Tag Archives: LCAC

Roles for Up-gunned LCACs in Adaptive Force Packages

Distributed Lethality Topic Week

By Megan McCulloch

Today’s global security situation is increasingly complex with challenges in multiple areas of operation. Many of today’s challenges take place in the littorals yet much of the surface Navy remains uncomfortable operating within this environment. Over the last three decades, the Navy focused primarily on power projection from uncontested deep water. Our focus on power projection, specifically from aircraft carriers (CVN), has highlighted the CVN as our center of gravity – both militarily and politically. These CVNs are not suited for contested littoral operations. Unfortunately, the increasing proliferation of land based anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) makes operating within sight of land progressively risky for any grey-hulled ship. Instead, high speed, easily maneuverable vessels with relatively shallow drafts should conduct shallow water and littoral operations in contested environments.

In the event of a conflict within the littorals, operating a group of distributed small crafts may be a better option than sending an Aegis ship or CVN into the fray. One option for adaptive force packages (AFP) might be to employ “up-gunned” LCACs, possibly pairing them with a San Antonio-class LPD or a pair of Platform Supply Vessels (PSV), and an LCS. The below scenario shows how this unconventional adaptive force package can provide greater flexibility in the event of a slide from Phase 1 to Phase 2 operations as well as enabling sea control over sea lines of communication.


Increasingly hostile political rhetoric in the region has led leaders to question the availability of a major SLOC to U.S. forces or international shipping. Balancing fears of escalation with the impact of the SLOC closing, U.S. forces reinforce a partner nation’s Navy to prevent the forced closure of the SLOC. Due to a multi-axis threat environment in the littorals, leadership has decided to send an AFP composed of two PSVs, each carrying 2-3 LCACs, an LCS, and a DDG to patrol an adjacent area in the event of kinetic engagement. The AFP is initially deployed in a de-escalatory posture meant to reassure partners without further provoking tension. A single DDG is to remain in the area, but not enter the SLOC or its immediate vicinity unless tensions increase. To allow for strong back-up against the opening salvo of a kinetic environment against higher end surface threats, the DDG is loaded with several new SM-6 missiles1 and is equipped to conduct a remote launch based on information from any of the other ships – including the LCACs. Each LCAC is armed with a machine gun, a re-fitted 2.75-inch advanced precision kill weapons system2, and a small drone for laser guided targeting. The PSV has a RAM launcher with four ESSM for limited self-defense capability and can make speeds of 15-17 knots (and possibly up to 28 knots with upgrades) when fully loaded. Once in the patrol area, the PSV launches the LCACs in a rotational cycle and serves as a small tender carrying spare parts, a 3-D printer, a spare drone, and berthing for the off-cycle LCAC crews.

PHASE 0 Deter
PHASE 1 Shape
PHASE 2 Seize the Initiative
PHASE 3 Dominate the Enemy
PHASE 4 Stabilize
PHASE 5 Enable Civil Authority

Naval Doctrine Publication 1 – Phases of an Operation or Campaign

In either case, while the DDG and LCS provide an overt presence, the PSV could remain in a covert posture providing backup should the situation escalate. Securing its military-grade radars and operating solely with commercial navigation, a PSV could be camouflaged to remain largely indistinguishable from surrounding shipping. Launching a single LCAC at night, the LCAC could then operate beyond the horizon and serve as a picket, a communications relay, conduct sanctions or legal enforcement  via a qualified board and inspection team, or a simple force multiplier beyond the horizon. The LCAC is a perfect vessel to conduct such duties as it has the ability to operate beyond the horizon, has a reduced radar cross-section for limited early warning, can be configured in multiple ways prior to launch from the PSV, and is capable of maneuvering at high speeds to outpace most other small surface craft.

As tensions in the area increase and overt, continuous exploitation of the EM spectrum intensifies, the force must operate with limited communications. One way of allowing intermittent communications without conceding the tactical advantage of the force’s exact location is using point-to-point communications. Although point-to-point communications require line of sight, the speed and maneuverability of the LCAC and LCS allows for set patrol boxes where ships come into communications range at pre-determined intervals to pass quick bursts of information, updates, and any changes to mission tasking. The largest drawback to communications in this manner is the fueling requirements to maintain a high OPTEMPO of patrols and communications. Here, the PSVs could also double as  refueling platforms. Serving as a tanker may limit their ability to ballast and deballast, but also offers greater flexibility to the AFP and provide greater staying power.3 In the event of increased on station time or greater OPTEMPO a single PSV could also rendezvous with an oiler outside the contested area and then transit back to the AFP.

