A radical design for an autonomous naval vessel with a range of 3,500 nautical miles has been unveiled by Rolls- Royce at DSEI 2017.
Designed to perform a range of single-role missions − for example, patrol and surveillance, mine detection or fleet protection − the 60m long, 700-tonne displacement vessel is intended to be capable of operating beyond the horizon for more than 100 days at a time.
According to Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce’s general manager, Naval Electrics, Automation and Control, the company is seeing interest from major navies in autonomous, rather than remote-controlled, ships.
‘‘Such ships offer a way to deliver increased operational capability, reduce the risk to crew and cut both operating and build costs,’’ he said.
‘‘Over the next 10 years or so, Rolls-Royce expects to see the introduction of medium sized unmanned platforms, particularly in leading navies, as the concept of mixed manned and unmanned fleets develops.’’
The initial design features a full electric propulsion system − featuring two Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 series gensets providing about 4MW electrical power to a 1.5MW propulsion drive − which requires fewer auxiliary systems and offers better reliability levels than mechanical counterparts. An alternative to diesel engines could be small gas turbines, further improving the system’s reliability and reducing onboard maintenance.
Permanent magnet Azipull thrusters together with a bow-mounted tunnel thruster will make the vessel highly manoeuvrable. To reduce fuel consumption and extend operational range, an additional 3,000kWh of energy storage will facilitate efficient low-speed loiter operations; the vessel will also be fitted with photovoltaic panels to generate power when the vessel is on standby.
The absence of crew increases the need for very reliable power and propulsion systems. According to Rolls- Royce, its approach is to blend advanced intelligent asset management and system redundancy in a cost-effective manner that avoids sacrificing the cost and volume savings achieved by removing the crew. A suite of autonomous support tools, such as energy management, equipment health monitoring and predictive and remote maintenance, will ensure the availability of unmanned vessels.
Many of the technologies needed to make autonomous ships a reality already exist.
For example, Rolls-Royce has created what it believes to be the world’s first intelligent awareness system combining multiple sensors with artificial intelligence, to help commercial vessels operate more safely and efficiently. Significant analysis of potential cyber risks is also being undertaken to ensure end-to-end security.