The Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) is a class of air-cushion vehicle (hovercraft) used as landing craft by the United States Navy's Assault Craft Units and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). They transport weapons systems, equipment, cargo and personnel of the assault elements of the Marine Air/Ground Task Force both from ship to shore and across the beach.
Concept design of the present day LCAC began in the early 1970s with the full-scale Amphibious Assault Landing Craft (AALC) test vehicle. During the advanced development stage, two prototypes were built. JEFF A was designed and built by Aerojet General in California, with four rotating ducted propellers. JEFF B was designed and built by Bell Aerospace in New Orleans, Louisiana. JEFF B had two ducted rear propellers similar to the proposed SK-10 which was derived from the previous Bell SK-5 / SR.N5 hovercraft tested in Vietnam. These two craft confirmed the technical feasibility and operational capability that ultimately led to the production of LCAC. JEFF B was selected as the design basis for today’s LCAC.
The first 33 were included in the FY82-86 defense budgets, 15 in FY89, 12 each in FY90, FY91 and FY92, while seven were included in FY93. The first LCAC was delivered to the Navy in 1984 and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was achieved in 1986. Approval for full production was granted in 1987. After an initial 15-craft competitive production contract was awarded to each of two companies, Textron Marine & Land Systems (TMLS) of New Orleans, La, and Avondale Gulfport Marine, TMLS was selected to build the remaining craft. A total of ninety-one LCAC have now been built. The final craft, LCAC 91, was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2001. This craft served as the basis for the Navy’s LCAC Service Life Extension Program (SLEP).
Eight mine sweeping kits were acquired in 1994-1995. A Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) is currently in progress to add service life to the craft design life of 10 years, delaying the need to replace these versatile craft. 27 were to undergo the SLEP between 2000 and 2007. All 74 are to be completed by 2015. A number of LCACs are currently under development and testing at the Naval Support Activity Panama City in Panama City, Florida.
The craft operates with a crew of five. In addition to beach landing, LCAC provides personnel transport, evacuation support, lane breaching, mine countermeasure operations, and Marine and Special Warfare equipment delivery. The four main engines are all used for lift and all used for main propulsion. They are interchangeable for redundancy. A transport model can seat 180 fully equipped troops. Cargo capacity is 1,809 sq ft (168.1 m2). Bow ramp is 28.8 ft (8.8 m) while the stern ramp is 15 ft (4.6 m). Noise and dust levels are high with this craft. If disabled the craft is difficult to tow. In recent years spray suppression has been added to the craft's skirt to reduce interference with driver's vision.
According to the USMC the craft can cross 70% of the world's coastlines as opposed to about 15% for conventional landing craft, though the craft has more difficulty in rough seas than a conventional ship.
The US craft are shore based on each coast at Little Creek, Virginia and Camp Pendleton, California. A further ten are on reduced readiness, while two are assigned to research and development, and seven to support roles.
The LCAC will be replaced with the Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC), a 73 short ton ACV, starting in 2019.
Six LCAC are in use by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Approval for the sale was given by the United States Government on 8 April 1994. The craft were built by Textron Marine & Land Systems in New Orleans, Louisiana. Purchase of the first craft was included in the FY93 budget, second in FY95, third in FY99 and fifth and sixth in FY00.