Textron, builder of U.S. Navy LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion) has been selected to build a new class of LCACs, which are now called SSC (Ship-to-Shore Connector). Initially, 15 SSCs will be built and ultimately there will be 73, at the rate of about twelve a year.
The SSCs are lighter, because of the use of composite materials, have improved shape and overall design as well as more powerful engines. The four engines used by each SSC are similar to those used in the V-22 tilt-wing aircraft and have many common components. Useful life of the SSC is 30 years compared to 20 for the 1980s era LCACs. Max payload has been increased to 74 tons. Often this is vehicles, but SSC can also carry 145 combat troops or 108 casualties on stretchers, plus medical personnel. Top speed is about 65 kilometers an hour. More importantly, the new automated engine management and navigation system can more easily handle rough seas and with less effort from the crew. SSC movement is controlled by a sailor with a joystick and a flat-screen display showing all relevant information.
The first of the 91 original LCACs was built in 1984, with the last one delivered in 2001. These craft entered service in 1987. LCACs can carry 60 tons, at 70 kilometers an hour, over 350 kilometers from the large amphibious ships they are based on. The major advantage of the LCAC is that it can quickly move over marshes and other coastal obstacles. In this way LCACs, even when carrying an M-1 tank, can land troops on 70 percent of the coastline in the world, versus only 17 percent for conventional landing craft.
In 2001 Textron got $35 million to refurbish (extend the service life) of the two oldest LCAC vessels the U.S. Navy was using. The refurbishment included an engine upgrade, new skirt (side panels) and changes to the hull to improve seaworthiness. New communications and navigation systems were installed. This is part of a plan to refurbish all 74 navy LCACs still in service by 2016 at an average cost of $23 million each.
This refurbishment program extended the useful life of the LCACs from 20 to 30 years. The actual work began in 2005 and should be completed by 2023. The refurb replaced engines or extensively upgrades those that don’t need replacement. Same procedure with replacing corroded structural components. Finally, the updated LCACs get new electronics and other support equipment. All that and a paint job and the refurbs look like new and are actually much improved. The upgraded LCACs are easier to maintain and have better and more reliable performance, at least until the SSCs are all built.