The next generation of naval vessels will be able to go further, run more efficiently, with a smaller crew, and will be capable of countering new breeds of threat. Further, it will greatly improve the level of interoperability with different branches of the armed forces. That is the vision of Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company Navantia, which has launched its new SMARTShips line.

“Our goal with the SMARTShips line is to address the essential elements for new ships over the next decade or two,” says Ana Moya, innovation manager at Navantia. “We are exploring and incorporating innovations to anticipate Navantia’s response on new threats, new linked operations between services, new materials and production methods, reduced crew operation, new propulsion and energy generation concepts, new combat systems, extensive use of uninhabited vehicle (UxV) systems, as well as new and enhanced sensors and communication systems.”

“With these goals in sight, the SMARTShips concept seeks to provide a platform to carry out technology maturation and risk reduction to future Navantia designs,” she adds. “They are also to be used to gauge customer reaction to new and radical designs which may or may not be actually built as-is.”

The key is to push the boundaries of technology and design to define the future of naval vessels. SMARTShips is therefore an evolving, flexible concept capable of dealing incrementally with all challenges that future adaptations might present.

The first vessels in the line are the SMART4000, which is a concept design for a future medium-sized multi-role surface combat ship, and the SMART8000, which introduces new concepts for a future destroyer-type multi-role surface combat ship. Navantia will focus on amphibious ships, logistics suppliers, submarines and smaller units such as USVs, developed to include SMART innovations. “These designs should be viewed in much the same way as concept cars in the auto industry,” says Moya. “They are being developed as testbeds for new technologies and styling.”

“The designs explore innovative, energyefficient hull forms and new concepts of topside shaping and materials to improve stealthiness,” she adds. From the operational point of view, the design focuses on the extensive use of UxV and integrates a large, flexible multi-mission space adapted to deploy and operate a wide range of USV and UUV vehicles, while the flight deck allows the operation of several UAVs.”

Modular design approach

With a modular approach to design, Navantia is open to exploring all aspects of a vessel’s capability, from combat effectiveness to energy efficiency. Both the SMART4000 and SMART8000 can be reconfigured depending on the missions, including the installation or removal of cabins and other modules. “A special effort is being made to redesign accommodation and operative spaces in order to provide a comfortable and flexible working environment, supported by a next-gen digital backbone provided by our patented system Integrated Service System (ISS),” Moya notes. “The SMART concept is also intended to provide increased current levels of automation, natively incorporating Digital Twins and Smart Services to support ship operation and maintenance, improving crew workload while keeping or increasing operational effectiveness.”

The SMARTShips line incorporates technical solutions for sustainability, such as integrated energy management systems and the selection of equipment and materials with reduced environmental impact. It also showcases new materials to improve survivability, reduce impact damage and increase stealthiness. Furthermore, the ISS smart digital backbone connects spaces, crew and systems to provide a high degree of flexibility in operational scenarios. Perhaps the biggest stride forward is in the area of autonomy. There is a strong emphasis on reducing crew size and incorporating a high degree of automation. “The first, very conservative iteration of the project has established an upper limit of 70 for the SMART4000 and 180 for the SMART8000, but the goal is to reduce these figures as much as possible,” says Moya. “So far, the feedback is very positive, allowing us our designers to engage in constructive discussions about solutions and technologies, and their pros and cons for future operating environments and threats, paving the way for further refinements and alternatives of the SMART Concept Ships.”

The future, it seems, is about to take to the seas