The Navy installed an Energy Storage Module on the USS Portland (LPD 27) to support the Solid State Laser. Shown are sailors and marines preparing to launch two landing craft from the well deck of the USS Portland. (US Navy photo).

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.

To address the Navy roadmap for electrification in more detail, Navy spokesperson LT Lewis Aldridge at the US Navy Office of Information (CHINFO) at the Pentagon provided written responses to questions from Breaking Defense.

Breaking Defense: What is the Navy’s present-state view of the value that electrification brings to the Navy in areas like propulsion and in meeting demands of modern combatant ships, especially in the areas like advanced radar and other electronic systems, as well as directed-energy weapons?

CHINFO: Electrification of platforms allows for in ships which extends the range and operational reach of our platforms. Electrification enables the Navy to share power between propulsion and other loads such as advanced sensors and weapons.

The Navy is all in on capitalizing on opportunities in this space if they make sense in terms of technology, life cycle of the ship, and return on investment. The 2019 Naval Power and Energy Systems Technology Development Roadmap outlines the evolution of the Navy’s strategy to meet the needs of future weapon and sensor systems. The roadmap includes directed energy weapons such as lasers and stochastic electronic warfare systems, radiated energy systems such as the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), and the development of an Integrated Power and Energy System (IPES) to provide integrated energy storage and power along with advanced system controls.

Examples include the Energy Storage Module installed on the USS Portland (LPD 27) to support the Solid State Laser; HELIOS installation on USS Preble (DDG 88); AMDR Power Conversion Module installation on DDG 51 Flight III; and development of a Tactical Energy Management Control System enabling full utilization of shipboard power and energy systems.

Breaking Defense: What are the main drivers behind today’s naval electrification needs?

CHINFO: The main drivers of the Navy’s electrification needs are combat capability and lethality. Electrification provides opportunities to expand the operational reach of platforms through improvements in energy efficiency and sharing of power between traditional propulsion. Notably, the same technologies that support enhanced reach and combat power also support platforms that have an improved impact on climate.

Breaking Defense: What role will electrification play in Distributed Maritime Operations and the Great Power competition against near-peer/peer competitors like China and Russia?

CHINFO: Electrification and hybridization support a more powerful naval force with reduced logistics requirements. Increasing our lethality (tooth) while reducing our logistics (tail) means more ‘bang’ for the American people’s dollars–literally.

Breaking Defense: Stored energy and ship-wide energy management are also part of the electrification picture. What is the Navy doing in these other areas?

CHINFO: The Navy is developing safe, high-density, high-cycle-life energy storage systems and advanced power management controls to support Energy Magazine integration into ships as either a point of use capability (backfit) or in a future power system electrical architecture as part of an overall Integrated Power System (IPS). The Energy Magazine is a common, modular, scalable intermediate energy storage system that could be used across multiple mission systems and ship installations, which can supplement typical ship service power to avoid putting stochastic, large pulsed loads directly on generators.

Additionally, as the Navy develops its DDG(X) future Large Surface Combatant, it will incorporate an efficient Integrated Power System to enable power generation capacity to be directed where needed (i.e., propulsion, mission systems, etc.).

Breaking Defense: Are you considering electrification opportunities for legacy ships or is it something only for new ships?

CHINFO: Hybridization is being considered for all platforms. Electrification and sharing of power supports readiness and is cost effective in future platforms.

Q6. What’s the roadmap for electrification, looking at the types of ships and the missions that need to be executed?

CHINFO: Please see response to Question 1 (and) for more information, click here.

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