Recognizing the need for a landing craft with increased capabilities in speed, range, and mobility, the Navy established Assault Landing Craft/Experimental Trials Unit at Panama City, Florida in October 1977 for the purpose of testing two air cushion vehicle prototypes. Based on test results of JEFF(A), built by Aerojet General Corporation, and JEFF(B), built by Bell Aerospace Textron, the latter was awarded the contract in 1981 to begin the production of Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC). The first LCAC was delivered to Assault Craft Unit 5 (PACFLT) in December 1984. On 1 February 1986, ASSAULT CRAFT UNIT FOUR was commissioned in Panama City, Florida. On 18 March 1987, ACU4 accepted delivery of the Atlantic Fleet's first LCAC.
Designed to operate from every well deck configured amphibious ship, the LCAC's main mission is to deliver a 60-ton payload to a designated beachhead at speeds in excess of 35 knots. Combining high speed, exceptional maneuverability, and long-range qualities with the ability to travel over land, the LCAC provides added versatility to our Amphibious Forces.
The first LCAC detachment, consisting of three craft from ACU5, deployed to the Western Pacific in June 1987. Several highly successful operations provided further proof of the LCAC's potential. ACU4 milestones include Cold Weather Testing at the Air Force's Climatic Control Hangar, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida from July 1987 to September 1987. These tests successfully demonstrated that the LCAC is able to operate in a temperature range of -30F to +160F. In October of 1987, ACU4 participated with Air Force M.A.S.H.. units from Tyndall Air Force Base in Exercise TEQUILA SUNRISE, providing logistics support utilizing the LCAC for equipment insertion and extraction across the beach.
In early November 1987, ACU4 changed homeports from Panama City, Florida to Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk Virginia. On 10 November 1987, ACU4 placed three LCAC in operation from their newly constructed multimillion-dollar LCAC complex.
For the past 10 years, ACU4 LCAC have been deployed throughout the world and taken part in all major amphibious operations. In 1990-91, LCAC were deployed to the Arabian Gulf in support of OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. In 1993, LCAC were present in Somalia were used to bring Marines and equipment ashore in support of United Nations actions to restore order to the region. In 1994, LCAC took part in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT in Haiti. In recent years, LCAC have also operated successfully in support of operations in Bosnia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most recently LCAC were sent to the Caribbean to provide humanitarian assistance to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic after Hurricane George devastated the area.
Along with operational tasking, LCAC are being used as test platforms for new missions and equipment upgrades. Currently LCAC are being tested with state of the art electronics and ordnance which will allow LCAC to act as a new mine clearance, lane breaching system vehicle. LCAC have proven to be extremely reliable and provide the operational commander with a significant capability when planning any mission. The LCAC will remain in our amphibious inventory well into the next century.