Marine

Rolls-Royce floats autonomous navy vessel concept

Rolls-Royce floats autonomous ...
A Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept acting as an aerial drone mothership
A Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept acting as an aerial drone mothership
View 3 Images
The hull of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept
1/3
The hull of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept
Illustration of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept towing a sensor pod
2/3
Illustration of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept towing a sensor pod
A Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept acting as an aerial drone mothership
3/3
A Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept acting as an aerial drone mothership
View gallery - 3 images

Rolls-Royce has been interested in commercial autonomous ships for some years, but now the company is looking at robotic naval vessels. These 60-m (197-ft), 700-tonne (771-ton) open deck, single-role ships would operate without crews for over a hundred days with a range of 3,500 nm (4,027 mi, 6,482 km) and a top speed of over 25 knots (29 mph, 26 km/h).

One of the biggest single expenses and the hardest item to recruit for a navy is sailors, which is the reason most of the world's advanced sea powers are turning more and more to automation. This allows the next generation of aircraft carriers and submarines to be larger and more capable than their predecessors, yet carry smaller crews.

However, there's more at stake than expense. Today's navy personnel aren't deck swabbers and brass polishers. They are valuable, highly skilled professionals and fleet commanders are loath to waste them on repetitive, routine duties when they could be better employed elsewhere.

The hull of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept
The hull of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept

The Rolls-Royce concept vessel would take over many of today's single-role missions, including sonar sweeps around battlegroups, patrol and surveillance, mine hunting, and harbor guarding. This would free up manned ships to take on challenging, multi-role missions as part of a mixed fleet.

To achieve this, Rolls-Royce says that these autonomous ships would have to put a premium on reliability and low maintenance. This would require an all-electric propulsion system, which would need fewer auxiliaries, like lubricating and cooling systems. The initial concept design would include two 4-MW Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 Series gensets to power a 1.5-MW propulsion drive. Meanwhile, Permanent Magnet Azipull thrusters and a bow-mounted tunnel thruster would make the vessel more maneuverable.

Later designs might use small gas turbines for greater reliability. Additional power and stealth capability would be provided by a 3,000-kWh energy storage system, while photovoltaic solar panels would help power ship's systems while on standby.

Illustration of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept towing a sensor pod
Illustration of the Rolls-Royce autonomous naval vessel concept towing a sensor pod

Because the autonomous ship must, by definition, operate without a crew, the concept would use advanced Intelligent Asset Management and system redundancy as well as Rolls-Royce's suite of autonomous support tools, like the company's Intelligent Awareness System using multiple sensors combined with artificial intelligence, Energy Management, Equipment Health Monitoring, and predictive and remote maintenance to keep it operating while at sea. All of this would be backed by an end-to-end cybersecurity system.

"Rolls-Royce 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," says Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce, General Manager Naval Electrics, Automation and Control. "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. With our experience and capabilities we expect to lead the field."

Source: Rolls Royce

View gallery - 3 images
3 comments
highlandboy
Which leaves open the questions: - without a captain who is responsible for collisions on the open sea?; - is there still a requirement to lend assistance to any vessel in distress?; - if it had to avoid other vessels, could its purpose be circumvented by another vessel repeatedly getting in its way? If national law can't keep up with vehicle automation, good luck getting international agreement covering the law of the sea.
Grunt
One assumes that this is the proper Rolls Royce doing this, not the BMW owned off-shoot. Autonomous craft eh? I am now beginning to understand the Royal Navy's apparent lack of real concern for their low manning levels in the face of the new carriers coming into service. By the time they do, years hence, there will be squadrons of un-manned boats, sorry, ships - no doubt equipped with armed drones - racing around under the white ensign, presumably frantically and autonomously protecting the carriers. Yeah! That'll work.
WolfeSA
So that means soon a small country could have a fairly useful fleet without needing a proper navy. It also raises the possibility of cyberjacked ships being turned into remotely controlled pirates, and not a parrot in sight! Or half your fleet turning on you because the other guy has better hacking tech. Methinks this is going to get very complicated very soon mateys, arrghh.