The British Royal Navy may be the world’s most storied sea power. Its fleet has included famous ships like the Mary Rose and the Victory, and it has notched triumphs such as the destruction of the Spanish Armada, Lord Nelson’s victory over Napoleon at Trafalgar and the sinking of the Bismarck, the greatest German battleship.
But Britain’s sailors are also looking towards the future. The Royal Navy has recently commissioned a new high-tech frigate designed to become the “workhorse of the fleet” and focus on a variety of maritime missions ranging from complex combat operations to counter piracy and disaster relief. The Royal Navy says that the ship will be able to operate independently “for significant periods,” or as a part of a group.
The vessel, called a Type 26 Global Combat Ship, will come with sophisticated missiles, radar and weaponry including a helicopter and an arsenal of unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles. But it will also stand out because of the technology it carries in the engine room.
The new ships will have hybrid propulsion using gas turbines for sprinting at high speeds and diesel generators powering a pair of powerful electric motors for patrolling and cruising at lower speeds – something that military vessels tend to do a lot.
BAE Systems, which is developing the ships, has been working with a number of partners to come with the advanced technology. GE, for example, will provide the electric propulsion system. The company has deployed a team of noise and vibration specialists using special 3-D software to model the acoustic dynamics of the ship’s electric motors. The goal is to build an electric propulsion system that is whisper quiet but also powerful. It will give the ship the key advantage of being able to hunt submarines more effectively without being detected.
Electric propulsion in combination with gas turbines is now preferred by many navies because of its easy operation and reduced fuel and maintenance costs. The motors that GE is developing won’t be just shock and vibration proof, but also highly compact so they can fit within a relatively small space. “On military ships, volume within a ship is at an absolute premium,” says Ben Salter, technical solutions director for naval systems at GE. “If all the platforms do is carry engines and propulsion motors around, they may be fast, but they won’t be able to fight. The Royal Navy therefore values power density, which is having enough power but in a tight space.”
The first Type 26 frigates are supposed to enter service after 2020 and sail the seas for the next three decades.
The vessel is the latest in a line of next-generation Navy ships powered by GE. The company developed electrical systems for Britain’s Type 45 destroyer, the new Queen Elizabeth II-class of aircraft carriers, and also America’s fearsome stealth destroyer Zumwalt.
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