Nautilus 100


Today’s submarines satisfy multiple roles in one hull but, in the future, the Royal Navy envisions operating a family of submarines, of varying shapes and sizes, manned and unmanned, fulfilling a wide variety of operational tasks.

The RN challenged a team of young engineers from UKNEST to develop futuristic submarine concepts through a “visioneering” workshop.  This identified a range of solutions that included crewed motherships with whale shark/manta ray characteristics, unmanned eels ejecting autonomous sensor pods which dissolve on mission completion and swarms of mini-UUV “flying fish”.

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Nick Hine said:

From Nelson’s tactics at Trafalgar to Fisher’s revolutionary Dreadnoughts, the Royal Navy’s success has always rested on a combination of technological capability and human skill. Today, threats are proliferating, demands on the Royal Navy are growing and, once again, we must innovate to maintain our fighting edge …the Royal Navy is also seeking to establish lasting relationships with academia and industry for the benefit of the UK’s long term security and prosperity.

Tony Graham, UKNEST Chair added:

Nautilus 100 is a perfect demonstration of how teamwork between the private and public sectors instils a shared purpose and stimulates innovation. It is no longer sufficient for Britannia to rule the waves. Tomorrow the Royal Navy must aspire to dominate the deepest oceans. UKNEST aims to attract the best people to the naval enterprise to deliver that vision.

Captain Sharon Malkin, the Royal Navy’s head of Innovation said:

The Royal Navy’s future success rests on developing the skills and expertise that will keep us one step ahead of the competition. That’s why the Royal Navy has joined with our partners to unveil Nautilus 100. These concepts demonstrate that the UK has the creative foresight to consider the future underwater world, what it might look like, and what role the Royal Navy might play. Most importantly, we want to help inspire the next generation of British scientists and engineers to be bold in their ambitions.


Portsmouth, 28 August 2017

The Royal Navy has unveiled a number of futuristic submarine concepts, looking forward to well beyond 2050 to mark the 100th anniversary of the launch of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine.

The Royal Navy’s submarine service, often known as the ‘silent service,’ challenged some of the UK’s brightest and most talented young engineers to radically re-envision what a submarine might look like and how they could be used to protect British assets or to destroy potential enemies.

With more than 70% of the earth’s surface covered by water, the oceans are still one of the world’s great mysteries and untapped resources. It is predicted that in 50+ years time there will be more competition between nations to live and work at sea or under it, and it is with this in mind that the Royal Navy is looking at its future role, and how it can protect envisaged British interests around the globe.

Unlike the submarines of today which satisfy multiple roles in one hull, MOD’s Director General Nuclear envisages the Navy operating a family of submarines, of varying sizes and shapes, manned and unmanned, to fulfil the various tasks they are asked to perform. From a crewed mothership with whale shark/manta ray characteristics, via unmanned eels able to eject autonomous sensor pods which dissolve on demand once their mission is completed, through to mini-UUVs that swarm like flying fish against enemy targets, the graduates and apprentices imagined how to take complex systems, simplify them and apply rapidly developing technology to make submarines easier to construct, more effective and cheaper to run.

Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriet Baldwin said:

This project is aimed squarely at the wider UK prosperity agenda and challenging our young people to come up with ideas and innovation to keep our nation at the top table. 2017 is more than the year of the Navy in terms of current operations and equipment, we want to inspire the next generation of sailors, scientists and engineers to a career in the underwater domain.

Director Submarine Capability, Rear Admiral Tim Hodgson said:

We want to encourage our engineers of the future to be bold, to think radically and to push boundaries. The pace of global innovation is only going to increase, so for the UK be a leader in this race it needs to maintain its leadership in skills and technology.

The Nautilus 100 mothership

Starting with the role of the vessel, it became clear that a mothership type approach was needed to act as a major command and control hub, information collector and disseminator, weapon carrier and underwater flagship.

In terms of its shape, the young engineers visualised a future submarine with a whale shark styled mouth and manta ray body allowing a combination of speed and stealthiness unmatched by today’s technology. The 3-D printed hull would be a combination of light but strong acrylic materials bonded to superstrong alloys capable of withstanding the extreme pressure at depths of 1000m or more.

