The U.S. Navy has selected two companies to develop a Transformable Craft capable of ferrying heavy tanks from ships at sea, through the surf, and onto beachheads around the world.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) wants a T-Craft that does 40 knots, carries at least six tanks, and is able to survive 57-knot winds and 60-foot waves. It must also mitigate wave motion, to allow the transfer of vehicles from one ship to the other while rocking on the high seas.
To accomplish that, the companies Alion Science and Umoe-Mandal will need to develop and deploy some combination of new propulsion system, experimental hulls, exotic composites, "variable-geometry" bows that adjust to different dock set-ups, and retractable skirts for under-hull air cushions.
Also, the thing has to float. So ONR will be scrutinizing seal design (PDF).
"The T-Craft ship supports the rapid transfer of Army and Marine Corps equipment ashore," said retired Vice Admiral Scott Fry, vice president of Alion. "This is game-changing technology. This capability does not currently exist. This ship can go across the ocean and link up with a large logistics ship and take on some of the roll-on, roll-off cargo, and then land it on the beach."
The Sea Base Connector Transformable-Craft program is an integral part of the military's "sea basing" concept (PDF), in which floating bases fill-in where land bases are unfeasible or real estate prices are just too high. This would allow U.S. forces to reduce reliance on foreign ports, friendly or otherwise (PDF).
The transformer will be able to operate in four modes: from "open ocean transit" to an amphibious mode that can negotiate sand bars and mud flats.
This is phase II of the program. The companies will build full scale models for evaluation and testing. The best design may go on to full production in Phase III.