The Royal Navy’s silent service has challenged a team of young scientists to re-envision what the future of underwater warfare would look like and the results of their work have now been revealed.
Flying fish swarm drones, completely autonomous eel-shaped UUVs and dissolving micro UUVs are all part of the concept.
The ideas were envisioned by scientists at UKNEST as part of a project to mark the 100th anniversary of the launch of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine.
Starting with the role of the vessel, it became clear that a mothership type approach was needed to act as a major command and control hub, information collector and disseminator, weapon carrier and underwater flagship.
In terms of its shape, the young engineers visualised a future submarine with a whale shark styled mouth and manta ray body allowing a combination of speed and stealthiness unmatched by today’s technology. The 3-D printed hull would be a combination of light but strong acrylic materials bonded to superstrong alloys capable of withstanding the extreme pressure at depths of 1000m or more.
Anechoic coatings formed by nanometre thin graphene ‘scales’ would be layered to create a skin. The scales would be bonded together with a piezoelectric material allowing dynamic control of the scales. This would allow real time alignment of the scales to reduce drag in transit and alignment of the scales to absorb incoming acoustic energy in silent operations. The mothership would have a reduced crew of around 20 capable of neuro interfacing with the mothership’s command system allowing control of multiple systems with a thought. They would live onboard in comfortable surroundings for weeks or months at a time, undertaking missions then docking with underwater space stations located at strategic points in UK controlled waters around the world.
There would be two propulsion systems, one for silent and efficient cruising for thousands of miles at up to 30 knots, the other for short bursts of high speed in a fight or flight scenario. Powered in cruise mode by hybrid algae-electric propulsion the final drive would be via a large-scale tunnel drive that works in a similar fashion to the principles behind Dyson bladeless fans, sucking water in through the bow then expelling it smoothly from the stern. Precise control of depth and direction is achieved by flexible wing tips which use biomimicry deflection to alter their shape.
In battle situations where high speed was necessary, the mothership would be powered for short bursts by a Casimir1 force battery using zero point energy to produce enormous power. The submarine would be cloaked in a super-cavitating bubble of air, reducing drag, and enabling it to be boosted to speeds of up to 150 knots. This air pocket would be formed by bubbles created by bow mounted laser emitters boiling the water in front of the submarine. Outlets, similar to gills, stabilise and direct the flow over the submarine’s entire surface.
The mothership would have advanced multi spectral, low power active and passive sensors moulded into the hull, a recovery bay in the underside (which would also act as a docking station for the transfer of personnel, payloads and stores), and weapons bays integrated into the top surface akin to how the Space Shuttle delivered payloads into space. The payload bays would be multifunctional to take a variety of weapons or other sensors and there are conventional torpedo tubes for self-defence decoys, 3-D printed onboard.
Director Submarine Capability, Rear Admiral Tim Hodgson said: “We want to encourage our engineers of the future to be bold, to think radically and to push boundaries. The pace of global innovation is only going to increase, so for the UK be a leader in this race it needs to maintain its leadership in skills and technology.”