A series of futuristic concept images on what a new surface ship for the Royal Navy could look like in 2050 has been released by a group of leading British naval electronic systems companies, working alongside Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
Developed by talented young British scientists and engineers, “Dreadnought 2050” includes speed of light weapons; a graphene coated, ultra-strong “invisible” acrylic hull; locally 3D printed drones; a 3D holographic command table and a floodable, “docks all” rear.
The design was derived from an informal challenge – Startpoint – organised by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Royal Navy to examine future concepts, with young British scientists and engineers from industry, MOD and Royal Navy all contributing.
Starting with the battle management nerve centre of the ship – the fighting heart of a ship known as the Operations Room – the concepts were developed by a number of young science and engineering graduates from both the private and public sector who were asked to visualise what an Operations Room would look like, and how the actual ship itself might appear.
The Operations (Ops) Room – the fighting heart of a ship – has been developed around a 3D holographic command table and communications hubs to provide the crew with greatly improved situational awareness when engaged in future operations.
The command table could be rotated and zoomed, to allow commanders to focus on specific aspects of the battlefield be it in the air, on the surface both at sea and on land, or underwater.
Additional, smaller holographic pods would allow the crew to manage those specific environments in greater detail.
An operation could be commanded from within visual range, to thousands of miles away from the ship; all managed by five or six people. Any information could be transmitted in real-time, secure voice, video or data to wherever it is needed, be it the UK joint headquarters, NATO or other allies.
The ship would be a trimaran, made of ultra-strong acrylic composites which can be turned translucent to give commanders in the Ops Room a view of close-in operations.
The power would either be a fusion reactor or highly efficient turbines driving silent electric motors to waterjets; the hull would be coated with graphene to cut down drag and could be ballasted down to present a stealthier, lower profile.
The ship would not have a conventional mast but a tethered quad-copter which could be flown above the ship.
This tether would be made of carbon nanotubes and cryogenically cooled in order to transmit significant power to the quad-copter for multi-spectral sensors and act as a high-power (i.e. laser) weapon to knock down enemy missiles or aircraft.
There would be an electro-magnetic railgun at the bow, capable of firing projectiles the same distance as today’s long-range cruise missiles; and at the stern there would be a ‘moon pool’ or floodable dock area to deploy Royal Marines and other troops on amphibious raiding missions, or unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to detect mines.
Above the floodable dock would be a large, extendable flight deck and hangar for multiple remotely piloted air systems (RPAS/UAVs) – many equipped with weapons – which could target the enemy without putting the crew in harm’s way.
And along the ship’s sides would be missile tubes for defensive hypersonic (i.e. Mach 5 plus) missiles, directed energy weapons to stop small enemy craft loaded with explosives; and in the armas (the outrigger hulls) would be torpedo tubes to fire super-cavitating torpedoes capable of 300+ knots.
Probably of most importance, the manning of this sort of ship could be brought down significantly. Where today’s modern warships have around 200 crew, a future crew could be brought down to as little as 50-100, with the Ops Room needing only five people rather than today’s 25.
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Robotics Officer, Commander Steve Prest commented: “In 2013, the Royal Navy challenged the defence industry to innovate, and to generate new opportunities to give it an operational edge.
“We therefore welcome a project that allows some of Britain’s best and brightest young engineers to come up with ideas on what a warship might look like or be equipped with in 2050. We want to attract the best new talent to sea to operate, maintain and develop systems with this level of ambition.”
A Senior Executive involved with Startpoint, Muir Macdonald added: “While some of these technologies push today’s boundaries in science and engineering, there is no reason why elements could not be incorporated into future designs.
“The Royal Navy needs visionary, innovative thinking and these concepts point the way to cutting-edge technology which can be acquired at less cost and operated with less manpower than anything at sea today in the world’s leading navies.”