Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29 2014: The Marines UHAC—Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector. Ingenious, but too big, too slow, too costly to operate, too lightly armored for high survivability on land—and far, far, far, too expensive. Oh, and by the way, unnecessary. All those points apart, it looks kind of fun.

I went in the Marines when I was 16. I spent four and a half years in the Marines and then came right to New York to be an actor. And then seven years later, I got my first job.

Gene Hackman

What struck me about the above quote was the phrase “seven years later”—and this is THE Gene Hackman talking. I’m not sure that those who have regular jobs, and paychecks, have any idea of what is involved if you want to make it in the creative arts—or what it takes. Seven years!




The Marines seem determined to re-fight WW II—as in they still envisage storming enemy held beaches. To that end, ideally they want armored vehicles that can be launched from quite far out, make their own way to land, and then maneuver like tanks or infantry fighting vehicles (at least up to a point).

To my mind, there are various flaws to this thinking.

  • It is exceedingly unlikely that we will want to storm the beaches again. We are much more likely to seize a beachhead from the air by way of a parachute drop, assault by rotary aircraft, or by simply landing at an airport (or an any suitable ground) which we have previously seized. In all probability, we would grab a port (or ports). Ports are already set up to offload massive amounts of material very quickly.
  • The requirement for armor to float tends to make the resultant vehicle better at floating than fighting on land. That makes no sense because getting ashore is normally a minor element in the mission. It might take hours—but the land part may go on for days, weeks, or months. In short, the vehicle should be optimized for the land.
  • We already have better, faster, cheaper ways of landing armor. Appreciate that the armor itself does not have to float. It merely has to be carried by something that does. Here, we have traditional landing craft, hovercraft, and ships. A suitably designed ship could reverse onto a beach or similar and vehicles simply drive off. The notion that armored vehicles have to be seaworthy in themselves is simply not valid. The ability to cross rivers is, indeed, useful—but even that is not essential as experience has shown that building bridges under fire, though not for the faint of heart, is achievable. Consider that the Israeli’s did just that in 1973 when they crossed the Suez Canal to invade Egypt—after Egypt had invaded them.

The real plan is as follows.

“[A] future full-scale UHAC would have up to three times the payload of the Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) and approximately the payload of a 1600-series Landing Craft Utility (LCU),” said a joint reportwith the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. “It would have the same well deck footprint as an SSC with speeds twice that of an LCU. The captive air cell technology also yields a low ground pressure footprint (less than 2 psi) giving it the ability to traverse mud flats or climb over obstacles in excess of 10 feet. With a projected range of over 200 miles, UHAC could deliver forces and sustainment from well over a horizon.”

It will not only be able to traverse a wider variety of beachheads but also be able to climb over 10-foot-tall sea walls. It may have a top speed of up to 20 knots, if it goes into real production.

Currently the Marines are testing a half-scale Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector, or UHAC, just off the coast of the Philippines; the full-size version will measure in at 34 feet tall and 84 feet long and be able to haul a payload of about 200 tons, three times that of the Marines’ current Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC).

“The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is sponsoring a half-scale UHAC demonstration during their 2014 Advanced Warfighting Experiment (in conjunction with RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific Exercise] 2014),” explained the report. “Development of a full-scale technology demonstrator is a possibility.”

Clearly, the full scale UHAC is not designed to do too much maneuvering on land—which is a relief –because at 34’ tall, an enemy would need to  blind not to hit it.  However, I still wonder why the Marines feel they need the UHAC. Is that comment about low ground pressure significant? I wonder do they have a particular scenario in mind.

I shall have to talk to some Marine friends. Despite my critical comments, I’m a great supporter of crazy projects. You pretty much always learn something from a fresh approach.  

Not many people know this, but I was once was in charge of an LCT or Landing Craft Tank (See Photo). My brother Rex had bought it with a view to using it as a platform for divers in the North Sea. It wasn’t a bad idea though the North Sea is notoriously rough—and LCTs notoriously unstable in bad weather. Anyway, it was all academic because the LCT—which looked as if it was floating on the river—was actually holed and sitting on the bottom. That was not immediately obvious because the craft had a double bottomed hull, and the inner hull was still intact. Still, I rather liked having my very own vessel for a while. It was a piece of history. I think Rex sold it for scrap in the end.

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