In the recent past, Rolls-Royce has repeatedly mentioned its intentions to join work on promising unmanned systems of one or another class. A few years ago, the first surveys in the field of marine drones were launched. Specialists of the British company studied the needs of the market and the potential of technologies, after which they formed the appearance of the original multi-purpose crewless ship / ship suitable for military use fleets different countries.
Unmanned ship-platform Rolls-Royce in the proposed form
In September, 2017, the Rolls-Royce Marine Division, issued a press release on its new development in the field of unmanned systems. The company's specialists have worked out a preliminary proposal concerning the creation of a whole family of crewless vessels for various purposes. Depending on the needs of the customer, such vessels could carry a variety of cargo or receive special equipment or weapons to solve combat missions. Dimensions, displacement, mass and composition of the payload and other parameters of a particular sample could be determined in accordance with the requirements of the market and the wishes of the customer.
As part of a major preliminary project, the appearance of a promising unmanned ship that could be offered to the navy of various countries was worked out. The main advantages of such a ship were high autonomy, long cruising range and the ability to fully solve the task. The project proposed a modular vessel architecture, thanks to which ships of various purposes could be built on the basis of a common platform.
So far, Rolls-Royce does not offer a full-fledged multi-purpose platform project, but only its concept. Moreover, it still does not even have its own name and is designated as the Autonomous vessel (“Autonomous vessel”). In the future, in case of interest from potential buyers or even receiving an order, the company could start creating a full-fledged project with the subsequent construction of experimental equipment and preparation for mass production. During the first few months, the concept project retained this status, but now the situation has changed. In the foreseeable future, a new agreement may appear, in accordance with which the proposed ideas will be implemented as a set of full-fledged design documentation.
As follows from the published information, so far the nameless project Rolls-Royce proposes the construction of an offshore platform in the form of a ship of 60 length and displacement of the order of 700 tons. Such a ship in its basic configuration will have to have a traditional hull with a high tank, complemented by a U-shaped bridge. platform for some electronic systems. A significant part of the internal volumes of the hull, as well as a flat rectangular deck, are designed for mounting special equipment or weapons. In the published drawings, the vessel does not have any target systems and is depicted in the basic configuration of the offshore platform.
For the purpose of a certain simplification of operation and maintenance, it is proposed to use a power plant with diesel and electric engines in the new concept. The basis of such an installation will be a pair of Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 diesel engines connected to generators. The latter will produce the order of 4 MW of electricity required for delivery to the propulsion engines and all on-board equipment. Movement will be provided by a combined installation with an 1,5 MW electric motor. It is proposed to use a Rolls-Royce Azipull type propeller steering column and bow thruster.
Also, a new concept project offers the use of other power plant options. In particular, to reduce fuel consumption, instead of diesel engines, gas turbine engines with the required characteristics can be used. Another means of improving efficiency should be the hull design, which provides the least water resistance. The tank, superstructure or other elements of the body can be equipped with solar panels. The latter are proposed to be used as a kind of auxiliary power plant, providing power supply to the on-board systems without switching on the main generators. The composition of the main electrical systems can be included batteries, with which the ship can store the generated, but not used at the moment energy.
A press release from Rolls-Royce noted that the absence of the crew imposes certain restrictions. The impossibility of continuous monitoring and maintenance by mechanics places high demands on the reliability of mechanisms. To avoid damage during autonomous navigation, it is proposed to use systems with an adequate safety margin. Follow the work of the power plant should be the most modern intelligent systems. The company’s product catalog already contains automated systems capable of solving such problems and replacing the crew.
The calculations of specialists have shown that an unmanned warship with the proposed power plant will be able to reach speeds up to 25 nodes. The maximum cruising range at economic speed will be 3500 nautical miles. The vehicle's autonomy for fuel will exceed 100 days. After returning to port, refueling and some maintenance, the ship will be able to return to the area of the combat mission.
Also, automation will have to take on all the functions in the field of driving, including tracking security. So, for safe navigation, a crewless ship can use the Intelligent Awareness System complex developed by Rolls-Royce. It automatically collects data from various means of observation and sensors, analyzes it and takes measures to prevent collisions or other incidents. Such complexes can be used both on automatic warships and unmanned commercial ships.
A ship without a crew will have several special features. First of all, the solution of combat missions will not be associated with risks for people. Operators of all onboard systems will be at a safe distance from the ship and will be able to work in the most comfortable conditions. Waiver of the crew also allows you to remove from the hull and superstructure all residential, household and business premises, leaving only the volume for the target equipment, weapons, etc. With equal opportunities, this gives the most serious gain in size and weight of the structure in comparison with "ordinary" ships.