Anechoic coatings formed by nanometre thin graphene ‘scales’ would be layered to create a skin. The scales would be bonded together with a piezoelectric material allowing dynamic control of the scales. This would allow real time alignment of the scales to reduce drag in transit and alignment of the scales to absorb incoming acoustic energy in silent operations. The mothership would have a reduced crew of around 20 capable of neuro interfacing with the mothership’s command system allowing control of multiple systems with a thought. They would live onboard in comfortable surroundings for weeks or months at a time, undertaking missions then docking with underwater space stations located at strategic points in UK controlled waters around the world.

There would be two propulsion systems, one for silent and efficient cruising for thousands of miles at up to 30 knots, the other for short bursts of high speed in a fight or flight scenario. Powered in cruise mode by hybrid algae-electric propulsion the final drive would be via a large-scale tunnel drive that works in a similar fashion to the principles behind Dyson bladeless fans, sucking water in through the bow then expelling it smoothly from the stern. Precise control of depth and direction is achieved by flexible wing tips which use biomimicry deflection to alter their shape.

In battle situations where high speed was necessary, the mothership would be powered for short bursts by a Casimir1 force battery using zero point energy to produce enormous power. The submarine would be cloaked in a super-cavitating bubble of air, reducing drag, and enabling it to be boosted to speeds of up to 150 knots. This air pocket would be formed by bubbles created by bow mounted laser emitters boiling the water in front of the submarine. Outlets, similar to gills, stabilise and direct the flow over the submarine’s entire surface.

The mothership would have advanced multi spectral, low power active and passive sensors moulded into the hull, a recovery bay in the underside (which would also act as a docking station for the transfer of personnel, payloads and stores), and weapons bays integrated into the top surface akin to how the Space Shuttle delivered payloads into space. The payload bays would be multifunctional to take a variety of weapons or other sensors and there are conventional torpedo tubes for self-defence decoys, 3-D printed onboard.

The Eel UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle)

These eel-like UUVs would be the main sensors and secondary weapons carriers and would be launched from the weapons bays on the top surfaces of the mothership. Capable of complete autonomy they could travel hundreds of miles in near silence using an eel-like sine wave propulsion motion, disguising themselves as a marine lifeform to an enemy’s sensors. Their main purpose would be to eject individual sensor pods, each using blue-green laser energy to communicate, forming a self-meshing underwater network with secure command and control (C2) applications residing in the information cloud, potentially hundreds of miles apart. In addition to C2, these multi-purpose sensors would listen for residual sound energy or electro-magnetic disturbances, fusing vast amounts of data using AI in order to provide battle-winning automated (man out of the loop) assessment and decision making for defensive and offensive operations.

Dissolve on demand micro UUVs

The pods would be equipped with a variety of micro-drones, made from cold saltwater-soluble polymers (like washing machine liquitabs) which can be released in blooms, and communicate with each other and the eels, to provide a more detailed reconnaissance of intruders or targets. The pods could produce a constant supply of sensors / drone swarms via 3-D printing through gathering biological material from the ocean and using this material to build new sensors. These micro UUVs could have a further role for escort duties of foreign submarines or vessels detected in British areas of interest; they would shadow them and escort them until they were back in international waters, thus saving valuable resource from manned warships or submarines. They could also form defensive screens around British underwater national assets. Finally, they would be engineered to dissolve after pre-determined time periods so if deployed in enemy waters they would be virtually undetectable. They would have adhesive properties in their semi-dissolved state and could be directed to enemy ships to block uptakes and intakes and render the vessels inoperative.

The Flying Fish swarm drones

The flying fish drones replace traditional torpedo and missile systems and provide an adaptable weapon effective against ships, submarines and land targets with assorted modular payloads such as shockwave emitters, electromagnetic pulses (EMP), cluster missiles or individual warheads. They would use their wings to fly close to the surface or as fins underwater. They would operate in the two most challenging regions for sensors to detect threats – the highly unpredictable sea surface and noisy layer under the sea surface. Even if advanced radar can achieve a lock on a flying fish above the surface, the weapon will be able to react and dive into the water, emerging back if detected by underwater sonar. Powered by microturbines in the air their intake and exhaust vents would open and then close as they dive back into the water to be then powered by plasma batteries.