The NAVSEA Panel consisted of Captain Scott Searles, USN Program Manager, PMS 317 Amphibious Assault & Connectors, U.S. Department of the Navy; Captain Cedric McNeal, USN Program Manager, PMS 377 Amphibious Ships, U.S. Department of the Navy; Clif Mitchell, Deputy Program Manager, PMS 300 USN/FMS Boats and Craft, U.S. Department of the Navy, and Jon Thomas, Deputy Program Manager, PMS 385 Strategic and Theater Sealift, U.S. Department of the Navy.
Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) Hovercraft
Captain Scott Searles, USN, Program Manager, PMS 317 Amphibious Assault & Connectors, U.S. Department of the Navy said that the Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) hovercrafts will be a one-for-one replacement to the legacy Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCACs) with 24 SSCs on contract in which 12 are under construction. The SSCs have design and engineering improvements over the LCACs.
Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1700
“LCU 1700 will recapitalize the capabilities and flexibility currently provided by the LCU 1610-class displacement craft in a fuel-efficient, cost effective, updated design. These craft will operate independently for up to 10 days with a range of 1,200 nautical miles for continuous landing of troops, equipment and supplies; missions requiring persistence; and missions to reinforce, reposition and resupply forces over a wide operating area. They are highly effective in theater security cooperation and building partnership activities.”
—NAVSEA website on LCU 1700
“LCU 1700, we got 12 crafts on contract with Swiftships. It’s also a one-for-one replacement for the legacy craft, LCU 1610, and it does include a payload increase from 140 short tons to 170 short tons (187 U.S. tons),” Captain Scott Searles said. Four are currently under construction with the first craft 30% complete, but COVID-19 is impacting the supply chain and construction.
The NAVSEA website provided the general characteristics of the LCU 1700 class:
- “Diesel propulsion with Kort nozzles, twin shafts 2×500 hp sustained;
- Approximately 139 ft. long, beam is approximately 31 ft. wide,
- Displaces approximately 428 long tons at full load,
- Speed is 11 knots (12.7 mph/20.3 kph),
- The range is 1,200 nautical miles at 8 knots,
- Accommodations for mixed gender crew of 14,
- Military lift load: M1A1 tanks (2), or 350 combat troops, or 400 persons, or 170 short tons (187 U.S. tons) of cargo,
- Armament mounts for four crew operated weapons,
- Includes a commercial navigation radar, military communications suite and Amphibious Assault Direction System.”
Light Amphibious Warship (LAW)
Autonomy allows for “set and forget” and decision aids for manned ships, said the NAVSEA Panel to an audience question on how autonomy can aid the LAW. “It goes beyond just those unmanned and uncrewed ships. …If something requires less maintenance and stays available for longer periods of time, it is absolutely valuable to all the manned ships as well.” Captain Searles said that the crew of the LAW is desired to be 59 or less [autonomy may play a role], in which one can read more about here.
Mr. Tom Rivers, Executive Director, Amphibious, Auxiliary, and Sealift Ships, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships, said that the “LAW and L-class [amphibs] have different missions.” Each [Expeditionary] mission is special and their missions can overlap but not all the time. Furthermore, the loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) to arson fire has not changed (shipbuilding) plans, noted Mr. Rivers.
Mr. Rivers said that many different submitted designs met the U.S. Navy’s Requirements for the LAW such as these and this, but the final design has not yet been determined as explained at SNA 2022. “How do we get the resources aligned to build the fastest ships possible?” asked Mr. Rivers, alluding to a peer nation conflict, “[Shipbuilding] Schedule is a key item.”
Captain Searles said that when it comes to Requirements to the LAW, any industry design changes have to fit into the general LAW concept and thus for any design additions, how much change is required and how much cost will that entail to carry a platoon of 75 LAW Marines? If LAWs were to carry 150 Marines, what design changes would that require, Captain Searles offered as a hypothetical suggestion.
A commercial parent design provides a baseline of survivability, Captain Searles replied to an audience’s question regarding LAW’s design survivability, and then indicated that NAVSEA PEO Ships is looking across a spectrum of LAW survivability aspects regarding the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and the operating environment.
“I’ll tell you right now today that it’s not nailed down and that it’s not specific that this is the level of survivability required [by the LAW].”
— Captain Scott Searles, USN, Program Manager, PMS 317 Amphibious Assault & Connectors
The U.S. Navy’s preliminary ideas for LAW is that it will not to have a manned engine room [again autonomy can help here—Author], and that the LAW’s Aviation requirement is for vertical lift only (such as rotorcraft and no potential F-35B STOVL).
Naval News asked the PEO Ships’ NAVSEA Panel if the LAW concept will ever support upgraded U.S. Army M1A2 System Enhancement Package (SEP) Main Battle Tanks (MBT) if the U.S. Army decides to embark on the LAW since the U.S. Marines divested of their M1A1 Main Battle Tanks. Captain Searles replied that it is possible that U.S. Army M1A2SEP MBTs may, in theory, ride on the LAWs [and thus cover and support the U.S. Marines’ backs in Joint Operations].
