UK-based naval architecture and marine engineering consultancy Steller Systems has devised the ‘Transition Ship’, or TX Ship, as a means of bridging the gap between ‘lean-manned’ operations and all-out autonomy. While many navies and coast guard agencies are keen to shield their human operatives from the physical risks inherent to patrol and rescue tasks – as well as reduce the manpower costs and effort involved in managing time-consuming operational minutiae – it’s important to remember that, despite the media hype, we’re still many test hours away from seeing these unmanned solutions become the norm.
Vessel automation is currently best viewed as a tool to assist smaller crew complements undertaking ‘dirty, dull and dangerous’ missions. For instance, Steller Systems says, the TX Ship could sail ‘over the horizon’ ahead of manned ships, enabling it to detect hostile vessels and potential threats and provide a timely warning to the human crew behind. The group has worked closely with aerospace and defence systems developer Thales to fine-tune the concept and to grant operators “both mass and lethality that larger, more expensive but isolated platforms can’t [deliver]”, Thales says.
The vessel’s multirole capabilities would include, but not be restricted to: mine countermeasures; anti-submarine warfare; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare; covert deployment and retrieval of troops; modular payload delivery; and general patrol duties. The ship could also serve as an emergency helicopter landing platform or a medical facility for casualties.
The shift towards automation isn’t just about reducing human workloads. By cutting down on the number of on board operatives – as well as the storage spaces required for their equipment, food, toiletries, etc – a greater amount of space can be reserved for casualty recovery.
The trimaran TX Ship features a length of 70m, a beam of 22.4m and a displacement of 750tonnes, and is designed for a 15-man crew, enabling the vessel type to operate in manned mode when deemed necessary. The propulsive arrangement matches two diesel engines and two diesel generators to a conventional twin-shaft arrangement, for a service speed of 18knots, increasing to 30knots max.
In terms of staying power, the TX Ship has a range of 6,000nm+ at 12knots and, when manned, an endurance of 20 days. This endurance can be doubled to 40 days when the vessel is in unmanned mode.
The TX Ship also features the capacity for four 20’ containers, with the front deck providing a load capacity of 16tonnes. These containers will house the equipment needed for specific missions, meaning that the team can swap them on and off the vessel as required – thus enabling the vessel to perform mines countermeasures one day and collect oceanographic data the next. Thales will supply the vessel’s sensors, jammers, radar and mission-specific systems, while Rolls-Royce has supplied the technology for the TX Ship’s unmanned marine engineering systems.
(For the full story, see Ship & Boat International January/February 2020).