The Future of Survivability

Maggie Nate Survivability Department Manager

By Maggie Nate

As the Associated Editor for Survivability of the Naval Engineers Journal for the past three years, it’s a bit of a role reversal serving as a contributor on these pages rather than working behind the scenes with the authors. As my editorial title suggests, my background is in surface ship survivability; a specialty field that I found myself in very serendipitously upon graduating nearly a decade ago. In my last semester of undergrad, a new minor in Naval Engineering was offered, which included a module on Survivability, and I thought “why not?” since I had a few spare technical electives to fill anyways. I had absolutely no idea at the time that this introduction to Susceptibility, Vulnerability, and Recoverability would end up having such a huge influence on my professional career. My very first full time job when I entered the workforce was as a Survivability Engineer, and that is the domain that I have happily existed in ever since.

Historically, designing for survivability has served to ensure the ship’s performance in extreme conditions while protecting the personnel onboard. As we review some common case studies from the maritime community in chronological order (from the Titanic to the Sheffield to the Costa Allegra and beyond), we can see that applying lessons learned in survivable design results in future reductions in loss of ship and loss of life. But with so many autonomous initiatives on the horizon, from cargo shipping to naval systems, one question immediately came to mind: how does the approach to survivability change when the human element is removed? The term “unmanned,” or perhaps more appropriately here “un-crewed,” is not a new concept. However, while unmanned vehicles still utilize a driver albeit remotely, autonomous vehicles are fully artificial intelligence driven. It was a recent visit I made to the George Mason University a few weeks ago to give a guest lecture that made me realize just how embedded autonomy has become in our everyday lives. As I was slowing down at a crosswalk, I noticed that mingled amongst the students heading to class were several autonomous robots delivering goods around campus. To me, this was a novel sight, but to everyone else, it was business as usual.

Maritime autonomous projects already exist, at varying stages of development, for applications such as: arctic research, ocean floor mapping, personal hobbyists, port security and humanitarian aid. Like any well-balanced design, autonomous vessels must continue to operate in extreme conditions. Additionally, most are economic assets to protect as well as environmental risks in the event of a casualty situation. Avoiding or surviving casualty conditions without the option of immediate human-in-the-loop interaction will require a very different approach to damage control. While the need for protecting personnel is reduced, so too is the contribution to situational awareness, casualty response and damage control that is normally provided by those personnel. As the need for space allocated for personnel accommodations and support facilities is reduced, more flexibility on overall vessel size and arrangement is available. However, there may be requirements for accommodations for personnel to provide routine maintenance or underway repairs. Similarly, security (both cyber and physical) is an important consideration to restrict unauthorized connectivity and tangible entry. I don’t yet have an answer to the question that I posed above, but I’m excited to see where the future of survivability goes from here.


Gibbs & Cox, Inc. Design Competition 2020

Our annual internal design competition challenges our employees to exercise their knowledge and creativity to explore new and innovative ideas to integrate into the maritime market.

This year’s design competition featured many unique and innovative Autonomy and Automation concepts. Our panel of judges was impressed with the diversity of ideas and the innovative thinking that our staff brought forward. The results of the competition were outstanding! Each presentation highlighted creativity within the marine market, which may ultimately lead to future business. The winning participants presented four unique and innovated solutions, each backed by solid engineering and professional presentations. Deciding a winner was no easy task.


Winning Entry

The Prion – A Deployable Persistent Surveillance USV

This year’s overall design competition winner is G&C Australia’s Managing Director, Levi Catton, with his concept, The Prion – A Deployable Persistent Surveillance USV. The Prion was the most innovative, advanced, and thoroughly presented concept this year and has the highest potential to be brought to market. Levi’s design concept is a deployable light USV for long-range, long-term autonomous surveillance missions. His design employs wave, solar, and wind power with battery storage to provide a reliable long-term minimum power generation profile to support enhanced persistence and assured availability of C4, surveillance and transit functions.

 The Prion is also intended to be employed in a highly distributed fleet to provide a wide area network of flexible, relocatable surface sensors, which requires minimal human monitoring and intervention. The design embodies currently available and operational technologies in a uniquely deployable and persistent package with very competitive affordability compared with other surveillance modalities. The persistent coverage and cost of surveillance can be improved by supplementing existing high cost asses with a low cost distribution of a USV fleet.


Most Creative

Solutions for Power Generation of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

Electrical Engineer Kevin Bromberger, created an innovative design solution for power generation on an unmanned UUV glider. Truly self-reliant naval vehicles will require a level of self-dependence that extends beyond simple navigation and decision-making. The autonomous vessels of the future will need to possess the capability to carry out long duration missions without the need to be refueled and constantly maintained.

Power Generation is currently the largest limiting factor for long range UUVs. A fleet of UUVs capable of carrying out missions for months or even years will become vital for our ability to maintain both a forward presence and an advance understanding of the evolving naval landscape. As the development of UUVs expands the best option for optimizing power generation is leveraging recent advances in renewable energy. In his project, Kevin examined innovative solutions for autonomous power generation and consumption; underwater solar cells, Hydrokinetic power generation and variable-buoyancy propulsion.

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Most Practical

Small Adaptable Mother Ship Design Space Exploration

Senior Principal Naval Architect Pat Naughton presented the most practical concept for G&C Internal Research and Development (IRAD) incorporation; The Small Adaptable Mother Ship (SAMS) Design Space Exploration. Pat summarizes an early stage design space exploration for small, ocean-going, vessels optimized to serve as mother ships for automated and/or autonomous (A&A) small crafts through many facets. His research began by investigating the potential roles for Small Adaptable Mother Ship, Parametric Analyses of dimension and weights, investigating design constraints, and analyzing unique design features, particularly in way of powering and handling of organic overboard vehicles. Many NATO and allied navies are in need of replacing legacy Mine Countermeasure Vessels (MCMVs). SAMS outfitted with modular A&A systems can provide them with a relatively low cost, multi-use platform to take the place of multiple one-off or limited run specialized vessels.

Legacy MCMVs typically are specially designed low-signature/shock resistant/high-cost vessels that result in limited range and endurance. The use of A&A crafts can now allow MCMVs to stand off from immediate danger, as well as deploy unmanned crafts to detect and neutralize mine threats. One Mother Ship can be re-outfitted to preform different roles throughout its service life such as, research, law enforcement, and low intensity naval roles.

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Most Potential For Immediate Application

Autonomous Mine Warfare

Naval Architect Jonathan Hale developed an autonomous mine warfare concept with the most potential for immediate application. Jonathan’s focus began with the pressing need for the US to address and improve its current mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities, because mines account for more damage to US ships than all other threats since 1945.

The limits of developing effective MCM lie not in the automation, but the need to deploy the platforms quickly, without risk to a larger, more valuable platform, and large enough quantities to mitigate loses. Jonathan’s solution is to employ platform airdrops and convert expeditionary sea base (ESBs) ships. The marine airdrops allow USVs to operate alone in contested waters until the mission is complete and keep the larger platform safe until given the all clear to recover the USV. Converting the ESB will need to accommodate 10-20 USVS, launch and recover systems, and refit armament for neutralization payloads. In order to mitigate losses and ensure confidence in success, enough MCM platforms will need to be deployed.