The proposed small warship with a displacement of 700 t is proposed to be completed with a reduced set of equipment. Due to the limited space in the hull and low superstructure, as well as due to the not very large carrying capacity, the ship from Rolls-Royce will be able to carry the equipment only for solving one task. Thus, patrol ships, minesweepers, scouts, etc. can be built on the basis of a universal platform. It is possible that in some cases it will even be possible to ensure the interchangeability of the target equipment and to change the equipment of a particular ship in accordance with the features of the next mission.
As stated in the promotional materials of the company-developer, such features of future unmanned ships will have a positive impact on the capabilities of the fleet as a whole. Large ships with the crew will still be able to solve a certain range of tasks, finding and attacking certain targets. Light crew ships, in turn, will be an addition to them, and will take on part of the necessary work. Proper selection of ships with crews and without them will allow you to create the most effective order.
Rolls-Royce presented its ideas in the field of crewless ships at the beginning of last autumn. Over the next few months, her concept-project was the subject of numerous discussions at different levels and naturally attracted the attention of both professionals and lovers of marine subjects. However, until a certain time the real fate of the project remained in question. None of the naval forces of the world showed real interest in the proposed project. This situation persisted until recently, when very interesting statements were made.
January 12 concept theme from Rolls-Royce raised the head of the naval operations of the US Navy, Admiral John M. Richardson. He recalled this project, commenting on the current goals and objectives of the naval forces. In accordance with the decree of the country's leadership, in the future the combat strength of the naval forces should be brought to the 355 ships. One of the ways to achieve such goals, Admiral Richardson called the construction of crewless ships.
It should be noted that the US Navy already consists of several unmanned complexes of reconnaissance and patrol missions. Nevertheless, all of them are made in the form factor of a boat or a light boat, which clearly affects the characteristics and range of tasks. Larger systems of this kind are being developed and tested, but so far they have not been able to reach adoption and begin full-scale operation.
The Rolls-Royce multi-purpose off-shore offshore platform concept project has already attracted the attention of a large potential customer in the United States naval forces, but even now its future is in question. From the words of Admiral J.M. Richardson should only be that the new project may be of interest in the context of the required build-up of the Navy. He has not yet indicated any real steps.
Despite this, the developer company has a great future for his new project. Last fall, head of the management of Naval Electrics, Automation and Control of Rolls-Royce Company Benjamin Thorp, commenting on the new concept, spoke about the features of the market, the wishes of customers and future plans. According to him, at present, the naval forces of the large developed countries are showing interest in surface crewless platforms. At the same time, the potential operator is more interested in an autonomous complex, rather than remotely controlled equipment. The reasons for this interest are simple: ships with maximum automation can be easier to operate, and also differ in the lower cost of construction and maintenance.
Rolls-Royce expects that over the next 10 years, new crew systems of the middle class will be used in advanced naval forces. As the concept of a mixed fleet composed of “traditional” and unmanned ships develops, the share of the latter will gradually increase. Using their experience and achievements, a large British company intends to take a leading position in this industry.
It should be noted that Rolls-Royce has every reason for optimistic estimates and projections. Her new concept project is indeed of some interest and, in the case of real interest on the part of customers, can reach implementation in practice and, at least, tests at sea landfills. Further developments cannot be ruled out, as a result of which unmanned ships with this or that special equipment will go into series and enter service.
Sharing the optimism of British shipbuilders, one should not forget that so far only the general concept of a promising offshore platform has been proposed. Its overall appearance was formed, but detailed elaboration was not carried out, and besides, some specific tasks had not been solved yet. Thus, to translate all the available ideas will require a long research and development work that requires a certain time. It cannot be ruled out that at this stage the project will encounter certain difficulties, which will lead to its appreciation or a shift in the deadlines for completion of the work.
To date, Rolls-Royce has published basic information about the technical shape of the future offshore platform, but so far has not clarified other important points. So, it was indicated what missions the prospective ship would be able to perform, but it has not yet been specified what equipment it will receive for this. Also, no weapon options for performing percussion missions or self-defense were identified. Other aspects of a full-fledged project remain in question. How exactly the existing design problems will be solved is not yet known.
At the moment, the project of a promising offshore crewless platform from Rolls-Royce remains at the preliminary development stage and for the time being its future is the subject of controversy. If the naval forces of any country are interested in this proposal, then the original idea will be developed and will be brought at least to the test. Otherwise, the concept project will add to the sad list of original, but useless proposals. What will be the future of the new British project - will be known later. Perhaps, new messages about this development will appear in the very near future.
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