Royal Navy unveils its vision for autonomous warships of the future

The Royal Navy has unveiled is its vision of how its Future Autonomous Fleet, including aircraft carriers, robotic warships, submarines, and underwater command centers, will operate over the next 50 years.

Preparing for the warfare of the future, young engineers from UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UK NEST), as well as other academics and researchers from private and public institutions, participated in a design challenge and provided a myriad of concepts for naval force in the future. The program involves an increasing reliance on artificial intelligence and automation mixed with greater exploitation of the underwater realm.

Royal Navy unveils its vision for autonomous warships of the future.
Royal Navy unveils its vision for autonomous warships of the future. Credit: Royal Navy

Detailed proposals for four potential vehicles include a huge flying drone station which would be attached to a helium balloon and based in the stratosphere; uncrewed fast attack crafts housing smaller autonomous boats; aircraft carriers propelled by both sea-based biofuels and wind power; and an underwater flagship at the center of the fleet. Other conceptual ideas include the increased use of artificial intelligence to assist with low-level planning and underwater transport units carrying anything from munitions to food.

In a press release, the Royal Navy said it is also on track to implement one of these futuristic visions, known as Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS), into reality in the coming decade. PODS are interchangeable modules that can be rapidly deployed onto a fleet while still at sea. Similar in concept to a shipping container, their purpose is to support a plug-and-play warship design and enable Royal Navy ships of all sizes to be more adaptable and versatile when deployed.

Underwater platform.
Underwater platform. Credit: Royal Navy

Delivered using innovative technology such as heavy-lift drones or autonomous boats, a ship will be able to receive the equipment it needs to be re-tasked quicker without the need to go into a port to collect it. Large in size, the PODS will house assets vital to supporting Royal Navy operations. These may include an autonomous boat for surveillance and reconnaissance, quadcopter drones to deliver supplies, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief stores or medical equipment.

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 the operational advantage,said 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.

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