Engineers are designing a new generation of automated warships that promise to reduce the size of naval crews by half. An important feature of the new naval vessels will be a system that automatically reroutes power around sections of a ship that are damaged in war, enabling the continued functioning of weapons, navigation and communication equipment. The U.S. Navy hopes to have the first "smart ships" in operation by the end of the decade.
Recent trends have made automated technologies especially necessary; the Navy has seen a 33 percent decrease in military personnel over the last decade and a significant reduction in experienced seamen.
The system will enable engineers and architects to design modular vessels consisting of several redundant "zones." If one zone gets severely damaged in an attack, automatic controls will instantaneously reroute the power to the rest of the ship. The future warships will differ fundamentally from conventional vessels in that they will run on electric motors, and their power sources will not be connected directly to the propellers. Instead, the power source, such as a diesel or gas turbine engine, will drive a large electrical generator. The generator will, in turn, provide electricity for the motors that turn the propellers. This sort of arrangement will offer far more flexibility for naval architects because the power source can be placed anywhere on the ship, instead of directly in line with the propellers.
However, one major challenge in building the next-generation ships is designing an electric power system that can be "automatically reconfigured" to compensate for damaged zones. The system is difficult to manage because of the myriad possible pathways over which electricity might have to be rerouted, the numerous pieces of equipment being switched on and off, and the high voltages and currents involved. Predicting the system's behavior under a multitude of conditions requires development of new mathematical testing techniques.
More information: Purdue University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Scott Sudhoff