They look like something out of the future, but the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles have actually been in operation since 1986. When introduced, they heralded a dramatic innovation in amphibious warfare. The craft provide the capability to launch over-the-horizon amphibious assaults from more than 50 nautical miles offshore, at speeds up to 70 knots with payloads over 60 tons. Tanks, trucks, and Marines are some of the items these craft can quickly transport from ship to shore. Even with a full payload, these craft can attain speeds of up to 40 knots.
The LCACs generally operate from the well decks of U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships such as the LHA, LSD, LHD and LPD classes of warships. The craft are designed to operate alone, or in joint amphibious landings comprised of LCU’s, heliborne Marines, attack aircraft and other naval support. They are most commonly deployed in naval-based Marine Expeditionary Units.
Because they ride on a cushion of air, the LCACs are less susceptible to mines and can access about 80 percent of the world’s coastlines. LCACs, though seaborne, can also navigate rivers to access points inland. In recent years, the craft have been valuable in tsunami and typhoon relief efforts. There are currently about 80 LCACs in service today.