Rolls-Royce introduces autonomous naval vessel concept

British propulsion systems supplier and developer Rolls-Royce has revealed its designs for an autonomous, single role, naval vessel capable of covering distances of 3500 nautical miles at a time.

According to the company, the vessel would be capable of operating beyond the horizon for over 100 days, displace 700 tonnes and reach speeds above 25 knots.

Measuring in at 60 meters, Rolls-Royce envisions the vessel as performing a range of single role missions, for example, patrol & surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening.

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. With our experience and capabilities we expect to lead the field.”

The initial design features a full electric propulsion system which requires fewer auxiliary systems (lubrication, cooling system etc.) and offers 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. 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 maneuverable.

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

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.