ULF OF ADEN (Oct. 1, 2012) A landing craft air cushion prepares to enter the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21). New York is part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group with the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. The U.S. Navy is reliable, flexible, and ready to respond worldwide on, above, and below the sea. Join the conversation on social media using #warfighting. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zane Ecklund/Released)
GULF OF ADEN (Oct. 1, 2012) A landing craft air cushion prepares to enter the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zane Ecklund/Released)

Increasing tensions would lead to a message sent to the DDG of increased hostilities, changes in the rules of engagement, and a list of reactions to any hostilities. Once the information had been relayed to the proper PSV, a small, prepositioned landing force would then conduct an amphibious landing in order to secure and hold the land surrounding the SLOC. The landing of  forces would be the responsibility of several LCACs while one LCAC and the LCS serve to protect the landing force from any seaborne threats. Once secure, the landing force would be able to set up equipment for localized counter A2/AD. The landing force could also serve as a relay station for information between the smaller ships and senior officers beyond the horizon via point-to-point communications relays. Finally, as  landing forces secure the SLOC from being closed via  land, the LCACs would then transition to serve as escorts for shipping through the SLOC, conduct boarding operations of suspicious vessels as directed, and serve as resupply vessels for the shore based landing forces. The LCS would then continue to serve as an escort or conduct mine hunting as appropriate.

Should missiles be launched from either hostile ships or shores, the AFP would be capable of limited self-defense as well as second-strike retaliation. Specifically, the LCAC provides a very complex target with low radar cross-section as well as an innate defense against IR or millimeter wave seekers which have reduced capability getting a lock on  target due to the spray generated by an LCAC at maximum lift.4 With a drone providing laser guidance, the LCAC would be able to fire at other ships while remaining outside small arms range and possibly provide targets for over-the-horizon launches from the Aegis vessel and quickly relocating before counter-targeting can be successfully achieved.

Flexible Multi-Role Platform

While the scenario above focused on the slide from Phase 1 to Phase 2 operations, the listed platforms could also have a significant impact during Phase 0 or Phase 1. In peacetime operations such as security cooperation engagements with regional partners who have smaller navies, a more versatile LCAC provides a greater range of engagement options. A nimbler LCAC could also be used to conduct Foreign Humanitarian Assistance in brown water areas to increase delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid and improve knowledge and operating experience for the LCAC crews and operational planning for CTF Ops and Plans.

The construct of vessels for the above scenario injected one new ship and an existing craft with increased capabilities. The LCAC with a .50 caliber machine gun, some other close in weapon, as well as surface-to-surface missiles is much more capable than the current platforms. These craft would be able to operate more independently and would provide a significant force multiplier. A similar comparison might be the difference between the SH-60B and SH-60R. The 60R with its advanced radars and increased capabilities operates with a much greater range and tactical impact than the 60Bs. Giving greater independence to the LCAC would also increase the ability to operate inshore.


We cannot neglect the littorals as the world grows increasingly complex with challenges in multiple regions. Such waters surround many of our allies, friends, and partner nations. In order to meet our commitments as well as to maintain dominance at sea we must strengthen our ability to operate in the littoral domain. While our skills in power projection and deep-water tactics remain strong, we must re-evaluate our risk calculus as situations vacillate between the various phases of war and employ existing assets creatively. Expanding the uses and armament of LCACs (“If it floats, it fights”) is a simple place to start.

LT Megan McCulloch is a surface warfare officer currently studying at the Surface Warfare Officer School. Megan is thankful for CAPT John Devlin’s (ret) input and expertise in developing this article. John C. Devlin, CAPT (ret), USN, is Director of Navy Programs at ISPA Technology, Inc. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and are presented in a personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.

1. In reference to ongoing efforts to provide SM-6 with anti-surface capability. 

2. “Advanced Precision Kill Weapon (APKWS) System – Laser-Guided Rocket | BAE Systems | United States.” (This missile is simply an example, of the type of rocket or close-in surface-to-surface missile that might be added to the existing frame.)

