DARPA Launches Ekranoplan Liberty Lifter Program for Strategic Lift

Among the most important American successes of the Second World War in the industrial field, it is common to refer to combat aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang or the F-6F Hellcat, to the Sherman tank or to the aircraft carriers of the Wasp class. However, the material which undoubtedly played the most decisive role in defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was the Liberty Ship, a model of cargo ship 135 meters long and 10.000 tons displacement, produced in 2,710 copies, and which transported the entire American and allied war effort to Africa, Europe and Asia. To achieve this, the ingenious Henry J. Kaiser, who had already distinguished himself by building the ambitious Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, transformed the American shipbuilding industry to incorporate principles of modular design and production lines borrowed from at Ford factories. By this approach, it only took 3 days to build a Liberty Ship, from laying the keel to launching.

Today, American strategic transport is based on means relatively close to those that existed in 1945, with a fleet of naval cargo ships certainly larger than the Liberty Ships, gathered within the US Navy's Military Sealift Command. Like their illustrious ancestors, modern cargo ships, although they can transport a large quantity of equipment, suffer from two major weaknesses: significant vulnerability during transit, particularly in the face of high-performance submarine and air resources such as those available to China or Russia, and a relatively slow speed, requiring significant transfer times. In addition, they require heavy infrastructure to unload their cargo, which is inherently vulnerable to a determined adversary. At the other end of the spectrum, the strategic air transport, assigned to the Military Airlift Command of the US Air Force, if it is fast, has only limited transport capacities, and also requires reception infrastructures. , including long and good airstrips, which are just as vulnerable as merchant ports.

Video published by DARPA to present the Liberty Lifter program

The Ekranoplan Liberty Lifter program launched by DARPA, aims precisely to open a third way, so as to complete the means available to the American armed forces, but also to no longer depend on these reception infrastructures essential to ships and cargo planes. Let's remember thatan Ekranoplan is a hybrid between an airplane and a ship, using the ground effect, ie the overpressure which appears between the wings and the ground when it evolves at an altitude lower than its wingspan, and which has the effect of increasing the lift. The most representative program of this technology was the Soviet Lun, a 74-meter-long prototype powered by 8 turbojets, and capable of reaching 500 km/h despite weighing 400 tons. However, the technological knowledge that gave birth to the Lun in 1987, only allowed the aircraft to be used in calm seas, including for transit flights, which constituted a major constraint signing its early death warrant, even if reports seem to indicate that Moscow exhumed the program in 2017.

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