Navy contract brings new life to New Orleans East shipyard

Artist's rendering of Ship-to-Shore Connector
Artist's rendering of Ship-to-Shore Connector

New Orleans, La. -- Chris Daire started as a welder at Textron's New Orleans East shipyard in 1982.  Daire was there to help build the first American version of the hovercraft.

"It's a tremendous sense of pride to have watched LCAC-1 roll off the production line and to be able to do that again," Daire told us.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy announced it had awarded Textron Marine and Land Systems a $212 million contract to design and build the successor to the LCAC.

The "Ship-to-Shore Connector" will skim across the water, a boat that will fly on a cushion of air.

As part of the competition for the new contract, Textron laid out the exact design it was proposing.

"We actually built a full-scale mock up of the engine module for our proposal," said Tom Walmsley, a Textron senior vice-president.

"We present a low-risk program for the Navy," said Walmsley, pointing out that Textron built most of the existing fleet of 91 LCAC's.

New Orleans has a long tradition of building craft to deliver troops onto hostile shores, including the Higgins Boats in World War II.

Today, Textron's New Orleans East yard does some of the work on armored vehicles assembled in Slidell.  The contract means new life for the shipyard, beginning with 50 people who will work on the design.

"For the yard, for the first time in many, many years, we don't have to worry about are we going to be here next year."

The Navy has an option to build several more, but the big prize could be a fleet of 73 SSC's at roughly $4 billion.

In an era of budget cuts, the new contract brings a rare opportunity.

At the height of the LCAC construction, 500 people worked in the Textron yard.