How to stay afloat in battle

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla are working with the US Navy to make future warships safer, high-tech vessels able to sustain power and continue in battle after being hit by a missile.

The US Navy’s warships in the future will be safer, high-tech vessels able to sustain power and continue in battle even after taking a missile hit.

That’s the goal of University of Missouri-Rolla researchers who are working with the Navy and other universities to develop new power-distribution systems for these warships. The technology promises to improve the ‘survivability’ of US warships and increase their service life while helping to protect crews serving aboard these ships.

‘The objective of this research is to make the next generation of US warships more reliable in combat situations,’ said Dr. Steven Pekarek, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR. ‘By creating a new distribution power system it will be possible to re-route power to damaged systems — such as weapons, communications and propulsion — when they are most needed. This will increase the operating abilities of the warships during combat.’

Pekarek is one of three UMR faculty members involved in the research, which is funded by the Naval Surface Warfare Centre. Researchers from Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, the US Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School also are involved in the work.

The research team is designing a computerised system that will automatically re-route power to a ship’s damaged areas when needed. The system works much like a municipal power grid, in which a main monitoring system senses problem areas and re-routes power to avoid electrical outages, Pekarek said.

With such a system, that ship could continue to fight its way into battle even after taking a missile hit, and could continue with its mission without needing any maintenance until returning to port, Pekarek said.

‘Electronically based ships can operate with the same or better performance levels with fewer personnel than older ships,’ said Pekarek. ‘In standard warships, a significant portion of the available manpower is dedicated to damage control. To safely and cost-effectively counter the threats of the future that cannot be foreseen today, ships must be engineered for mobility, flexibility and survivability.’

Pekarek said the computerised power distribution system will operate in a fraction of the time it would take human teams to accomplish tasks. Built-in sensors constantly monitor the ship and send information to a computer, which reconfigures the system to ensure that the necessary parts of the ships receive the needed repairs.