Saturday, May 06, 2017

A new push for a Ship to Shore Connector?

via National Interest.
Now that the Marine Corps is about to get its first new amphibious vehicle in forty-five years, it’s discovered a problem.

The Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV, can’t sail quickly to distant locations, nor can it swim through rough waters. So the Marines want a fast, long-range robot barge to carry the ACV from ship to shore.

The problem with the $6.2 billion ACV program, now in the prototype stage, is that due to “the limitations of the ACV 1.1 in open water, it will not be able to transit long ranges at high speeds as desired by the USMC,” according to a new Navy Small Business Innovation Research solicitation.

The range issue is important. In 2014, several retired Marine officers complained that because of the proliferation of antiship missiles, Navy transports would need to remain one hundred miles from hostile shores. The ACV has a sea range of twelve miles.

One solution is to carry the ACV to shore on a “connector,” such as a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) or Landing Craft Utility (LCU). However, the “LCACs and LCUs are expensive platforms that use significant amounts of fuel, are limited in quantity to the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and do not provide the organic survivability to be used as an initial assault in a contested environment,” the Navy noted.

So instead the Marines want an “autonomous sled” that can transport an ACV from ship to shore. The sled would travel at least twenty-five knots per hour, have enough fuel to conduct a 130-mile round trip from ship to shore and back, and operate in waters up to Sea State 4 (four-foot waves) while—good news for seasick grunts—providing a “safe and comfortable ride” for the Marines sitting in the ACV.

The sled would actually be a semi-robot: it would be under manual control of the Marines aboard the ACV until the vehicle is dropped off, at which point the sled would autonomously return to the mother ship.

While the ACV is still in the prototype stage, the Navy’s Office of Naval Research estimates the sled will need to accommodate a vehicle of sixty-five thousand pounds gross weight, thirty feet long, twelve feet wide and nine feet high. That would make it a bit larger than the Marine Corps’ current twenty-five-ton, twenty-six-foot-long AAV-7 (though the ACV would be shorter than the eleven-foot-high AAV-7). With space aboard amphibious assault ships at a premium, the Navy wants a space-saver sled design that doesn’t “require long term berthing in a well deck during transit. This may include modular, transformable, or inflatable structures that can be stored and/or stacked at reduced footprints in other spaces aboard amphibious ships or other platforms that do not have a well deck.”

Phase I of the project calls for contractors to submit conceptual designs. Phase II will use a scale model to test hydrodynamic performance, propulsion and drag, as well as the autonomous control system. Phase III will see a full-sized prototype.
Read the article here. 

Interesting.  This requirement hasn't gone away I see.  The first iteration of it (in the photo above) pushed for a high speed, heavy lift option.  Now they're going for a semi autonomous, high speed connector.

The confusing part is the direction that the Marine Corps is going.  If I remember correctly, ACV 2.0 was suppose to be the high water speed, fully armored, infantry fighting vehicle that could swim from ship to shore.  Call it EFV Reborn.

If that option is still on the table then why the push for this connector?  Is it going to be rushed into production?

Additionally why are they pushing for this solution when we still don't have enough LCACs on our current shipping to make a sea based assault, much less sustaining operations ashore difficult?

Perhaps the solution really is what Admiral Greenert said it was.  An amphibious assault will be all hands on deck (especially a large scale one), and the Navy along with the Marine Corps and Air Force (and perhaps even the US Army) will simply roll back enemy defense so that we can launch from 3 to 12 miles out to sea as we do today.

Before we spend money on an ACV 2.0 or this fanciful high speed heavy lift ship to shore connector, perhaps we need to get the Navy and Marine Corps on the same page.  If Greenert was right then what we actually need is a "Ship to Shore Connector Carrier" as proposed in the image below and covered in a blog post here.

Side Note:  Strock, a retired Marine Colonel, is working the problem from a bunch of angles.  Why this isn't being tackled on the pages of USNI, Proceedings or Sea Power is beyond me, but it is being discussed in the Ground Community within the Marine Corps.

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