3. The impact to the ballast/deballasting capabilities of a PSV might also be negligible. The PSV currently has a slip mud tank which can hold 400,000 gals. If reconfigured to hold fuel for the LCACs then 100,000 gals of additional fuel equals about 20 refuels of the current LCAC for 600 nm legs in a light load condition.

4. This statement is currently theoretical, due to lack of testing. The theory is sound and should hold, however is not a definitive and should not be taken as fact yet. For more information, please contact John Devlin, CAPT, USN (ret) at jdevlin@ispatechnology.com.

Featured Image: WHITE BEACH, Japan (Sept. 25, 2013) A landing craft air cushion (LCAC) assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7 approaches the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during the offload of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU). Bonhomme Richard is the flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 31st MEU, is conducting routine joint-force operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond/Released)

Aligning HA/DR Mission Parameters with US Navy Maritime Strategy

Naval HA/DR Topic Week

By CAPT John C. Devlin (ret.) and CDR John J. Devlin 

The US Navy has a long history of providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) to our partner nations. These operations are a vital part of US Navy maritime strategy by ensuring regional stability through building partner nation capacity and expanding our sphere of influence. When successful, HA/DR missions prevent atrocities and armed conflict. Admiral Mullen in his 2011 National Military Strategy said, “preventing wars is as important as winning them, and far less costly.”1 The Departments of Defense and State need complementary strategies to export America’s greatness and win the peace rather than win the war.  With the rampant expansion of barbaric totalitarian ideologies, collaboration is in America’s best interest. CNO Admiral John Richardson expressed this more succinctly at the recent Future of War Conference: “I want to be the best at not fighting Russia and China.”2

For this reason, the operational structure, manpower utilization, and assessments of impact for HA/DR missions will need to be studied and refined. Numerous articles have been written on CIMSEC and elsewhere concerning the paucity of US Navy ships and the extraordinary costs to build and maintain them. We have read about the rebalance to Asia where the Chinese are expanding along the nine-dash line and the pivot back to the Middle East where Russia, unopposed, began conducting an air campaign in Syria, followed by the Iran’s reneging on the nuclear deal before the ink was dry. America needs to grow allies rather than trying to project military might in a global full court press.

In the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility, both Russia and China strive to establish footholds of influence. Since 2005, China has invested $100 billion dollars in foreign aid to the region, while Russia has courted leadership in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.3 To counter these activities, USSOUTHCOM engages in continuous partner nation capacity building bilateral and multilateral exercises. These exercises are augmented by humanitarian and civic assistance programs. In the USSOUTHCOM AOR, the biennial Operation Continuing Promise, delivered by the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) platform, represents the major medical-civil engagement activity.

What is the ideal platform from which to deliver the HA/DR mission package?

USNS Comfort and her sister ship Mercy (T-AH 19) are large ships with an enormous operating cost.  Both are converted San Clemente class oil tankers whose keels were laid over 40 years ago. Maintenance of the vessels is costly, their suitability debatable, and their funding is continually in jeopardy.4 Additionally, the vessels’ drafts are 33 feet, forcing them to anchor well offshore in most locations, transporting personnel by two unstable organic tenders and transporting equipment by helicopter. The Continuing Promise 2015 Directorate of Medical Services Lessons Learned identifies transportation delays as a significant negative impact on mission package delivery.5 Many feel that Comfort’s value, impact-to-operating cost ratio, is rapidly declining and this is reflected in the Navy’s 2016 budget reduction of 150 full operating status per diem days for USNS Comfort.6

Perhaps linking this mission with scheduled deployments would be more cost effective and yield greater regional impact. Global fleet stations (GFS) have been proposed by Captain Wayne Porter.  “Global fleet stations were to operate in cooperation with host nations, and would provide basing facilities for U.S. federal agencies and nongovernment organizations… as a way to shape regional security by using capabilities that would normally have been considered support functions.”1 A pilot GFS was initiated in April of 2007 using the high speed HSV 2 Swift tasked from USSOUTHCOM. The next year Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division published a paper titled:  Global Fleet Station: GFS Station Ship Concept. These global fleet stations are akin to the new Afloat Sea Basing ships. They support LCACs and other amphibious craft and aircraft. Expanding their role to scheduled humanitarian assistance tasks might be in the best interest for regional security and expansion of US sphere of influence. Other options include utilizing LHD and LHA platforms. These amphibious landing ships possess hospital bed capacity for hundreds of patients, including critical care beds, and up to four operating rooms.7 Both the GFS Ship Station concept and amphibious landing ship option utilize air-cushion landing craft (LCAC).

