Textron Systems was awarded $386 million to build 15 new ship-to-shore connectors, Naval Sea Systems Command announced on Thursday. The connectors will replace the aging fleet of Landing Craft, Air Cushion vehicles, known as LCACs, which have been in operation since the 1980s and are nearing the end of their service lives.
The new 92-footlong connectors will have further range and lift capabilities than the legacy LCACs. They can carry 74 tons and will be compatible with amphibious ships that have well decks, along with expeditionary transfer dock and sea bases.
"As the program continues to move forward with delivering these important capabilities to the fleet, the procurement of these additional craft is critical," Tom Rivers, program manager of the Amphibious Warfare Program Office for the Program Executive Office Ships, said in a statement.
The contract award is an important milestone for a program that plays a big part in the Marine Corps' future missions. That service is focusing its sights on the Asia-Pacific region, where Commandant Gen. David Berger said Marines and sailors will likely be called on to respond to China's growing influence.
China has militarized tiny man-made islands in the South China Sea. The islands have airstrips, hangars, barracks and lookout points.
As the country's military invests in new weapons systems that can target ships further away from the shore, the Navy and Marine Corps will need next-generation landing craft to get people and equipment from amphibious ships onto nearby beaches.
The new connectors can be loaded with an enclosed personnel transport module that can carry up to 145 Marines in full combat gear, according to Textron. The craft can also carry vehicles and other heavy equipment.
Textron will do most of its work on the 15 new vessels in New Orleans. The Navy already accepted delivery of the first next-gen landing craft, called the Ship to Shore Connector Craft 100, in February.
The sea services will continue testing it and training on that platform in Panama City, Florida.
The Navy plans to buy 73 of the new ship-to-shore connectors, according to its program summary.
-- Gina Harkins can be reached at email@example.com Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.