DARPA is again interested in Ekranoplan

In September 2020, three American officers from the US Navy and the Marine Corps published a flamboyant article on the site of the very serious US Naval Institute. Marine Captain Walker D. Mills, Lieutenant Commander Phillips-Levine and US Navy Captain Joshua Taylor presented, in fact, a remarkable analysis on the advisability for the American armies to develop and deploy a fleet of 'Ekanoplan, also Wing in Ground effect or WIG on the other side of the Atlantic, to evolve and strengthen the strategic transport capacities of US forces in the face of the challenges posed by the specific geography and the Chinese denial of access to the Pacific. Obviously, the article has generated real interest in the Pentagon, since DARPA, the agency in charge of the most innovative projects of the US Department of Defense, has just published. a request for information to design this type of device.

An Ekranoplan is a hybrid vehicle between a ship and a seaplane (hence the awful term "navion" sometimes used in France), using the ground effect to increase its lift, and offering load carrying capacities comparable to that of a ship, at speeds comparable to those of an airplane. Concretely, the WIG evolves a few tens of meters above the surface of the ocean, being able to carry very heavy loads of several thousand tons for the largest, at speeds of 150 to 300 knots. This concept was initially developed in the Soviet Union by the Soviet Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau, which experimented with several models in the Caspian Sea as early as the 60s, to the astonishment of American photo analysts who could not identify what they were seeing. The United States also developed several studies in this area until the end of the Cold War, such as Boeing's Pelican ULTRA (Ultra Large Transport Aircraft) project, which was to be able to transport 15.000 tonnes of freight at 500 km / h, or ten times more freight than the largest aircraft, ten times faster than the fastest transport vessel. Unfortunately, the program was abandoned in the early 2000s to give budgetary priority to US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Soviet Union carried out important work in the field of ground-effect devices, including the ekranoplan Lun. Russian engineers have reportedly undertaken since 2017 to develop a new 600 tonne machine of this type, potentially armed with missiles.

The rise of the Chinese threat in the Pacific, and the resurgence of the Russian Navy, have obviously given new interest to this concept, especially since the American strategic transport capabilities are today. hui at the lowest, especially in the naval field. In the Pacific, the WIG would be a solution of choice not only to meet the needs of rapid deployment of US forces in a theater characterized by very many islands over an immense ocean surface, but also to withstand the capabilities of first strikes and denial of access by the APL. Indeed, unlike ships requiring port infrastructure, and strategic transport aircraft requiring air runways, WIGs are satisfied with limited loading / unloading infrastructures like assault ships, in particular because of their very shallow draft once afloat. However, ports and airports will very probably be the first targets of Chinese cruise and ballistic missiles in the event of a conflict with the United States and its allies. What is more, Chinese denial of access is primarily designed to counter ships and aircraft. However, the Ekranoplan evolves much lower than the planes, in particular of transport, making it particularly discreet to the adversary radars, but also much faster than the ships, making the satellite recognition inoperative in the phases of transit.


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