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The Navy’s Transforming E-Craft

August 23, 2009
The Office of Naval Research E-Craft, an experimental high-speed transformable hull form vessel, is under construction at Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The Office of Naval Research E-Craft, an experimental high-speed transformable hull form vessel, is under construction at Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The MV Susitna catamaran ferry is an interesting concept similar to the Navy’s current fleet of catamaran vessels with one remarkable difference, it has the ability to transform from a deep water transport to a shallow draft vessel, specifically into 3 distinct modes of barge, catamaran and SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) ship. From the Office of Naval Research:

The ship will have a center “barge” that can be hydraulically raised and lowered; it also will have the option to adjust the buoyancy of its catamaran hulls while under way. The vessel will demonstrate the functionality of a ship that can provide a multipurpose, expeditionary cargo and troop ship that performs efficiently at high speed, in ice, and in shallow waters, and that can even beach itself to load/discharge vehicles up to tank size.

The vessel will have three distinct modes of operation: a catamaran mode for high speeds; a small-water-area-twin-hull (SWATH) mode for stability in high sea states; and a shallow-draft landing-craft mode that provides substantial buoyancy for maneuvering in shallow water. In addition, the Susitna will be the world´s first ice-breaking twin-hulled vessel.

Also interesting is the partnership with commercial industry to see the project to fruition. The Navy is in league with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and Alaska Ship & Drydock, with the funds coming from the ONR. When launched, the ferry will operate between Anchorage, Alaska and Port Mackenzie in its civil guise while the Navy takes notes.

Naturally the government is interested in MV Susitna’s military applications, and potentially these are considerable. The Navy sees it as  key for its expeditionary/amphibious warfare sea basing plans, hence the official moniker of “E-craft”. This is also where its transforming abilities come to play, allowing it to morph into a shallow-water “Sealifter” quickly from its  Blue Water transport mode. Global Security explains this concept:

The E-Craft is a variable-draft vessel that includes a center hull; a first side hull coupled to a first side of the center hull; a second side hull coupled to a second side of the center hull; and at least one cross support coupling the first and second side hulls, wherein the center hull is configured to be vertically translated with respect to the first and second side hulls. According to a specific embodiment, the vessel further includes lifting mechanism configured to vertically translate the center hull with respect to the first and second side hulls. The lifting mechanism may include a plurality of hydraulic actuators coupled between the center hull and the first and second side hulls…

The center hull may be raised above the water, thereby forcing the side hulls relatively deep into the water (i.e., relatively deep draft)…In deep-draft-transit mode, the height of the center hull may be adjusted such that a top deck of the center hull approximately matches, for example, the height of a pier or the like…When each of the side hulls and the center hull are in the water, the configuration of the vessel is referred to as the shallow-draft mode. As each of the three hulls is in the water, the hull form is similar to flat-bottomed-monohull vessels and has a relatively high buoyancy and relatively low draft.

In our view, we see the E-craft along with the other high speed catamarans such as the HSV-2 Swift built by Incat from a catamaran ferry design, as the future of amphibious warfare. As the techniques now stands in the US and other large navies, the idea of amphibious warfare is for very large and costly “motherships” to act as a go-between to the actual landing vessels to get the Marines and their cargo to shore. By doing away with this very costly, large and vulnerable “middleman”, shallow draft ferries would carry the troops from a port of embarkation to the landing zone directly and very quickly. Naturally such a strategy would entail the purchase of very many such craft to match the current lifting abilities of large Amphib ships, but historically in wartime conditions, many ships are more desirable and ensures than some will survive to perform their essential mission, by not placing all your precious expeditionary assets in a few giant hulls.

E-craft also has considerable arctic abilities, able to sail through 2 feet of ice. We wonder if this might also be of interest to our Canadian friends, currently searching for arctic patrol vessels?

Here is the MV Susitna’s specifications:

· Length -195 Feet, Beam – 60 feet

· Displacement: 940 tons full load

· Variable Draft – SWATH mode is 12± feet, shallow-draft landing-craft mode is 4± feet.

· Capacity: 100 Passengers and 20 vehicles.

· Speed: 20 knots

· Power Plant: 4 ea., MTU 12V 4000 diesel engines

The vessel is scheduled for delivery in April 2010. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough also has a website on the E-craft.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2014 7:48 pm

    for all you technical military yahoos.. it was built to be a ferry to carry passengers across a mile or so of water… it is anything but that… a bridge sunk the susitna.. re: KABATA

  2. August 7, 2014 7:44 pm

    a jack of all trades master of none catamaran… whoopee!!!

