US Navy photo
by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The Navy’s first newly built Ship-to-Shore Connector maritime warfare craft has launched on the water, introducing a new era in modern amphibious warfare for the Marines.
The new Navy craft brings an unprecedented ability to transport larger armored vehicles, such as an Abrams tank, from amphibious assault ships to combat ashore.
The new SSCs are designed to replace the existing fleet of Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) able to move Marines, weapons and supplies from ship to shore for amphibious operations. The connectors will integrate emerging computer technology able to reduce the needed crew size and perform more functions independently.
“Navy and Marine Corps team requires Ship to Shore Connectors (SSC) that are survivable and reliable, with the ability to better protect themselves and the large equipment such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, and missile launchers they transport ashore,” Lt. Lauren Chatmas, Navy spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
The upgraded amphibious ship-to-shore craft includes lighter weight composite materials, Increased payload capacity, modernized engines and computer automated flight controls, Textron Systems Vice President of Marine Systems Scott Allen told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The SSC’s new Rolls Royce engines will have more horsepower and specialized aluminum to help prevent corrosion. The lighter weight be enable a better lift capacity, allowing the craft to transport up to 74-tons – enough to transport heavy armored vehicles from ship to shore for an amphibious assault, Allen said.
The Navy’s 72 existing LCACs, in service since the 80s, can only transport up to 60-tons, reach speeds of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles from amphibious vehicles, Navy officials explained.
Textron engineers also say the SSC is built with digital flight controls and computer automation to replace the traditional yoke and pedals used by current connectors. As a result, on-board computers will quickly calculate relevant details such as wind speed and navigational information, they explained.
The new SSC's have also moved to a lower frequency for ship electronics, moving from 400 Hertz down to 60 Hertz in order to better synchronize ship systems with Navy common standards, Textron developers explained. Along with these properties, the new craft reduces the number of gear boxes from eight to two.
With some of the existing fleet of LCACs approaching 30-years of service, the Navy needs to begin replacing them with new ones, service officials have told Warrior Maven.
The new Rolls Royce engine is the same one currently used in an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, Textron developers said. The new SSCs also increases the strength of the deck and improve the propellers when compared with existing LCACs.
“The next generation Landing Craft Air Cushioned and Landing Craft Utility platforms will greatly enhance the Navy's amphibious and expeditionary capabilities,” Chatmas said.
LCACs can access over 70-percent of the shoreline across the world, something the new SSCs will be able to do as well, service officials said.
Designed with over-the-horizon high-speed and maneuverability, LCACs are able to travel long distances and land on rocky terrain – even driving right up onto the shore.
In order to bridge the gap from existing LCACs to the new SSCs, the Navy implemented a special service life extension program for the LCACs – many of which are now approaching three decades of service.
The LCACs were re-engined with new engines, given new rotating machinery, new command and control systems, new skirts and fixes to corrosion issues. The effort is designed to put another 10 years of life back into the LCAC, Navy officials described.
The idea with the service life extension is to bridge the time-lapse or gap until the new SSCs are ready to enter the force in larger numbers, senior Navy officials explained.
Some of the enhancements being engineered into the SSCs are designed to address the changing threat landscape in a modern environment, a scenario that is expected to change how amphibious operations will be conducted in the future.
Since potential adversaries now have longer-range weapons, better sensors and targeting technologies and computers with faster processing speeds, amphibious forces approaching the shore may need to disperse in order to make it harder for enemy forces to target them. This phenomenon, wherein potential adversaries have advanced weaponry designed to make it harder for U.S. forces to operate in certain areas such as closer to the shore, is described by Pentagon analysts as “anti-access/area-denial.”
“Amphibious warships offer us agility and resilience in an unpredictable and dangerous security environment,” Chatmas said.