Lean crewed: road to highly autonomous warships



BMT is looking for solutions to integrate AI and an intelligent system (IS) into the design of a naval vessel in order to process a large amount of data and provide relevant information to the crew. Being better informed will speed up the decision-making process on the ship.

The company has a vision for 2040 and beyond, but the concept is not about full automation. The project seeks solutions that reduce the number of people who must be in a high risk environment and who have a balance between autonomy and human users. This concept is called lean-crew.

To automate or not to automate

BMT’s head of research and development, Jake Rigby, simplifies: “We want humans to keep doing what they’re really good at and let computers do what they do best and focus on how which we can couple these elements. But removing crews from ships altogether may not yet be an option.

“We don’t see that [complete automation] is happening in the near future. There is also an understanding of the ethical aspects of autonomously operating warships, whether in self-defense or choosing to engage in combat. There is a huge hurdle to overcome in terms of confidence in supervisory systems, ”BMT chief engineer Ian Savage told Global Defense Technology.

There is work in progress on the background and BMT is addressing these issues. But these processes can be time consuming, and the company believes it is important that systems that allow at least partial automation are integrated.

BMT believes that the transition to a small, highly autonomous crew concept can provide improved operational capabilities while retaining asset flexibility by keeping a limited number of highly trained personnel on board.

With autonomy, there is the potential to reduce the cost of life of the platform and increase the reaction time. Rigby explains, “If we look at hypersonic missiles or other new threats, a computer can detect and track these things better than a human.

Another important aspect is the separation of personnel from the direct fire line. “This can improve their quality of life and increase retention rates, as they could play certain roles ashore rather than necessarily always having to be on board the ship,” he continues.

In this future concept, there is no regular deck on the ship. The company believes the navigation function can be performed, using electro-optical sensors, from a virtual cockpit in a combined operations room and a deeper deck inside the ship.

This concept reduces the number of people on board, ensures their safety and frees up surface space for weapons, communication equipment and sensors. Fewer staff translates into lower operating costs and longer endurance.

Operating a ship in the theater without personnel on board has limitations and potential dangers. If a scenario emerges that is not programmed into the computer, adapting the system to the new threat may take too long or be difficult. Having an optimized presence also means that missions are able to operate in areas prohibited by GPS and do not need to rely so much on spoofed and scrambled satellite connections, making ships less susceptible to pirate attacks. .

The navigation function would be performed, using electro-optical sensors, from a virtual cockpit in a combined operations room and a deeper deck inside the ship. Credit: BMT


BMT technical experts identified and divided the project into several key development areas. The recoverable aspect of the job focuses on the capabilities that allow a low-crewed vessel to respond quickly and flexibly during damage control scenarios.

Damage control has traditionally been based on people-led firefighting, flood control and remediation. These responsibilities can be difficult to automate. Savage, however, sees an opportunity: “We can incorporate a robust system design with the ability to reconfigure itself based on damaged conditions. But it’s also related to platform systems and potentially maintenance and logistics, ”he says.

The vision is to find ways to bring together works from different fields. Savage believes that the functional requirements should be integrated with other functions on board the vessel, such as the video detection of oil mist and fire as part of the CCTV system, or the pressure monitoring of the system. fuel linked to pre-fire alarms. Situational awareness would therefore improve the crew’s ability to focus on various aspects of the operation.

If a robust information and management system design is in place, reduced crew operation allows mission times of 100 days. Situational awareness also provides flexibility and a high level of system oversight. Improved logistics and maintainability, in turn, increase recovery capacity.

Savage explains, “Because system monitoring also gives you the ability to understand the state of your system under damaged conditions, these same sensors then provide you with potential real-time monitoring based on the conditions.

“You can do it from a shore-based facility, onboard or both and allow yourself to schedule this type of maintenance program around a specific port stop.”

Another area of ​​interest of the project concerns platform systems. BMT studies the ability of ships to perform part of their husbandry, maintenance and inspection autonomously. For example, identify and stop leaks, reconfigure according to a situation or reduce breeding. But to achieve these high levels of reliability, design principles, equipment selection, installation and commissioning practices will need to be maximized.

BMT Vision: Towards Future Highly Autonomous, Small-Crewed Warships
BMT technical experts identified and divided the project into several key development areas. Credit: BMT

Cybersecurity by design

As the intelligent system is across the ship to create new digital interfaces and information sources that help the crew operate more efficiently, the same systems invariably increase the threat surface from a cybersecurity perspective.

By definition, the secure-by-design approach would ensure that cybersecurity principles are considered at an early stage of the design.

Rigby says the company is taking a new approach to solving this problem. “What we’ve tried to do on cybersecurity is take a blank canvas, forget everything we know about how networks are designed on warships today, and think: “How could we design this system to be completely secure by design and operate security as well,” he concludes.



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