Rolls-Royce reveals autonomous naval vessel design

Rolls-Royce has revealed plans for a 60m long, 700 tonne autonomous naval vessel with a range of 3500 nautical miles. The vessel concept is said to be capable of operating at sea for over 100 days, performing a range of single role missions, for example, patrol & surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening.

At the heart of the vessel is a ‘power dense propulsion system’ combining both gas turbines and diesel engines with electric propulsion, energy storage and propulsors.

According to Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce, general manager naval electrics, automation and control: “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.

“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 which is claimed to require fewer auxiliary systems (lubrication, cooling system etc.) and offer better reliability levels than mechanical counterparts. It features two Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 Series gensets providing around 4MW electrical power to a 1.5MW propulsion drive. Rolls-Royce says that small gas turbines could offer an alternative to diesel engines, 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 more manoeuvrable.

To reduce fuel consumption and extend operational range, an additional 3000 kWh of energy storage will facilitate low speed loiter operations and the vessel will also be fitted with solar panels to generate power when the vessel is on standby.

The absence of crew increases the need for reliable power and propulsion systems. Rolls-Royce plans to cost-effectively blend advanced Intelligent Asset Management and system redundancy to avoid sacrificing the cost and volume savings achieved by removing the crew. A suite of autonomous support tools, developed by Rolls-Royce, 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. 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.

Rolls-Royce says that autonomous technology presents an opportunity to automate certain parts of the ship’s operations, and the partial removal of sailors reduces operating costs and improves safety by limiting the number of people exposed to hazards.