Britain's Royal Navy has released a series of futuristic submarine concepts which mimic real marine life forms and radically change the way underwater warfare could look in 50 years. Stuart McDill reports.
STORY: One idea of how the future of underwater warfare will look - a manned-mothership capable of launching unmanned underwater vessels that themselves then deploy micro-drones. The concept, part of a project called Nautilus 100, is the result of a challenge to young engineers by Britain's Royal Navy - celebrating the centenary of the launch of the first nuclear sub, USS Nautilus. The Royal Navy's robotics officer Commander Peter Pipkin says bio-mimicry plays an increasing role in this view of the future of underwater warfare (SOUNDBITE) (English) COMMANDER PETER PIPKIN, ROYAL NAVY'S FLEET ROBOTICS OFFICER, SAYING: "Smart materials such as graphene and the future of autonomous and artificial intelligence is allowing us to get ever closer to those efficient and effective designs that nature has shown us. So for example if you look at the mothership in the Nautilus 100 project, its skin is coated in a nanometre thin layer of graphene scales that can move and adapt their shape to either be more sound efficient which would allow the submarine to hide from any potential hostile sonar, or it could become dynamically efficient so it can move through the water really, really quickly." The concept sees a manned mothership launching unmanned vehicles shaped like eels - which in turn deploy micro-drones. (SOUNDBITE) (English) COMMANDER PETER PIPKIN, ROYAL NAVY'S FLEET ROBOTICS OFFICER, SAYING: "When does science fiction become reality? And one of the great things about this project is that there is enough I think tangible realism in there to actually start believing that you can see this stuff coming to the underwater battle space." 3D printed flying fish swarm drones will carry various payloads and have the ability to dissolve on demand if they fall into enemy hands (SOUNDBITE) (English) COMMANDER PETER PIPKIN, ROYAL NAVY'S FLEET ROBOTICS OFFICER, SAYING: "The maritime environment is only going to get more contested and congested as we move into the future as the world looks increasingly to the maritime environment for natural resources and also as the ability to operate in the maritime environment is simplified by off-board and autonomous vessels for a whole host of operators. So the requirement for the Royal Navy to be at the forefront of technological thinking to provide the security and protection in support of UK interests is only going to increase." The designs aim to create submarines that are easier to construct, cheaper to run, and more deadly in battle.