The Navy said delays and challenges with Textron’s [TXT] Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC)-100 craft have pushed back full operational capability (FOC) three years and increased cost and risks in the program.

Textron’s SSCs are set to replace the existing aging fleet of hovercraft that are reaching the end of their service lives. The new LCAC-100s are designed to serve for 30 years and land surface forces at over-the-horizon distances from amphibious ships and mobile landing platforms.

Rendering of the Marine Corps Ship to Shore Connector, a replacement for the landing craft air cushion (LCAC) built by Textron. (Image: Textron)

The LCAC-100 has improved engines, fly-by-wire controls, higher payloads, a reduced crew, and simpler maintenance. The Navy expects to procure 72 operational craft and one test and training (T&T) craft.

However, in the Navy’s FY 2020 budget request documents, the service cut procurement of the SSCs over the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) due to contractual and delivery delays. “This resulted in program underexecution, which eliminates the need for the FY 2020 SSC request,” budget documents said (Defense Daily, March 15).

Navy spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke told Defense Daily the reduction is due to “challenges” in testing.

Specifically, electrical systems stability and command, control, communications, computers and navigation (C4N) integration “remain the critical path to acceptance trials,” she added. The Navy expects the T&T vessel to finish the acceptance trials and be delivered to the Navy this year.

These delays are increasing cost and risk in the program while pushing back operational dates. Although the 73 total craft is still the program requirement, “the change in procurement profile proposed in PB ’20 shifts SSC’s Full Operational Capability (FOC) date to FY ’32. That is a shift of three years when compared to PB ’19,” O’Rourke said.

In FY ’19, the Navy originally planned to buy eight SSCs from FY ’20-’23, for 32 vessels. The FY ’20 budget instead cut that to zero craft in FY ’20, four in FY ’21, five in FY ’23, and five in FY ’24. This includes cuts of $315 million in FY ’20 and an additional $248 million over the FYDP.

Navy acquisition chief James Geurts told reporters on March 27 that part of the problem “has been getting reliability up. We’ve had some issues. A system like that tends to have issues with the EMI and EMC, so electronic compatability, and making sure that we’ve got a robust power control system.”

Geurts noted that the SSCs have a lot of power in the engines.

“I would say it’s not any technical issues that we see in terms of the overall design. Most of it’s now just the integration pieces of it, and making sure we’ve got those under control. From a production-producability standpoint, they’re doing a good job there. We’ve just got to get through kind of final builders trials. And then we can move to acceptance trials on those ships,” Geurts said.

O’Rourke noted that allotting zero vessels in FY ’20 increases “risk for growth in acquisition cost, lifecycle cost, and industrial base instability.”

However, she said once the technical issues are “resolved during these early stages of progress” the Navy will be better informed about the vessel’s capabilities and “plans to reassess the long-term acquisition strategy to meet the fleet’s needs.”

The Navy’s FY ’20 budget documents pointed to Textron’s contractual delays in FY 2017, 2018 and 2019 and delivery delays of craft awarded in FY 2015 and 2016.

In December, Textron won a $314 million modification for more work on LCACs 109-123, including long-lead time materials for LCAC-109 – 118, continuing pre-fabrication activities for LCAC-109 – 112, and initial procurement of long-lead time material for LCAC-119 – 123 (Defense Daily, Dec. 14, 2019).

Textron started the first at-sea on-water testing of the SSCs about a year ago. A company official told Defense Daily at the time the company was also looking to also sell the system via Foreign Military Sales to Japan, because it previously bought six legacy LCACs (Defense Daily, April 18, 2018).