With the first delivery of the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class guided missile destroyer (DDG(X)) in 2020 and the ongoing development of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, the US Navy is for the first time leaping into the use of electric drive propulsion and battery systems for warships, as opposed to just for support vessels.
In the Navy’s 2019-2037 technology development roadmap for naval power and energy systems (NPES), it calls naval electrification “a critical part of the kill chain” based on its electrification needs for high-power radars and networks, directed-energy weapons for counter-unmanned systems and missiles, and prime mover propulsion for silent running and the severing of the logistical chain for refueling.
“The Navy expects more out of its future fleet.,” states the NPES roadmap. “Electricity allows moving large amounts of energy from one place to another, controllably and quickly, making the energy resource (power generated by prime movers) extremely fungible. The trend towards electrification of warfighting capability takes advantage of, and relies upon, the fungible nature of electricity.
“An integrated energy system involves converting energy to the electric weapon or sensor’s needs. The vision of integrated power and energy systems carries this further, with the end-goal of linking all energy consumers with all energy sources in a single electrical network to maximize flexibility in affecting the ship’s functions, namely a total and complete solution for Tactical Energy Management that provides capability optimization.”
The Navy has identified seven major requirements driving the need for NPES.
- Advanced Sensors and Weapons: High-power radar systems and directed-energy weapons impose significant demands on NPES in both average and pulse power requirements — which is power that can’t always be met by mechanical systems.
- Advanced Electric Propulsion: This provides significant warfighting capability in the areas of enhanced survivability, deployment of unmanned platforms, flexible design and upgradeability throughout vessel interiors, and increased platform endurance for distributed maritime operations.
- Survivability: This offers improvement in susceptibility (ability to avoid detection, reduce the probability and number of hits, or store weapons in less vulnerable areas), vulnerability (ability to withstand damage, minimize casualties, and maximize the ability to recover), and recoverability (restoration of key capabilities such as mobility, seaworthiness, critical ship systems, and warfighting capabilities).
- Unmanned Systems: Shipboard NPES can be developed to support rapid, simultaneous charging of multiple unmanned systems to improve the effectiveness of deployable assets in theater.
- Communications and Information Security/Cybersecurity: Communications and information are vital to supporting situational awareness and coordinated decision-making. The Navy is requiring that cybersecurity be built in and native to the design and development of new NPES products and systems.
- Flexible Ship/Modularity/Standard Modular Interfaces: This will permit parallel development of payloads and platforms, just-in-time installation of payloads, more efficient and frequent modernization and technology refresh, and faster mission reconfiguration as needed.