NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.Textron’s [TXT] Maritime and Land Systems’ Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) hovercraft started its first at-sea on-water testing, company officials told Defense Daily during the annual Sea Air Space Expo last week.

The SSC is the next-generation Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), improving over the legacy craft with more powerful engines, a fly-by-wire control system, increased payload, fuel efficiency, reduction in crew from four to three, a new propulsion and drive system, and fewer parts to simplify maintenance.

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

It is built at Textron’s facility in New Orleans, La.

Scott Allen, Textron’s VP for marine systems, said that, for example, the legacy LCAC had eight gearboxes while the SSC has two and the LCAC has four lift fans while the SSC has two. Reducing parts in this way cuts down on complexity and the maintenance needed to maintain the vessels.

Allen said LCAC-101, the first SSC, conducted its first underway test at Textron’s New Orleans facility on April 10.

Allen said the test went well and “we are looking forward to getting a craft in the water going forward for builder’s trials and then going forward to acceptance trials prior to handling off the craft to the Navy this summer.”

Allen said he pushed the team to get the first craft in the water during the expo and “we’re very excited about just the opportunity to get the craft in the water during Sea Air Space.”

He said builder’s trials will occur over the following several weeks and the company will go through specific trial cards to see if there are any deficiencies to correct. This covers performance, system functionality in different environments, and loading the craft to simulate payloads.

The company expects to correct trials cards over a two- to three-week period, and then acceptance trials will start. During acceptance trials the Navy will pilot the SSC itself. Allen said this will be an INSURV-type event.

INSURV is the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, inspects and assesses the conditions of Navy vessels before acceptance.

“Ultimately what we want to be able to do is complete our acceptance trials later this summer and then deliver the craft to the Navy during the summer.”

Upon acceptance, LCAC-100 will leave the New Orleans facility and drive or fly to the Navy’s LCAC test facility in Panama City, Fla. That is the same facility where the legacy LCACs were initially tested.

“We’re really looking forward to bringing up some of those crews up from Panama City to get to drive around the new next gen LCAC or SSC,” Allen added.

Beyond LCAC-100 Textron is currently building nine more craft, LCAC 101-108. LCAC-101 is currently in the shipyard’s last assembly station and is expected to come off the line at the end of April before moving to the test area, with a ramp into the water to begin on-water testing.

Allen said by May and into June Textron expects to have these first two SSCs being tested in the water at the same time.

Textron’s production line is fully loaded right now, running from final work on LCAC-101 through initial hull assembly of LCAC-108.

He also said that “all of the lessons Textron learned on [LCAC-]100 are being rolled back into the production line for subsequent craft.” This incorporation helps cut down on test time for the following SSCs

Allen highlighted Textron has received a request for proposals (RFP) from the Navy for 10 more craft in FY ’17-’18. Funding for the SSC was appropriated in FY ’17 and additional money was provided in FY ’18 for 10 more craft total.

“We’re going to respond to that RFP by the end of this month. So would look to be in negotiations with the Navy as the sole source provided for SSC later this summer.”

That next RFP is set to cover LCAC-109-118.

Combined with the current production order, Textron is planning to build at least 20 SSCs, although the program ultimately envisions 73 new hovercraft will be built.

Allen noted beyond U.S. craft, they are looking at foreign military sales (FMS) with Japan because it bought six legacy LCACs in the past. He said they are “definitely interested in replacing, at some point, their legacy LCACs with the SSC. So we would certainly engage with the Japanese on an opportunity to pick up SSC.”

Relatedly, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) awarded Textron a $7.9 million modification to procure long-lead time material for SSC crafts 109-112.

This cost-reimbursable not-to-exceed undefinitized modification is expected to be finished by August 2019.