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Getting In Shape
by James Dunnigan
May 2, 2014

Yet another smart ship innovation from commercial shipbuilders is finding its way into warships. This one is called “Eco-Ship” and what it means is tweaking the hull and engine design of a ship to attain more efficient use of fuel. This sort of thing has always been around but now more powerful computers and software plus advances in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD, the use of fluid dynamics to calculate the most effective hull design to get the most speed out of the least amount of fuel). This has already proved successful with commercial ships and is now been adapted to the needs of military ships. That means that some aspects of military ship and engine design have to be taken into account. But even with that it is possible to refine warship hulls and engines to obtain significant savings in fuel. This is a big deal as fuel is a major cost for military ships, even more so than for commercial vessels. Military ships often have to operate at high speed, which burns a lot more fuel, or proceed through bad weather that commercial ships would avoid when possible. Refueling at sea takes time and is expensive and is something commercial ships don’t have to bother with. The CFD efforts have shown that minor changes in hull design can result in significant fuel savings, which is a big cash savings for ships that spend a lot of time at sea.

For two decades now navies have been looking for ways to install more of the "smart ship" type automation, found in civilian ships. These technologies enable warships to operate more efficiently and with smaller crews. The "smart ship" gear also includes better networking and power distribution. For existing ships the installation of smart ship tech can reduce the crew size by 20-30 percent. In addition to considerable cost savings (over $120,000 a year per sailor in Western navies), a smaller crew takes up less space, enabling the remaining crew to have more comfortable living quarters. This is a big deal as far as morale and retention (getting people to stay in the navy) goes.

The big savings are in cash and not just in terms of personnel. Networked ships make it possible to better use automated monitoring devices that can not only give earlier and more accurate warning of problems (or potential ones) but also automatically switch to back up systems or effectively shut down malfunctioning systems to limit damage. All these savings add up and while many smart ship techs don’t work out in warships, a growing number do and navies are more willing to try out new smart ship tech as it appears.


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