Continuing our 4 part post on littoral operations, looking at equipment options.
The £1 million Griffon Hoverwork 2400 TD LCAC(L)(R) is a direct replacement for the 4 existing LCAC’s that have given sterling service in many environments and has been designed with direct input from 539 ASRM.
The primary role of the LCAC (L) (R) is as an air-portable, fully amphibious craft capable of the high speed movement of 16 fully equipped troops and a crew of 2 over water, ice, mud, marshland and beach.
Able to maintain a speed of 45 knots whilst fully laden the replacement is much faster than the older version and there are a whole raft of additional improvements. In addition to be being able to be deployed from the RN/RFA assault craft they are air portable by C130, A400 and C17. The side panels can be retracted to reduce the width to enable air portability.
Hovercraft provide a range of unique features that make them ideal to operate in riverine and mixed inshore terrain.
In Iraq they supported operations in the type of mixed terrain that would have been difficult for other craft
As can be seen by the video of the RM’s 2000TD’s in Iraq, firepower is derived from small arms and light mounted weapons, although the hovercraft is a stable weapons platform the lack of a stabilised mount does limit effectiveness. When being used as a patrol and fighting platform, rather than a simple ride from A to B, the ad hoc nature of its firepower is less than optimal. There is a lot to be said for the situational awareness and flexibility afforded by an open cab stuffed with bootnecks but if any enhancement would be suggested it would be to fit the LCAC (L) (R) with a stabilised remote weapons station. There are a number of naval remote mounts available and could be fitted with a 12.7mm HMG, 40mm automatic grenade gun or even a 30mm automatic canon like the ATK M230LF, a variant of the weapon mounted on the AH64 Apache. The video below shows the Kongsberg Sea Protector which in addition to direct fire weapons can also be fitted with Hellfire missiles or 2.75” rockets like the CRV-7
The combined 2.75” rocket and HMG mount provides a hugely flexible blend and if the rocket is of the guided variety the system can then be used against manoeuvring and point targets with some precision.
In addition to fitted the 2400TD’s with a remote weapon station and increasing their number from 4 to 8 we should also invest in the larger 8100TD which is designed to carry a much larger load, a 20 foot ISO container, 50 troop seats, a BVs10 Viking armoured vehicle, 4×4/6×6 Light Protected Patrol Vehicle, light engineering vehicles or the smaller variants of the MAN SV trucks. It has a large hydraulic ramp for loading and unloading. Sweden and Kuwait have ordered the 8100TD, the Kuwaiti version is equipped with higher capacity air conditioning, a crane and special well deck arrangement.
The UK and many other nations, including the US in Vietnam, have continually proven the value of hovercraft, their main advantage is the ability to operate in shallow waters, beaches, land, marsh, snow and ice. Recent analysis has shown that of all the worlds coastlines, 25% are accessible to either conventional landing craft or hovercraft but 75% are accessible by hovercraft alone. The benefits of this increased access and potential for surprise are obvious in the assault phase, the ability to appear at almost any point will require a defender to spread their finite resources over a much larger area and this advantage also extends beyond the shoreline, in depth.
Other advantages include high speed, resistance to mines, stability, ease of operation and the ability to hide ashore when on extended operations.
In summary, hovercraft are much more flexible than traditional landing craft but as payloads increase then hovercraft become expensive to obtain and even more expensive to operate, the law of diminishing returns rears its head. Although the US use their large LCAC’s to carry heavy armoured vehicles the UK relies on traditional landing craft for heavy armour, after the landing zone has been secured by lighter forces. Although we might look upon the US LCAC’s with envious eyes I think the concept of hovercraft for personnel and light armour for use in the assault phase and conventional landing craft for heavier armour for a breakout, after the ‘beach’ has been secured provides the most cost effective mix.
The Royal Marines have wanted a larger hovercraft for some time to fill in the gap between the light variant and the conventional landing craft, the 8100TD would meet that need and could also act as a base support vessel or ‘mothership’ for detachments of the LCAC (L)(R) and other small craft.
The RM should obtain 4 of these heavier craft, along with an additional 4 of the light variant for a total of 12.
Armoured Raider Craft
The Armoured Raiding Craft are also a relatively new addition (2005) to 539 ASRM and were introduced following operational feedback obtained from Iraq, there is still a need for high speed but more protection and firepower were also needed. The Offshore Raiding Craft is replacing the Rigid Raider Mk3’s in RM service, providing an altogether more effective craft. UK doctrine emphasises speed and maneuverability, the open top design provides excellent situational awareness, vital in close quarter combat as might often be found in a riverine or littoral environment. Additional protection against small arms fire has also now been introduced, perhaps reflecting the growing need for force protection measures.
The Holyhead Marine ORC is based on a Tiger Marine T9000 hull and features twin Steyr M256 inboard marine diesel engines, Rolls-Royce FF270 water jets with a maximum speed in excess of 35kt. They have a range of 300nm, payload of approximately 1.5tonnes are are also highly manoeuvrable.
When employed in the fire support role they can be equipped with Dynema polythene ballistic armour (protection up to 7.62×39) and 4x pintle mount weapons such as 12.7mm M2 HMG, 40mm GMG, 7.62mm minigun or Twin 7.62mm GPMG’s.
Deployable by ship, aircraft and helicopter they cost in the order of £200,000 each, a bargain!
A midconsole variant has also been designed as a dedicated fully armoured Fire Support Platform to improve arcs of fire and a forward console variant more suited to carrying troops or a bulk payload aft.
There are in excess of 50 in service but in line with our proposal to significantly expand this capability their numbers should also be increased.
The FDR littoral series of posts is summarised below;