LCAC Delivering Disaster Relief Supplies in Sumatra after the 2005 Tsunami.
Air Cushioned Vehicles can Access 70% of the World's Shorelines even after a Disaster.
Air Cushioned Vehicles can Access 70% of the World’s Shorelines even after a disaster.

Use of the LCAC would ameliorate identified mission inefficiencies associated with the use of existing organic tenders and locally procured commercial tenders. The LCAC can operate in 70% of the earth’s littoral regions.  It does not require pier-side support. It can carry CONEX containers outfitted as mobile clinics to perform routine clinical procedures or more advanced mobile surgical suites. Using the LCAC in this role would necessarily mean a greater number of them, which could be converted to their traditional amphibious mission when necessary.

How are personnel most effectively leveraged to accomplish the HA/DR mission?

According to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the “principle objective” of US foreign aid is “the encouragement and sustained support of the people of developing countries in their efforts to acquire the knowledge and resources essential to development, and to build the economic, political, and social institutions that will improve the quality of their lives.” This principle objective harmonizes well with the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability, essentially the consensus document which informs non-governmental humanitarian activities.8 One of the principle mechanisms by which USNS Comfort personnel contribute to partner nation capacity building is through subject matter expert exchanges.

Subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) are collaborative efforts where physicians, nurses, educators, and other healthcare domain experts meet with partner nation peers to discuss common goals, best practices, and perspectives unique to each nation. In the end, partner nations learn about technology and practices that may improve healthcare delivery in their country and US personnel learn about cultural and regional context of healthcare delivery, improving future interoperability for contingencies. Ultimately, SMEEs build partner nation capacity and, therefore, adhere to the “principle objective” for US foreign aid while fostering goodwill and facilitating Navy familiarity. SMEE participants are often leaders and decision-makers in their own right or are closely associated with their country’s leadership, thereby, quickening our sphere of influence.  

 U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Suzanne Maldarelli, right, a medical officer, conducts a subject matter expert exchange on advanced cardiac life support with Lissette Recinos, a public health nurse, at a hospital in Toledo, Belize, June 27, 2014, during Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2014. SPS is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Latin America. The exercise involves information sharing with navies, coast guards and civilian services throughout the region. MC3 Andrew Schneider.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Suzanne Maldarelli, right, a medical officer, conducts a subject matter expert exchange on advanced cardiac life support with Lissette Recinos, a public health nurse, at a hospital in Toledo, Belize, June 27, 2014, during Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2014. SPS is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Latin America. The exercise involves information sharing with navies, coast guards and civilian services throughout the region. MC3 Andrew Schneider.

Manpower to fulfill the partner-nation requested SMEEs is drawn from the same manpower pool as that which supports the medical engagement sites and surgical activities. Metrics reported up the chain of command include numbers of patients seen at medical engagement sites, number of procedures performed, number of subject matter expert exchanges occurring, and number of construction projects completed. However, these individual activities do not receive equal attention. The progression of USSOUTHCOM public affairs newsroom publications demonstrates the drift in focus away from capacity building and toward short-term successes. By the midway point of Operation Continuing Promise 2015, public affairs had stopped highlighting the number of community assistance projects and expert exchanges, showcasing only the numbers of patients seen and surgeries performed.9 At any given time, less than 10% of provider manpower was leveraged for capacity-building through subject matter expert exchange while the majority was dedicated to onboard surgical support and direct patient care ashore at medical engagement sites.  This manpower distribution is not in alignment with the principle objective of US foreign aid and sacrifices long-term impact for short-term gains. Future missions should focus on SMEEs in lieu of patients seen with the requisite manpower distribution.

How do we determine the success of HA/DR missions?

