PARIS – Virtually all large navies operate landing craft big enough to carry a single main battle tank between ships and the shore, yet small enough to fit aboard large amphibious ships. The craft are useful in any number of situations where navies want to move people, equipment and vehicles and connect between places where no shore infrastructure might exist. And most of the smaller craft are restricted in size and capability by the need to fit aboard the larger ships.

"We discovered many smaller navies want those amphibious capabilities even if they don't have a mother ship," Philippe Neri, commercial director of the French firm CNIM, said Thursday at the Euronaval exposition just outside Paris. "Many of those navies can't afford a big ship like an LPD.

"I realized we were missing half the market."

In naval terms, smaller landing craft are referred to as "ship to shore connectors." CNIM set about designing a "shore to shore connector," larger than the ship-to-shore vessels but retaining the qualities that make them handy.

CNIM already produces an innovative landing craft called the L-CAT, a 30-meter by 12.6-meter catamaran that can raise or lower its payload deck – lowering it to allow vehicles and people to move directly on to a beach or pier, raising it to become a high-speed craft more nimble than nearly every other landing vessel. Four of the vessels are in service with the French Navy, and two more were delivered this year to Egypt.

Designers expanded on the L-CAT ship-to-shore design to create an L-CAT shore-to-shore design with a bigger hull able to accommodate more personnel and provide improved seakeeping.

"We increased the range without decreasing the payload," Neri said. "The ships will be spending longer times at sea and need to operate in higher sea states."

The L-CAT shore-to-shore can carry enough fuel to travel 1,000 nautical miles without a payload, Neri said, yet still able to move 800 nautical miles with a 100-ton payload. The diesel-powered vessel will be able to move at 22 knots empty and 15 knots with a full load.

The twin hulls also have been expanded with a length of 32.6 meters and beam of 13.2, with room for 54 seats, up from 40 in the ship-to-shore L-CAT.

CNIM considered offering a larger craft able to carry two main battle tanks, Neri said, but surveys of navies, including the French Navy, showed craft with that ability were rarely used in that capacity.

The L-CAT shore-to-shore can mount two unmanned 20mm guns, Neri said, and because the ship will need to operate independently, it will have a larger radar, all controlled by LYNCEA, a naval mission management system produced by NEXEYA. The system, built around a large, touch-screen panel, is designed to allow smaller ships like offshore patrol vessels and small combatants the ability to generate and maintain a tactical situation based on ship sensors and tactical datalinks and provide weapons management capabilities.

The vessel can also mount a Thales CAPTAS-1 towed array system, Neri said, providing a submarine detection capability to smaller navies that don't operate more sophisticated anti-submarine warfare systems.

"This could be a very cheap platform to provide that capability," Neri said. "Small navies would like to know if submarines are working in their waters."

A major advantage of CNIM's business model, Neri noted, is that it is not tied to a particular shipyard to build its vessels. The company built its own L-CAT prototype, and the four French Navy and two Egyptian Navy vessels were built in Boulogne, France.

"But it can be built anywhere," Neri said. "Our model is to take the technology to the shipyard. We are there for the entire production process to ensure the construction is done properly.

"This is the winning business model," he added. "Most countries ask for in-country production. This is perfect for them."

The L-CAT concept is part of Fincantieri Marinette Marine's bid for the US Army's Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), or MSV(L), program to replace a fleet of LCM-8 landing craft. If successful, the Fincantieri-CNIM partnership would build the ships at a shipyard in Michigan.