US Navy halts Swiftships’ landing craft programme

The United States Navy has directed the constructor of its Landing Craft Utility 1700 programme to halt operations and initiated steps to end the contract, following numerous years of difficulties and discrepancies within the programme.

The shipyard has released nearly 100 employees associated with the LCU programme since January and is contemplating measures to challenge the Navy’s contract termination, with the hope of resuming negotiations for a settlement.

Swiftships, a small business headquartered in Louisiana, emerged victorious in the LCU competition in March 2018, with the Navy granting an $18 million contract for the detailed design and construction of the initial craft. Additionally, the shipyard secured subsequent contracts, one valued at $26.7 million in 2019 for the next two craft, and another in 2020 worth $50.1 million for an additional four vessels.

These vessels transport Marines along with their ground equipment and weaponry from amphibious ships to the shore and vice versa. They function as slower but higher-capacity connectors, in contrast to the Ship to Shore Connectors, which operate at greater speeds but with lesser load capacity.

Swiftships’ contract entailed provisions for constructing up to 32 vessels — the total requisite to replace the Navy’s inventory of Vietnam-era LCUs.

In September 2023, the Navy awarded a further LCU contract to Austal USA, based in Alabama. This contract stipulated the construction of three vessels for $91.5 million — a notably higher per-unit cost compared to Swiftships’ agreement — with options for an additional nine.

In its notification to Swiftships, NAVSEA stated that the initial three vessels were scheduled for delivery by June, September, and December 2023 respectively but remain incomplete.

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