Rolls-Royce designs autonomous patrol ship

Posted on 13 Sep 2017 by Michael Cruickshank

British defense and aerospace manufacturer Rolls-Royce Holdings has shown off a new state of the art design for an autonomous ship.

An artist's impression of one of the autonomous patrol boats. Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce
An artist’s impression of one of the autonomous patrol boats. Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce

Built to patrol coastlines for military purposes, the ship can travel without the need of a single human crew member.

To achieve this, Rolls-Royce has incorporated the latest in navigation technology, combining an array of sensors with an AI-powered computer into what it calls an ‘Intelligent Awareness System’.

The vessel itself is 60m in length, displaces 700 tonnes, and is able to move at a top speed of around 25 knots.

As well, it is able to operate for up to 100 days without the need to return to port or be serviced by human naval officers.

The ship boasts a maximum range of around 3500 nautical miles, something which is aided by the use of solar panels which can charge the ship’s electrical systems while it is in a ‘standby’ mode.

Each vessel would be nominally designed for a single mission type. Of these Rolls-Royce envisages it being used for common naval tasks such as patrol and surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening.

The company has stated that it was inspired to develop the autonomous ship due to what it saw as an increasing demand for these kinds of systems.

“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,” said Benjamin Thorp, a general manager at Rolls-Royce.

“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 primary advantage of autonomous ships is that they cost significantly less to run than crewed vessels, mostly due to the reduced need to pay crew wages.

As well, in wartime, the loss of one of these ships would not be costly in terms of human lives, and therefore they could be tasked with more high-risk missions than their crewed counterparts.

Indeed, the US Navy already operates experimental autonomous trimarans designed to track and hunt enemy submarines