US medical-civil engagements foster collaborative solutions to mutual problems and strengthen regional partnerships. In this sense, US Department of Defense medical-civil activities are a form of battlespace-shaping. However, what performance metrics can we employ to determine success and impact in military global health engagement?

Identifying the most meaningful performance metrics has been elusive. A 2009 USAID critique of its evaluation practices found that only 9% of the 296 evaluations utilized an experimental design with randomization and control-group comparison.10 Developing metrics for Department of Defense humanitarian activities has been equally elusive. Some have suggested tracking indicators of general health such as sanitation, pediatric injury rates, and access to dental care.1,11 Unfortunately, improvements in these indicators of healthcare are difficult to attribute to an individual military operation.  

However, use of civilian marketing influence metrics may inform the military’s evaluation of humanitarian and civil engagement activities. As opposed to patients seen and procedures performed, measures of effort, defense strategists and military planners should focus on post-operation measures of impact. Social media and internet surveillance are excellent tools by which to measure success. Civilian marketing experts evaluate “brand” and “influencer” metrics to determine if resources allocated to a particular marketing campaign yield sufficient market return.12 Similarly, defense analysts and/or our host nation counterparts could partner with social media providers and other information technology professionals to determine several metrics:

  • Using IP address origins, determine how much message traffic is generated in general and to US healthcare or humanitarian agency websites specifically after a medical-civil health engagement concludes.
  • Identify if there is a surge in how many times the US is mentioned online.
  • Track how many white papers or fact sheets are downloaded from US aid agencies or healthcare websites.

Additionally, communication with USAID could determine how many new inquiries to State Department representatives in the partner nation are received and how many new medical-civil engagement projects were organized after USNS Comfort’s departure.

These metrics better indicate long-term impact of humanitarian missions, degree of influence gained after these missions, and could better inform decisions regarding how frequently a recurring mission should return to a location. Although social media metrics are limited as they only represent areas of Latin America where internet is relative accessible, the region is an emerging market and internet accessibility is predicted to expand exponentially in the near future.13


The Navy’s HA/DR missions in general and Operation Continuing Promise specifically will play a larger role in cultivating regional influence during peacetime and battlespace-shaping for future combat operations. For this reason, the operational structure, manpower utilization, and assessments of impact for HA/DR missions should be studied and refined. Use of alternative operational platforms, more flexible manpower allocation, and alternative metrics of success could improve mission accomplishment and potentially supplement task organizations in times of war.

John C. Devlin, CAPT (ret), USN, Director of Navy Programs, ISPA Technology, Inc.

John J. Devlin, MD, CDR, USN, Emergency Physician / Officer-in-Charge, Medical Engagement Sites, Operation Continuing Promise 2015.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.


  1. Haynes PD, Toward a new maritime strategy. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2015.
  2. McGrath B, “’You’re gonna need a bigger boat’: Principles for getting the US Navy right,” March 14, 2016. Available at http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/youre-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat-principles-for-getting-the-u-s-navy-right/, accessed March 20, 2016.
  3. Kelly JF, Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, USMC, Commander, US Southern Command, March 12, 2015. Available at http://www.southcom.mil/newsroom/Documents/SOUTHCOM_POSTURE_STATEMENT_FINAL_2015.pdf, accessed March 20, 2016.
  4. Cahn D, “No comfort: Cuts leave hospital ship at Norfolk pier,” August 3, 2013. Available at http://pilotonline.com/news/military/no-comfort-cuts-leave-hospital-ship-at-norfolk-pier/article_00e6e9ac-dcc5-59c1-9833-14f1c49e16bb.html, accessed March 20, 2016.
  5. Continuing Promise 2015 DMS Lessons Learned document, September 21, 2015.
  6. Department of the Navy Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Estimates, Operation and Maintenance: Justification of Estimates, February 2015. Available at http://www.secnav.navy.mil/fmc/fmb/Documents/16pres/OMN_Vol1_book.pdf, accessed March 20, 2016.
  7. http://fas.org/man/dod-101/navy/unit/dept-lhd-3.htm#MEDICAL, accessed March 20, 2016.
  8. Core Humanitarian Standard. Group URD, HAP International, People in Aid, and the Sphere Project, 2014. Available at http://www.corehumanitarianstandard.org/files/files/Core%20Humanitarian%20Standard%20-%20English.pdf, accessed March 20, 2016.
  9. http://www.southcom.mil/newsroom/Pages/Continuing-Promise-2015.aspx. Accessed March 20, 2016.
  10. Trends in Development Evaluation Theory, Policies and Practices, USAID, August 17, 2009.
  11. Haims MC et al., “Developing a prototype handbook for monitoring and evaluating Department of Defense humanitarian projects.” RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 2011.
  12. Brown D, “Six Easy Metrics to Measure an Influence Marketing Campaign”, available at http://dannybrown.me/2014/06/03/six-easy-metrics-to-measure-an-influence-marketing-campaign/, accessed March 20, 2016.
  13. Americas Quarterly, “Sixty Percent of Latin Americans Will Have Internet Access in 2016,” May 8, 2015. Available at http://www.americasquarterly.org/content/sixty-percent-latin-americans-will-have-internet-access-2016, accessed 3/20/2016