  3. Mad Angel on FB permalink
    September 29, 2011 2:31 pm

    I live on Akutan….literally in view of the construction of the new airport on Akun. (albeit from a distance) but close enough to see the heavy machinery moving about…..I can also see the expanse of ocean in between, including the breakers on the rocks, though Surf Beach is beyond that area and easier to pull up on. I understand they haven’t figured out how to ferry people and/or cargo to and from…..there was an idea for a hovercraft, but I’m pretty sure that’s not feasible due to the unpredictable severe winds and storms here…and I believe it has been scrapped. Considering the cost of the project, it has me wondering how it was ever approved. Of course there was some political back scratching going on, but I don’t know the particulars, having stayed out the political limelight here…..IMO they would have been better off converting a sea worthy vessel dedicated to a trip a day between here and Unalaska. It would’ve been able to move all of our mail and packages as well as all of Tridents seasonal workers AND their luggage in one trip…..indeed the most reliable method of getting to and from here is by sea….it might take a little longer but in the case of an emergency such as urgent medical attention, they use a helicopter anyway.

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  5. Scott B. permalink
    August 26, 2009 5:53 pm

    leesea said : “This E-Craft is another expensive design exercise built because some congressional type earmarked it IMHO!”

    Exactly !

    E-Craft is yet another pork-barrel project, with no military justification at all.

  6. leesea permalink
    August 25, 2009 1:21 am

    I saw some of the LSV rqtms blended into the JHSV. I haven’t seen any other true landing ships in the SCN recently? Nor in the Army budget. To me, the JHSV is the long haul ship not the E-ship. I guess ONR did not get my memo? LOL

    BTW the Navy’s version of the JHSV is planned to be assigned to MSC with civilian mariner crewing.

    This E-Craft is another expensive design exercise built because some congressional type earmarked it IMHO! You did notice it is being built in Alaska that hotbed of advanced naval engineering?

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 24, 2009 5:06 pm

    Re the old LST design. The Army already has something similar:

    Logistics Support Vessel (LSV) Detachments carry cargo and/or equipment throughout a theater of operations or inter-theater routes not otherwise serviced by the Military Sealift Command (MSC). LSV Detachments also assist in RO/RO or Logistics-Over-The-Shore (LOTS) operations, particularly with container handling equipment, vehicular and other over-size/overweight cargo. LSV specifics: landing craft, length overall 273 feet, beam 60 feet, bow ramp, stern ramp, loaded draft 12 feet, payload 2,000 tons (equivalent to 86 C-141s), range 6,500 nautical miles, speed loaded 11.5 knots.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 24, 2009 4:43 am

    Chuck I was thinking that for the type of functions we use our Amphib forces these days, peacekeeping operations or policing Third World powers, an old LST design would be more than adequate for the Marines. Outside of that, the shallow water catamarans would be perfect and affordable in this role. I prefer the HSVs already in service for this type of operation, but thought this E-craft an interesting concept. In the future small ship navy, you could return versatility and choice to the Navy, where with the more costly giant warships we are stuck with a handful of designs for decades.

  9. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 24, 2009 2:04 am

    If this can put tanks ashore over a beach, it could be the new LST/LCI–much more than a lighter. If this is what I saw specs on earlier it has a range of 2500 miles.

  10. leesea permalink
    August 23, 2009 10:41 pm

    This ship is meant to be a long range lighter from seabase to shore. Again I say why so much complexity and long range when they are NOT needed in a lighter? The key metric to be applied to this design is payload versus cost, NOT speed and range. Ships of this type are not ferries, and the need to land cargo feet dry is debatable to many. Leave the long range troop + cargo lift to the JHSVs.

    Compare this design to that of the CNIM L-Cat already undergoing trials for the French Navy. !30 ton payload, 30 knots, but not a transformer, so I would assume it to be more affordable in numbers neeeded?

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 23, 2009 8:52 pm

    I know Chuck! I just came across it accidentally while browsing through Navy Photos, and decided to so research.

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 23, 2009 6:16 pm

    Now this is really interesting.


  1. The Future of Amphibious Lift Pt 2 « New Wars

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