Navy’s modernized hovercraft a year behind schedule, official says
The Navy’s first Ship-to-Shore Connector — a modernized hovercraft slated to replace the legacy Landing Craft Air Cushion — is a year behind schedule because of production issues and technological bugs, according to an official from Naval Sea Systems Command.
Manufactured by Rhode Island-based Textron Inc., the SSC is larger, faster and more efficient than the LCAC, which has been used since the early 1980s to ferry Marines and their equipment from amphibious ships to shore during combat or disaster-relief efforts.
The first SSC — dubbed Craft 100 and earmarked for research and development — was supposed to be delivered in 2017, NAVSEA spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke recently told Stars and Stripes.
“The first set of craft to be deployed to the Fleet will be SSCs 101-106,” she said in an emailed statement. “That grouping, or detachment, of six craft will be delivered to Assault Craft Unit Four at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, in the August 2020 timeframe.”
Craft 101 has left the production line and entered the testing phase, O’Rourke said, while the other five are at various stages of completion.
Craft 100’s delivery was first delayed after production slipped in 2015 due to a fire at the factory where the propellers are produced.
Additional delays occurred as they worked out bugs in the new technology, she said. The problems included issues with the drivetrain and electronic components in the Command, Control, Communications, Computers & Navigation, or C4N, system.
The drivetrain suffered from a lack of lubrication, and the control-system issues were solved with software updates, O’Rourke said. Textron is working with vendors to update parts in the gearbox to resolve the drivetrain issue.
Despite the delays, Craft 100 logged more than 20 hours of flight time at Textron’s test facility as of July, O’Rourke said. The Navy expects it to be delivered before the year ends.
The Navy has plans to purchase 73 of the crafts at $57.7 million each to replace its LCAC fleet on a one-to-one basis, she said.
The SSC is powered by four gas turbine engines, measures nearly 92 feet long and can travel faster than 35 knots. It has a five-sailor crew and can carry 74-short tons.
The new vessels boast a variety of upgrades that will likely make its predecessor obsolete.
According to a fact sheet on the NAVSEA website, the SSCs hull includes more corrosion-resistant aluminum than the LCAC and more composites in the propeller shroud assembly, which the Navy says will increase craft availability and lower maintenance costs.
The SSC uses only two lift fans versus four for the LCAC and reduces the number of gear boxes from eight to two, reducing its mechanical complexity.
The four-engine LCAC, which debuted in 1982, suffers from a variety of maintenance issues related to saltwater corrosion, and complicated systems. The initial service life of the LCAC was 20 years; however, 68 of the hovercrafts’ lifespans were increased by a decade after receiving improvements to their power, command, control, communications, computer and navigation systems.
The LCAC Service Life Extension Program began in 2001 and will run through 2021, according to a fact sheet on the NAVSEA website.