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Prototype semi-hovership delivered to Commandos

Aluminium air-riding catamarans for Royal Marines

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Blighty's elite Royal Marine Commandos have just taken delivery of a prototype semi-aircushion hover assault craft, intended to speed up the amphibious landings of the future.

The Royal Marines already operate normal boats and air-cushion hovercraft, but the new vessel is a Partial Air Cushion Supported CATamaran or PACSCAT. A PACSCAT has twin hulls like a catamaran, but also has curtains between them at bow and stern not unlike the skirts of a hovercraft. Air from fans is blown into the space thus contained, lifting the hulls higher in the water than they would otherwise be and so reducing drag. The PACSCAT should be faster than a normal monohull landing craft and able to beach itself and get off again more easily, yet able to carry more than a conventional air-cushion job.

The PACSCAT prototype was built by a consortium of British firms managed by controversial warboffinry selloff bonanza brouhaha firm Qinetiq. It was launched last year and has now completed contractor trials before being handed over to the Marines. Thus far the semi-hovership has achieved speeds exceeding 30 knots in Sea State 2.

"The handover is the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication to develop a new type of fast and functional landing craft,” says Qinetiq naval architect Chris Ross. “Customers are looking to incorporate the innovative partial air cushion concepts into their own future vessels to enable them to benefit from higher speeds, heavier payloads and manoeuvrability.”

The demonstrator ship is 30m long and 7.7m in the beam, and constructed entirely from aluminium. It's propelled by twin waterjets powered by diesel engines, and is expected to weigh in at 175 tonnes fully loaded, with 55 tonnes of that being cargo.

The Royal Marines are employed mainly in landlocked Afghanistan at the moment, but they carried out a major amphibious assault onto the Al Faw peninsula in Iraq in 2003 and they remain the UK's beach-landing specialists. ®

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