Featured Image: During a five-month deployment to Southeast Asia, medical teams and crew return to hospital ship USNS Mercy via one of two utility boats following a day of providing medical care to the Zamboanga region of the Philippines. Photo by MCC Edward Martens.

Weaponized Hovercraft for Distributed Lethality

This post was submitted by guest author John Salak for CIMSEC’s Distributed Lethality week. 

Distributed Lethality is a concept that offers the Navy an opportunity to transform our force structure to both enhance and expand mission capabilities to meet our national military objectives. It takes our contemporary carrier-strike group model centered around the striking power of the carrier – and re-distributes that offensive power across an up-armed fleet, and across the battlefield in distributed SAGs. Transforming that concept into reality may call for a little out-of-the-box thinking on how the Navy can achieve a larger footprint that is both scalable to a conflict and adaptable to a variety of missions. Better yet, in an era of significant budget constraints, it would be achieving those capabilities by utilizing existing technologies and assets in platforms, weapons, communications, and sensors in a new combinations that significantly transform tactical employment.

One of those out-of-the-box ideas started out as a way of indirectly enhancing LCS mission capability by utilizing off-board systems to increase the defensive and offensive perimeter with remote weapons platforms. Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a foundation block for distributed lethality, is one of those key technologies for extending the reach of LCS off-board defensive and offensive weapons. Utilizing off-board weapons platforms at a significant distance from the ship effectively buys time in the kill chain for early engagements in a defensive mode, and quicker strike in an offensive mode. As an example, selection of the Vertical Launch capable Hellfire Longbow for LCS opened up the potential to outfit smaller off-board craft with the same weapon and forward deploy those craft to extend the LCS weapons radius. Another foundation block of distributed lethality, the battle space sensor network, eliminates the need for local sensor capabilities on the off-board platform to develop threat and targeting data. CEC provides the communications mechanism to integrate the off-board weapons and fire control with C2 assets to select and engage with the appropriate asset. While the idea was initially applied to enhancing LCS capability, the same concept and capability can be extended to any Navy capital ship with the C2 assets to control an engagement.

The LCS is a pretty fast ship, so off-board weapons platforms have to be not only as fast, but preferably much faster in order to maintain that extended footprint as the LCS force maneuvers. Helicopters (manned or unmanned) are the obvious answer, but they come with their own set of limitations for payload capability, time on-station, and a host of other resource limitations.

So what is the best solution for this high speed, large payload, and high endurance off-board craft? If we look at the Navy’s LCAC hovercraft/air cushion vehicle (ACV), the answer to this providing this new, unique capability becomes apparent. The LCAC is designed to carry payloads up to 70 tons at design speed. Like any ship or aircraft, high speed and high payload usually require significant amounts of propulsion power. In the case of LCAC, what if that power was diverted from payload capacity to increased speed with the end result being a craft capable of near helicopter speeds with 10 times the weapons payload of a helicopter and 4 to 5 times the mission endurance?  We call this modified craft the Fast Air Cushion Expeditionary Craft (FACEC), with a speed capability in the 85-100 knot range and weapon payloads up to 35-45 tons. This high speed craft would use its open cargo deck to provide the capability for utilizing reconfigurable strap-down modular weapons loads, much like an aircraft, matched to specific mission needs.

