LONDON —  Britain’s upcoming ships could feature new hulls and redesigned propellers and fins, as the Royal Navy races to play its part to build a more sustainable force over the next three decades.

Last March, the U.K. Ministry of Defence published a new roadmap with a target deadline of 2050 to ensure its vast enterprise is as efficient, resilient, and environmentally friendly as possible in the face of global climate change.

For the navy, that means building ships faster and more efficiently, with “greener” technologies and with an eye on cost by using off-the-shelf products as much as possible, officials said Thursday during the biennial DSEI conference in London.

The U.K. defense procurement arm has several environmentally focused ship designs that are in line with both the government’s shipbuilding ambitions and its efforts to combat climate change, said Mat Darkin, director of ships acquisition, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) portfolio manager.

Darkin shared system elements that could be incorporated on the navy’s Tide-class fast fleet tankers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates during a panel at the conference.

They include: gas turbine and diesel generator technology that would help maximize the ship’s fuel efficiency, capability, and power; redesigned low signature propellers, bow domes and fins to reduce drag; and a slimmer hull design that would also reduce drag and promote fuel efficiency, he said.

These ships could also be outfitted with new anti-fouling paint that reduces marine growth, and double-hulled liquid tankers to prevent spills in the event of a hull breach. The navy is also looking at new waste management systems to reduce landfill burdens, systems that can mitigate noxious gases, and LED lighting.

Such elements would be added onto upcoming ship designs, Darkin said. “We’re starting today, with the baseline of today, to make sure that the vessels we are building are as environmentally compliant as they can be moving forward,” he said.

The navy wants more modular ships that are adaptable to a wider range of roles, “rather than create a whole plethora of various vessels,” Darkin said. To save time and taxpayer funds, the service will take advantage of commercial off-the-shelf products rather than design all the new elements itself.

“We intend to be a fast follower, and to exploit the technologies and advancements made within the commercial sector,” he noted.

For example, the service doesn’t plan to design a new, more efficient and “green” engine, said Andrew Jones, chief naval architect on the innovation and future capability team at DE&S. “Instead, we will need to look to the market to provide those engines, and make sure that we can move quickly to get them into service,” he said on the panel.

It typically takes nine years to design a warship from start to finish, and a whole fleet of eight or so ships can take up to 14 years, Darkin said. Meanwhile, the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier will be in service for 50 years, demonstrating the speed needed to modify the navy’s current ship inventory and plan for future, greener fleets.

The pressure to turn the navy a brighter shade of green, and promote British shipbuilding, comes straight from Number 10 Downing Street. DE&S has established an environmental baseline review for its efforts, and the results are reported up through the greater Ministry of Defence to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team, Darkin said.

Johnson’s government has prioritized the reinvigoration of the national shipbuilding enterprise, and last March published a new strategy to support the industry.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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