Royal Navy unveils futuristic designs for a 'radically' different fleet featuring drones and an underwater carrier

THE Royal Navy has unveiled how its fleet may look in the coming decades thanks to ‘radically’ innovative designs – featuring underwater carriers and upper-atmosphere drones.

By Richard Lemmer
Monday, 13th September 2021, 8:37 am
Updated Monday, 13th September 2021, 8:48 am

Led by a design challenge for young engineers from the UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UKNEST) forum, the Royal Navy will develop a Future Autonomous Fleet programme that could shape how it operates over the next 50 years.

Designs from the challenge include drones based in the stratosphere that are could be launched at a moment’s notice, uncrewed fast attack crafts housing smaller autonomous boats, and an underwater flagship at the centre of the fleet.

Other conceptual ideas include underwater transport units carrying anything from munitions to food.

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A fast-moving drone could dispatch 'hex' boxes containing anything from explosives to humanitarian aid. Picture: Royal Navy

Although in the conceptual phase, the Royal Navy is set to turn one of the futuristic visions into reality over the coming decade.

The Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS) will see the Royal Navy use interchangeable modules, similar to shipping containers, that can be fitted to the surface fleet.

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Delivered using new 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.

Drones fitted with interchangeable modules could be launched from underwater carriers. Picture: The Royal Navy

Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Nick Hine said: ‘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 operational advantage.

‘The young engineers who worked on this project are thinking radically and with real imagination and reflects how the Royal Navy is thinking too.’

Many of the engineers developed similar concepts despite working independently, according to Fiona McIntosh, who participated in the design challenge.

Senior Royal Navy staff called the young engineers' designs 'radically' different, with one concept showing an underwater platform holding drones within the folds of its 'brain-like' hull.

She said: ‘The collaborative nature of the project, coupled with us being unconstrained in the ideas and technologies we discussed, really helped us base our concept on technologies we thought would be key to innovation over the coming decades.

‘The sessions were really interesting and it was great to see all of the concept designs in a presentation to senior Royal Navy officers at the end.

‘It was encouraging to see that the designs had some similar features and the groups had envisioned similar technologies being utilised by the future fleet. Hopefully we’ll see some of our ideas incorporated into future platforms.’

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Another design could see a surface carrier with 'morphing' hull fins that changes shape to meet the ships needs. Picture: The Royal Navy

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An un-manned fast strike underwater vessel was among the designs for the future of the fleet. Picture: Royal Navy