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Flexible Ships: Affordable Relevance Over the Lifecycle

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The Surface Navy faces the challenge of meeting increasing demand with shrinking budgets. To face this challenge, the Navy needs to find a way to reduce the cost and duration of ship modernization programs, as well as ensure that ships meet or exceed their planned service life. The traditional, tightly-coupled ship design produces very effective platforms; however, these ships are generally costly to modify, making this ship design approach infeasible for facing a highly dynamic operational environment. Navy ships need to be more flexible, decoupling platforms from payloads to allow more cost-effective modernization and mission reconfiguration. Because of this, innovative approaches are required to increase the levels of adaptability, modularity, scalability, and commonality with the objective of achieving greater flexibility and cost-efficiency over the ship lifecycle. One of the ways the naval engineering community will lead the drive toward a vision of a Surface Navy with greater levels of flexibility and cost-efficiency is through the early adoption of new architectures and enabling technologies. Plans are underway to field new technologies to counter the rising costs impinging on fleet readiness. Navy leadership has increasingly indicated support for greater flexibility. As VADM Copeman, Commander of Naval Surface Forces at U.S. Pacific Command, remarked at the 2014 Surface Navy Association annual symposium:

“There are ways to build ships so you don't have to cut them in half and take them offline for a year and a half to improve them… we need to shorten the cycle for modernization.”

This paper identifies plans and opportunities that promote wider utilization of flexible payloads, architectures, and technologies consistent with the vision described by Navy leadership, presents approaches to enable flexible warships, and discusses challenges associated with incorporating new technologies into current and future ship designs.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2014

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  • The Naval Engineers Journal is the peer-reviewed journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE). ASNE is the leading professional engineering society for engineers, scientists and allied professionals who conceive, design, develop, test, construct, outfit, operate and maintain complex naval and maritime ships, submarines and aircraft and their associated systems and subsystems.
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