“We’re definitely trying to keep the aperture open as wide as possible. Believe it or not, the limiting factor for design is not the M1A1 [Abrams Main Battle Tank] in many cases [as] there are other Marine Corps vehicles with higher wheel-attached loads so we’re designing deck strength for those higher wheel-attached loads anyway. So it kind of boils down to space and weight you need to be able to carry. And I think right now with the space and weight that we’re looking at for LAW, it will be able to accommodate tanks if needs to. But obviously a tank takes up more space than a Humvee, so you won’t be able to carry as many so it becomes a cubic square and weight issue. So now our design limitations are geared more towards some of those other Marine Corps’ vehicles.”
— Captain Scott Searles, USN, Program Manager, PMS 317 Amphibious Assault & Connectors
Mark VI and Patrol Coastal Replacements
Clif Mitchell, Deputy Program Manager, PMS 300 USN/FMS Boats and Craft, U.S. Department of the Navy, replied to a question from Naval News about the fate of the Mark VI patrol boats and the aging Patrol Coastal (PC) boats. Mr. Mitchell said that the U.S. Navy is still working with Foreign Military Sales on the Mark VI (no final decision was mentioned) and said that the Patrol Coastals have assurance plans for procurement to replace them with Force Protection service patrol boats. Mr. Mitchell was unclear as to what the “Assurance plans for the Force Protection service boats” will be and he did not elaborate or provide any replacement examples.
Naval News inquired to NAVSEA for additional information and comment on Mr. Mitchell’s statement and NAVSEA replied saying to contact the U.S. Navy’s Chief Information Office (CHINFO). Naval News is awaiting comment from CHINFO so stay tuned for any more information.
Naval News and Author’s Comments
“I think that once we really put our heads to it and think about the options of manned capabilities and unmanned capabilities now…and you start to think, `well deck.’ You know when the well deck is closed up, you can’t really see what’s inside it. So the value here really is if you’re an adversary, wow, you can see an amphib ship there, you don’t know what’s inside it. It could be collection systems; it could be lethal systems; it could be surface-to-surface connectors that can project the force ashore, and you have no idea looking from the outside in.”
— General David Berger, Commandant, USMC, regarding the well deck on amphibious ships at EWC 2022.
For speculative discussion purposes, since the LAW has a covered and enclosed interior vehicle deck space, General Berger’s statement also rings true about the “well deck” even though the LAW’s interior deck, in theory, is not floodable. But the LAW will indeed hide its contents inside the enclosed vehicle deck just like a well deck with a closed door.
If the LAW’s interior deck and Flight Deck are strong enough to be able to accommodate M1A2SEP MBTs or 105mm MPFs, the LAW will have direct fire support unmatched by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Four M1A2SEP tanks can carry 168 120mm rounds, 3,600 .50cal rounds, and 45,600 7.62mm rounds, and if all four tanks can find a way to get to or just sit on the Flight Deck, that is a lot of firepower to deal with any militia fleet or “militarized ferries” and will give the U.S. Navy and Marines “the proper tool for this job” since an multi-billion dollar aircraft carrier or a destroyer is not the proper tool to deal with those lower non-battleforce boat threats. The Marines cannot carry enough Loitering Munitions to attack 168 targets at once with just four vehicles. If the U.S. Army is willing to go to sea to support the U.S. Marine Corps with heavy armor, the true nature of combined-arms operations and Joint Forces can form Long-range Precision Fires (LRPF) armor, shields, swords, spears, and daggers around the lighter, more mobile, and more agile Marine Force Design 2030 as envisioned by General Berger, in addition to providing a heavier form of Stand-in Forces, U.S. Army style, for the INDO-PACOM region or anywhere in the world. As the “LAW transport parent,” the U.S. Navy, and/or the theater Combat Commander, and/or the Joint Chiefs will have to play a crucial deciding role in the future in order to prevent any turf wars between the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army on whose vehicles get to ride inside and on the LAWs if the U.S. Army decides to come aboard Navy LAWs.
This Author suggests that the U.S. Marines train with the U.S. Army tank units for combined operations, of which many former U.S. Marine M1A1 tankers transferred to the U.S. Army to keep their job as tankers. Another suggestion would be to install the “tank infantry phone” on the back of the Army M1A2SEPs so that Marines can follow and talk to the crews inside the Army tanks. Former USMC M1A1 MBTs had this “tank infantry phone (TIP).”
In order to ferry M1A2 MBTs to shore, the new SSC hovercrafts can transport 74 short tons, or 81.5 US tons, well able to accommodate a single M1A2SEP with all the trimmings of Anti-IED jammers, Trophy Active-Protection Systems, smoke grenade launchers, ammunition, and crew gear. More compact and lighter 105mm Mobile Protected Firepower light tanks can also be transported in greater numbers on an SSC. (The new LCU 1700 will be able to accommodate and transport two U.S. Army M1A2SEPs).
Another option for ferrying U.S. Army mechanized armor as Quick Reaction Force backup to the Marine Corps would be to acquire the Textron Surface Effect Cargo Amphibious Transport (SECAT), a survivable, low-profile, high-speed connector. SECAT can carry a whopping 500 tons of cargo at 50 knots for 500 nautical miles in high sea states. Other new industry connector designs to Expeditionary Warfare might also benefit the shuttling of vehicles and troops between large L-class amphibious ships, LAWs, Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSVs), Expeditionary Fast Transports (EPFs), Expeditionary Sea Bases (ESBs), and shore connectors.