Leading the UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UKNEST) design challenge for young engineers, the Royal Navy will develop a future autonomous fleet program that will shape the way it operates over the next 50 years.
Future visions stemming from the design challenge predict that drones based in the stratosphere will be launched immediately. unmanned high-speed attack vessels accommodating smaller autonomous boats; aircraft carriers powered by sea-based biofuels and wind; and an underwater flagship in the center of the fleet. Other conceptual ideas include increased use of artificial intelligence to support low-level planning and underwater vehicles that transport everything from munitions to food.
Although in the concept stage, the Royal Navy is on track to make one of these forward-looking visions a reality over the next decade with Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS).
The PODS is a replaceable module that can be mounted on a surface fleet. Similar in design to shipping containers, the PODS creates the idea of a plug-and-play warship and is adaptable and versatile when deploying Royal Navy ships of all sizes.
Ships delivered using innovative technologies such as large drones or autonomous boats can receive them faster without having to go to port to collect the equipment they need to work again.
The large PODS houses critical assets to support British naval operations. This could include autonomous boats for surveillance and reconnaissance, quadcopter drones delivering supplies, humanitarian and disaster relief shops or medical equipment. Versatile in their approach, they can serve as additional medical rooms for service personnel at sea or control centers for Royal Marine Corps operations.
2nd Navy Lieutenant General Nick Hine said:
If we find that in a future scenario we can’t traditionally compete in terms of mass, we’ll have to think differently to reclaim our operational advantage.
The young engineers involved in this project are thinking with a fundamentally real imagination, and it reflects the way the Royal Navy thinks too.
As outlined in a recent Defense Command document, the Royal Navy is focused on investing in more innovative and automated fleets. As the Prime Minister announced in November last year, spending increased by 24 billion over four years, a strengthened British Navy will improve the sustainability, lethality and availability of ships.
UKNEST’s young engineer Fiona McIntosh said:
The collaborative nature of the project, along with the unconstrained nature of the ideas and technologies we discussed, really helped create a conceptual basis for what we thought would be key to innovation for decades to come.
The session was really interesting and it was nice to see all the conceptual designs in the presentation to the senior British Navy officers at the end.
It was encouraging that the design had several similar features and that the group envisioned utilizing similar technology in future fleets. We hope to incorporate some of our ideas into future platforms.
Supported by future conceptual ideas, the Royal Navy continues to be at the forefront of maritime technology, adapting to meet future threats and maintain a competitive edge.
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