New Orleans is the home of the Higgins Boat, an innovative amphibious landing craft that carried Allied troops to battle across the globe during World War II. Today, the New Orleans area is again producing an innovative, next-generation landing craft, one intended to serve many different missions for America’s modern military. It is also a project that means jobs for a local industry in flux these days.
The vehicle, called the “Ship-to-Shore Connector,” is an air-cushion-type hovercraft and the Navy recently awarded a $212 million contract to Textron Inc. to design and build it at the company’s Slidell facility.
“This is great news for Orleans, St. Tammany and the workers along the Interstate 10 corridor,” Sen. Mary Landrieu said in a statement.
It certainly comes at a critical time for the shipbuilding and defense industries in the region. Huntington Ingalls Shipyards earlier announced its plans to close its Avondale facilities, which build warships and support vessels for the Navy. And as recently as February, Textron Marine & Land Systems laid off about eight percent of its Louisiana workforce as part of company-wide personnel cuts.
The “Ship-to-Shore Connector” project calls for Textron to build an amphibious landing craft capable of carrying a 74-ton payload of tanks, other vehicles, supplies or troops and move at speeds of more than 35 knots. Hovercrafts such as this can deploy their cargo straight onto the beach without regard for shallow water, rocks or the condition of port facilities, and the Navy envisions using the vessel for missions ranging from amphibious assault to humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The project is intended to replace the Navy’s current air-cushion landing craft, which has been around for about 20 years. If the Textron prototype proves successful, the Navy has the option to order eight operational vehicles, valued at about $44 million each, which would push the total contract value to some $570 million. More work could be on the way if the Navy decides to replace its current fleet of 72 hovercraft with Textron’s next-generation vehicle.
The contract was highly competitive, and Textron beat teams that included Lockheed Martin to bring the work to Slidell. Textron has local facilities in New Orleans proper and Slidell, where it also builds heavily armored ground vehicles for the military.