Electric Ships Office Works to ‘Accommodate Different Flavors’ of Sophisticated Systems
By NICK ADDE, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the Navy incorporates newer and more sophisticated weapons and sensor platforms on existing ships, onboard electrical systems must become more flexible and faster.
To meet that end, the Electric Ships Office is working with the Naval Research Lab, the warfare centers and industry to formulate a road map that would ensure a smooth transition to systems that can accommodate new technologies.
“As we bring new systems aboard today, we’re bringing new power-conditioning equipment with them, to make them work,” Steve Markle, the director of the Electric Ships Office, said during an April 3 presentation at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space exposition.
“We’ll need to accommodate different flavors — transformers, rectifiers, filters, capacitors, resistors — you name it,” he said.
The goal, Markle said, is to create a single vision with which all concerned parties can function. With a clear understanding of what is expected, industry would then be able to move forward with investment of their research-and-development dollars toward projects that would serve both the Navy and commercial customers.
Guidelines, once formulated, would address two areas, Markle said — increase in power, and energy storage.
The power aspect would fall along traditional parameters, and as such is the easier of the two to understand, Markle said.
A directed-energy system, such as a laser, requires power to accommodate turning it on, off and back on again. Though it sounds simple enough, scheduling such actions becomes difficult. By nature, a laser system would draw a significant amount of power very quickly.
The task would be easy if ships had the space to install very large 100-megawatt generators. But, Markle said, many ships carry sequences of 4-megawatt generators.
Also, gas-turbine engines tend to react within seconds, on what he described as a “nice, smooth curve.”
Newer platforms that tax those systems, however, require responses in fractions of seconds, using energy storage to push and pull power off of the grid in order to provide for the spikes in load that sophisticated systems require.
Energy-storage challenges involve plans to address the demand for quick power that can be installed on existing platforms, Markle said.
“We’re looking for a system here that can provide for more than just a laser. It can be a … single source of supply, for a myriad of combat systems,” Markle said.
His office, along with other Navy partners, have worked as a team with a research center at Florida State University since 2002 to develop a cost-effective and accurate way to test advanced power systems. They now can emulate electronic warfare improvement systems, and define the envelope in which their hardware will operate.
Future tests will focus on defining interfaces and getting products built to meet their requirements, Markle said.
He described the integrated power and energy system, the ongoing program aimed at developing electronic systems that would improve energy storage and the ability to feed current where it is needed. At a recent industry day, held at Naval Surface Weapons Center Philadelphia, industry participants reacted by producing a litany of white papers, loaded with possible solutions. Sometime this summer, Markle said, his office and fellow participants will assess those plans further.
“Industry thinks they can do it,” Markle said. “It’s very encouraging to me.”