The future of the Royal Navy, and how it could further embrace autonomous technology, has been unveiled.
The Navy will develop a Future Autonomous Fleet programme that could shape how it will operate over the next 50 years, stemming from a design challenge for young engineers from UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology (UKNEST).
This future vision includes drones based in the stratosphere to be launched at a moment's notice and uncrewed fast attack crafts housing smaller autonomous boats.
It also pictures aircraft carriers propelled by both sea-based biofuels and wind power and an underwater flagship at the centre of the fleet.
Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Nick Hine, said the young engineers who worked on the project "are thinking radically and with real imagination".
"In a future scenario if we find ourselves unable to compete traditionally in terms of mass, we must think differently if we are to regain operational advantage."
Other conceptual ideas include the increased use of artificial intelligence to assist with low-level planning and underwater transport units carrying anything from munitions to food.
Fiona McIntosh, UKNEST young engineer, said "being unconstrained in the ideas and technologies we discussed" helped the engineers focus on "innovation over the coming decades".
"It was encouraging to see that the designs had some similar features and the groups had envisioned similar technologies being utilised by the future fleet," she said.
"Hopefully we’ll see some of our ideas incorporated into future platforms."
Although it is still in the conceptual phase, the Navy is on track to implement one of the futuristic plans over the coming decade – The Persistent Operational Deployment Systems (PODS).
PODS are interchangeable modules that can be fitted to the surface fleet, similar in design to a shipping container, and create the idea of a 'plug and play' warship.
This will enable Royal Navy ships of all sizes to be more adaptable and versatile when deployed.
Large in size, the PODS will house assets vital to supporting Royal Navy operations.
This could include an autonomous boat for surveillance and reconnaissance, quadcopter drones to deliver supplies, humanitarian aid and disaster relief stores or medical equipment.
Cover image: Concept design of a future unmanned autonomous vehicle as part of the Future Autonomous Fleet programme (Picture: Royal Navy).