INDIAN OCEAN – On the bridge of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) is a master helmsman who steers the ship of 1,200 Sailors and 1,500 Marines as it cuts through the waves. The navigator calculates heading, and the commanding officer takes his seat to overlook operations. All is quiet, but the familiar ship’s hum of fans and machines.
But a dozen decks below Sailors of Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7 can be found tending to their own vessel. The Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) crew is only five men, and unlike the Bonhomme Richard, this craft doesn’t sail over water-it flies. The man behind the wheel doesn’t steer, he pilots. There is no hum, rather a deafening wind from its two massive gas turbine propellers as the 185 ton beast roars to life from a well deck cave in the bowels of Bonhomme Richard.
“They are an awesome force,” said Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 2nd Class Carina Cruz, LCAC Deck engineer, from Klamath Falls, Oregon. “Those of us who work with LCAC have a very cool job. Everyone who works with LCAC remembers their first time witnessing these crafts in action.”
This beast whose bellow can be heard rumbling throughout the decks of BHR carries on its back another of the ship’s mighty beasts, the Marine. With a troop capacity of 180 and a payload capacity of 60 tons the LCAC can travel more than 45 knots over sea, and then up onto land, entering the battle zone from a ship beyond the horizon. The air cushion enables the LCAC to reach 70 percent of the world’s coastline.
“We can deliver 60,000 tons of war fighting gear to virtually any shore in 2 days,” Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Justin Popp, LCAC loadmaster, from Hesperia, California. “LCACs can deliver men and machines right to an enemy’s front door. LCACs are the only naval assault craft of their size that can go from water to land and keep on going.”
During the bilateral operation Talisman Sabre 2015, the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group used the LCAC to move troops and gear ashore to conduct joint training exercises with their Australian counterparts with the goal of strengthening alliances and friendship between the two nations.
“The LCACs fill a very important role,” Chief Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) John Meacham, LCAC craftmaster from Lancaster, California. “They are a high speed ship-to-shore connection that can get Marines and gear from a ship’s well deck to a beach over the horizon. It is a vital asset to any amphibious force and is a crucial piece in operation Talisman Sabre.”
Bonhomme Richard, the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the embarked Royal Australian Navy, and Australian Defense Force service members have been participating in Talisman Sabre since July 5, and will complete the exercise July 18.
Bonhomme Richard is the lead ship of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group which is composed of Bonhomme Richard, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), the embarked 31st MEU, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88).