While the skeptics maybe already firing up their keyboards to mention the problems with Patrol Hydrofoils (PHM) and numerous other past attempts at very high speed naval craft, this is a varied approach. The key difference in this case, and why LCAC has been successful, is the craft was not designed as a ship, it was designed as an aircraft that flies 3m above the water. With all ship based designs, one literally brings along the kitchen sink as part of the weight/speed/power trade, and that has consequences in mission endurance/range, speed, and weapons payloads. With LCAC the kitchen sink, along with everything else not essential to mission performance, gets left behind to the benefit of speed, payload and endurance.  The trade is LCAC requires a host carrier ship for long range transport, crew accommodations, maintenance, fuel, and weapons.

The FACEC conversion of an LCAC would be optimized for high speed by significantly reducing that 70 ton payload capability to a range sufficient for any weapons modules that would fit on the deck. The envisioned weapon payload modules, such as a 24 cell LCS VL-Hellfire, 4 cell Naval Strike Missiles, Harpoon, APKWS, and even MK-41 VLS modules can be combined or swapped out to meet specific mission tasking. Layered weapons capabilities would include remote control guns and self-defense systems. The ability to shoot from the LCAC platform has been demonstrated in the past with efforts such as the GAU-5 based Gun Ship Air Cushion and rocket launched systems such as DET/SABER and the MK-58 lane clearance system.

greek hovercraft with weapons

The utilization of a very high-speed air cushion craft as forward deployed weapons platform/picket in a CEC network provides some interesting engagement scenarios for an opposing force. The speed capability makes rapid deployment and maneuver 50 to 100 miles forward of the main force a practical reality. The off-board weapons capability cannot be ignored in any attempt to engage the main force if the FACEC are deployed in sufficient numbers. The opposing force must either concentrate on taking out small, relatively low value assets or risk being attacked or neutralized by those same assets if they engage the main force directly.

Being an ACV, the FACEC is not restricted by any shallow water maneuvers, which opens up large operating areas that make the A2AD much more difficult for opposing forces. The speed and maneuver capability of FACEC would make it nearly impossible for any surface based vessel like a corvette or fast patrol boat to outrun or hide in an engagement. Being an ACV, the FACEC could hide anywhere there is enough space to park it, including on land, for fire and evade scenarios. In areas of the world where restricted maneuverability is a constraint, FACEC enables the weapons systems to venture into those areas while safely leaving the command ship behind.  Need an AEGIS ashore battery?  Send a FACEC loaded with a pod of SM-x equipped MK-41 VLS on an erectable base and park it anywhere you have a clearing.  Running a mission against a large force of small craft? Send a FACEC with 48 VL Hellfire Longbows and a remote control 25mm gun. Need something to reach and touch the enemy at 100 miles? Send a FACEC with NSMs and/or Harpoons.


The astute observer might be wondering about that host ship carrier mentioned earlier. The USMC is already looking for more lift capability and more Lxx type host ships that carry LCAC are not in budget. The additional lift problem is addressed by utilizing a type of commercial off-shore platform support vessel capable of ballasting down to launch and recover the FACEC craft. A 105m craft has been identified that would be an ideal support platform for two embarked FACEC, while providing crew accommodations, maintenance, fueling and most importantly the ability to store and swap out the modular weapon systems. The ballast down capability allows FACEC operations similar to those currently conducted by LCAC and MLP ships. There are also potential alternate missions once the FACEC are launched, such as USMC AAV transport in support of expeditionary operations. In an era of shipbuilding budget pressures, these commercial PSVs are envisioned as another component of the MPS force, and eventual resale as commercial ships once their mission need ends. The FACEC/PSV combination makes a great hunter/killer combination with quick reaction capability.

With the commencement of LCAC-100 production, the U.S. Navy will have eventually have a significant fleet of legacy LCAC available for FACEC conversion. By utilizing existing assets and modifying them for high speed operations, adding CEC comms, along with repackaging some existing weapons to make modular swap outs possible, the Navy has an opportunity to transform force utilization in the littorals. If you want distributed lethality at its best, here is your express pass to get it.      

Mr. Salak is employed by BAE Systems. His background includes 28 years of LCAC engineering support, development of LCS off-board systems for mine warfare, C4N systems for the ONR T-Craft, and 12 years as a USN P-3 crew member. 

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