Military

Autonomous Fleet concepts set course for Royal Navy's next 50 years

Autonomous Fleet concepts set ...
A blended wing submarine with hex pods
A blended wing submarine with hex pods
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Design for a future aircraft carrier
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Design for a future aircraft carrier
The fast attack drone capable of hype
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The fast attack drone capable of hypersonic speeds
Inforgraphic showing the autonomous attack craft
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Inforgraphic showing the autonomous attack craft
Infographic showing the fast attack drone and airship
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Infographic showing the fast attack drone and airship
Inforgraphic shoing future flagship
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Inforgraphic shoing future flagship
The Future Autonomous Fleet will rely heavily on automation to reduce the need for human personnel
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The Future Autonomous Fleet will rely heavily on automation to reduce the need for human personnel
A blended wing submarine with hex pods
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A blended wing submarine with hex pods
An autonomous attack craft
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An autonomous attack craft
An underwater supply craft
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An underwater supply craft
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The Royal Navy has released an outline of its vision of how its Future Autonomous Fleet will operate over the next half century, including green aircraft carriers, underwater command centers, and robotic warships.

Based on a recent Defence Command Paper and a design challenge given to young engineers from the UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UKNEST), the list of concepts of the future Navy shows the service is continuing its strategy of making up for a shrunken fleet by relying on advanced technology that packs a bigger punch. In this case, it involves an increasing reliance on artificial intelligence and automation mixed with greater exploitation of the underwater realm.

The concepts put forward include the introduction of autonomous trimaran attack ships propelled by water jets that can also deploy smaller craft. These, like other vessels in the future fleet, would be very green, relying on energy harvested by wind turbines and then wirelessly beamed to the craft, heat from deep-sea thermal vents, or biofuels made from plankton gathered by the warships like whales.

An autonomous attack craft
An autonomous attack craft

Overhead, the Navy envisions drone balloon bases parked in the stratosphere, held up by helium-filled envelopes and covered with solar arrays. These can not only provide surveillance, but can deploy fast-strike drones that reach hypersonic speeds as they dive toward their target, then attack it with sea-skimming rail-gun projectiles and short-range lasers.

Meanwhile, below the waves, there are submarines that go beyond today's mix of attack and missile boats. These will include underwater transport units carrying supplies for military or humanitarian missions, reconnaissance units, craft with blended-wing bodies, and an underwater flagship with a bulbous hull and live brain corals coating the outer casing.

This flagship would maintain and deploy robotic hex units, which are underwater drones for ferrying crews to underwater craft, recon and navigation, neutralizing enemy drones, and locking onto enemy craft like limpets to detonate or simply disrupt the ship's system. They can even extend their range by latching onto Royal Navy ships to hitch a ride.

The fast attack drone capable of hype
The fast attack drone capable of hypersonic speeds

A more immediate goal is the development of what the Navy calls the Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS), which are interchangeable modules for the surface fleet. Similar in concept to a shipping container, their purpose is to support a plug-and-play warship design, which would allow craft of any size to use the same modules for greater mission flexibility.

These PODS would be easy to swap out and could even be changed while at sea, allowing a ship that started out leaving port with a pod carrying an autonomous boat to arrive at its destination with heavy-lift drones, humanitarian supplies, a command center, or a medical unit.

"In a future scenario if we find ourselves unable to compete traditionally in terms of mass, we must think differently if we are to regain operational advantage," says Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Nick Hine. "The young engineers who worked on this project are thinking radically and with real imagination and reflects how the Royal Navy is thinking too."

Source: Royal Navy

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5 comments
5 comments
mr.sugg
Horrified that the Royal Navy engineers would even consider using plankton as a biofuel, harvested by the autonomous trimaran. Not only is zooplankton a basic food source for the ocean food chain from krill to whales but some types clean the ocean by eating detritus. Phytoplankton convert C02 to oxygen. Then the author has the temerity to call it a "green fuel"
Robt
mr.sugg I think that the quantities of plankton required would be quite minuscule versus the total mass, both locally to it’s collection and globally
Perhaps there are some readers who could shed some empirical light on the question?
jocco
Mabe it would be better to save the planet than kill more people
JeffK
"A more immediate goal is the development of what the Navy calls the Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS), which are interchangeable modules for the surface fleet. Similar in concept to a shipping container, their purpose is to support a plug-and-play warship design, which would allow craft of any size to use the same modules for greater mission flexibility."

This was supposed to be the wonderful advantage of the USN's vaunted Littoral Combat Ship program. We built four or six of these wunderkinds in two different versions, conventional hull and trimaran hulls. The last time I followed the details four or five years ago, only one of the interchangeable modules had passed from testing and the higher ups were trying to decide if the LCS could be lengthened and turned into the frigate class that seems to be the latest fad.
Nelson Hyde Chick
Climate change is acidifying the oceans, and once the oceans are acid enough plankton will not be able to form their shells, and there goes the food chain and these ships' fuel.