Textron starts work on new Navy hovercraft in N.O. East _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--To mark the start of production on the U.S. NavyÕs new amphibious connector craft, the Ship to Shore Connector, a ceremony is held at the Textron Systems New Orleans Shipyard with a special appearance by U.S. Navy Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC-66) vehicle from Naval Support Activity, Panama City, originally built at the same shipyard 20 years ago being waved in by Textron Marine employee Jules Reggio in New Orleans, La. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014.

Work has started on a new U.S. Navy hovercraft model at Textron Systems’ shipyard in New Orleans East.

Textron marked the start of production of a test model of the new craft — which have larger, more efficient engines than current hovercraft — during a ceremony Monday at its 600,000-square-foot shipyard on Chef Menteur Highway.

Tom Walmsley, senior vice president and general manager at Textron Systems Marine & Land Systems, said after the ceremony that he expects a 10- to 12-year production span will start ramping up next year. At its height, he said, it will support up to 600 jobs.

The new amphibious craft, called the Ship to Shore Connector, is designed to haul vehicles, heavy equipment and supplies over water and onto beaches.

Textron is first building a test and training craft that is scheduled to be finished in 2017. Work on production models is scheduled to start next year, said Textron spokesman Tom Williams.

The company was awarded a $213 million contract in 2012 to design and build the test craft. That deal could be worth another $357 million if eight hovercraft are built and delivered by 2020. Overall, the Navy plans to buy 72 production models of the new craft, according to its website.

The new, high-speed landing craft will replace the Navy’s aging fleet of Landing Craft Air Cushion, or LCAC, vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. Textron has been building the older vehicles for 20 years. They are also used to deliver equipment and medical supplies in relief efforts.

The new 92-foot-long model is designed to have better command and control capabilities. It will be built using composites instead of metal for many components, aimed at cutting maintenance costs over the long-term life of the vehicles, estimated at 30 years.

The landing craft are designed to travel at speeds of more than 35 knots. An enclosed personnel transport module can be loaded onboard the craft that can hold up to 145 combat-equipped Marines.

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