French companies often are a source of initiative and ingenuity, and the L-CAT prototype imagined, designed and built on its own money by CNIM (société de Construction industrielles de la Méditerranée), a small company based in south-eastern France.
This prototype vessel has the twin hulls of a catamaran, but its central platform, resembling an elevator, can be raised or lowered, thus transforming the L-CAT from a catamaran to flat-bottomed landing craft, and back again.
The design, with the help of DGA, has been refined into a fast, amphibious landing craft (Engin de Débarquement Amphibie Rapide, or EDA-R).
"Initially CNIM was not specialized in the field of shipbuilding," says Sylvain Libourel, systems architect at DGA in charge of the technical aspects of the program.
CNIM, based in La Seyne-sur-Mer, in south-eastern France, was more involved in the provision of specialized equipment for defense, the space industry, and scientific research. It for example produced the launch tubes for France’s nuclear missile submarines, as well as bridging equipment for the French army. It subsequently became involved in the production of escalators, moving sidewalks and elevators for public transport infrastructure, which may have sparked the imagination of its engineers.
“In fact, this is not a new project, as CNIM has been working on the concept for a decade and has obtained patents.
"The L-CAT, short for Landing CATamaran, which is produced and sold by CNIM in several sizes, has been used as the basis for our EDA-R program,” says Libourel, working closely with the architects of this enterprise. He adds:
"Our product matched a very specific requirement, namely the need to enter the well decks of the French Navy’s Mistral and Tonnerre amphibious warfare ships, which means taking into account certain technical constraints in terms of size and draught." Furthermore, each ship embarks two EDA-Rs, which makes size an even bigger limitation.
The concept is unique: these aluminium-built catamarans, each 30 meters long and 12 meters wide, and capable of carrying up to 80 tonnes of equipment, are used to ferry troops and vehicles from their ships to their landing zones at high speed.
An optimal solution
Initially the project team led by DGA engineers aimed to replace the old landing craft used by the French navy, “which were no longer considered fast enough for modern operations as their top speed is 10 to 12 knots, or about 20 lm per hour.” The basic need was to procure landing craft capable of higher speeds.
“Thanks to EDA-R, transit speed has already doubled,” says the DGA architect. “Of course, there are faster systems, like the LCAC (landing craft, air cushion) used by the US Navy,” says Libourel, but they require a very heavy investment for their acquisition, maintenance and fuel consumption.”
Since CNIM is not a shipyard, it sub-contracted the actual construction of the two-hulled craft to Socarenam, a medium-sized yard located in Saint-Malo and Boulogne-sur-Mer, on France’s Channel coast.
Under the supervision of Sylvain Libourel, much technical information was exchanged with CNIM to optimize the design of this innovative craft and to incorporate the Navy’s operational suggestions, as well as the feedback obtained from the L-CAT prototype.
According to Ronan Minguy, the program manager, "the two first craft will be delivered in the second half of 2011 and the next two in 2012. Furthermore, the contract includes an option for four additional craft, as well as their maintenance.” The contract is worth 125 million euros, and further orders can be expected from the export market as this vessels can land equipment on practically any beach in the world.
Adapting its concept to the needs of civil and military customers worldwide, CNIM is currently working on a full range of vessels of different sizes to allow for the fast delivery of heavy equipment while bypassing the need for port infrastructure. (ends)