Assault Craft Unit Four Heralds Arrival of Ship-to-Shore Connector
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — It is a turning point in history now that 10 sailors from Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU 4), based in Little Creek, Va., have arrived at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD).
According to ACU 4 Detachment Panama City Officer in Charge, Master Chief Stephen Lowe, the Sailors will spend the next several years in Panama City — as ACU 4 DET Panama City — not only to make preparations for the arrival of the U.S. Navy’s next-generation Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) — the Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) — but the detachment also will be conducting various types of testing.
The initial wave of ACU 4 Sailors permanently changed duty stations from Virginia Beach, Va., in August in preparation for 20 additional Sailors to join them in the months to come, but only on a temporary assignment. The military personnel are the advanced team preparing to accept the SSC craft in December, as well as additional civilian and contract support.
“The SSC is the evolutionary replacement for the existing fleet of LCACs, which is nearing the end of their service life,” Lowe said. “The mission of these craft is to land surface assault elements in support of Operational Maneuver from the Sea, at over-the-horizon distances, while operating from amphibious ships and mobile landing platforms. LCACs and SSCs are primarily used to haul vehicles, heavy equipment and supplies through varied environmental conditions from amphibious ships to over the beach.”
According to NSWC PCD’s Air Cushion Vehicle Branch Head Ivan Lugo, the ACU 4 Detachment chose to come to Panama City for the unique opportunity to become subject matter experts for the next generation LCAC — the LCAC 100-class craft.
“The DET will be the pioneers for the entire U.S. Navy in the new operational parameters and maintenance philosophy of the brand new SSC,” Lugo said. “Once trained by the SSC manufacturer, Textron Marine and Land Systems, the DET will become the lead trainers when they return to ACU 4, based in Little Creek, Va.”
The DET also will serve as the operational and maintenance crew for the SSC acceptance and operational trials through Post-Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T), events that will be conducted in the Gulf of Mexico, specifically test ranges located off the coast of Panama City Beach and Eglin Air Force Base.
“When the SSC gets here, our mission objective is to conduct all the PDT&T,” said SSC Pilot Senior Chief Pearsall. “Once we’re through with PDT&T, we will begin Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.”
Pearsall said the SSC will be a significant improvement over the LCAC.
“It will considerably enhance the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team’s capability to execute its broad mission spectrum, which includes humanitarian assistance and disaster response to multidimensional amphibious assault,” Pearsall said.
According to Pearsall, the SSC is a 100 percent complete redesign with a considerable amount of automation built into this next-generation hovercraft.
For example, the legacy LCAC was designed to be operated from an analogue input, which required manually observing and physical attention to several types of controls, which include rudder control, bow-thruster control and the prop control. Many systems from stem to stern have not only been automated but integrated.
“All these controls have now been replaced by what is called the Integrated Flight Controller,” Pearsall said. “The SSC is also significantly increasing its nautical mission window capability. So, we’re gaining capability across the board as far as: load-carrying capacity, distance to shoreline, and speed and efficiency. It’s definitely a move in the right direction for all facets of the program.”