistics chain and maintenance requirements.
Referring to the initial on-water test, Scott Allen, Textron Systems’ Vice President for Marine Systems, told MONCh this 20 April, “It was a good first test, we learned some things. We look to put it back in the water later this weekend or even on Monday.”
The initial LCAC 100 tests are a full-craft check out, with the LCAC coming up on cushion – when it begins to hover – and onboard systems are put through their paces. The sector expert added, when LCAC 100 advances into testing later this month, it enters the acquisition phase termed Builder’s Trials Preparation (BT Prep). “As we get into BT Prep there will be some other systems that we’ll make sure are ready for a full system ‘ring out’.”
Following BT Prep, the craft will advance to the Navy Acceptance Trials phase, most likely this May. Builder trials are observed by service SUPSHIP (Supervisor of Shipbuilding) personnel, who are joined by INSURV (Board of Inspection and Survey) members for the acceptance phase.
Whereas initial LCAC 100 testing has been conducted in bayous contiguous to Textron Systems’ LCAC manufacturing facility in New Orleans East (Louisiana), follow-on tests will take place on Lake Pontchartrain, and later the Gulf of Mexico.
LCAC 101 is in its final craft assembly station and is scheduled to come off the production line to begin testing in late April-early May.
With respect to remaining LCACs (through 108) in the initial tranche on contract with the navy, “The production line is full, with every hull assembly line station and craft assembly station having craft loaded in them,” Mr. Allen observed.
There is cascading activity elsewhere in the programme. Concurrently, Textron Systems is working a US Navy SSC contract modification awarded this April 13, to buy long-lead materiel for LCACs 109 through 112. At the same time, the service has issued a request for proposals for the next 10 craft (LCAC 109-118), to which Textron Systems plans to respond by the end of this month. The long-lead items are to ensure there is no production gap between LCAC tranches 1 and 2.
The Textron Systems-led SSC team includes L3, Rolls Royce and Meritor (formerly Cushman) among others. “We expect that list to basically stay the same for the next 10 craft,” Mr. Allen said.
As the pace of the US Navy SSC programme increases and approaches full rate production Textron Systems anticipates interest from Japan. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force operates six of the legacy LCACs, which are completing a service life extension programme. As LCAC 100 continues underway testing there will be opportunities to showcase the SSCs increased capability.