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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

Navy ships will be firing massive, high-powered, scalable lasers to strike enemy ships, destroy drones and possibly even burn through the metal of an inbound ballistic missile or ICBM

Future surface ships will be operating new generations of highly sensitive, long-range high energy-density radar systems 35-times more precise than existing systems. Destroyers, cruisers and other warships will be firing larger, faster, longer-range and more precise missiles, even including deck-launched hypersonics, new sensors, high-speed, AI-enabled computing and command and control systems will change current paradigms for maritime warfare by exponentially improving lethality, range and manned-unmanned multi-domain networks.

Technological advances have enabled developers to engineer weapons with greatly improved capacity, however many of them rely upon much greater amounts of expeditionary power. Therefore, identifying innovations which support the need for expeditionary high-density energy output, storage and distribution, has for years been a major focus for Navy developers. 

A ship's electric drive propulsion system can help support this, which is part of why electric-drive systems are built into Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyers and other surface platforms. Additional on-board power-generation capacity, fortified by large generators, can of course be measurably enhanced by innovations with improved on-board power management technology. 

USS Zumwalt

USS Zumwalt

This is why Northrop Grumman is refining, integrating and upgrading its Integrated Power and Energy System solution, technology engineered to store, manage and efficiently distribute electrical power onboard warships. 

Using an energy magazine, IPES is able to aggregate, store and distribute electrical power as needed to multiple systems from a single location. Otherwise separated technologies on board a ship such as radar, weapons or computing typically draw power from different individual systems, something which increases weight and space and results in resources dedicated to one load that otherwise cannot be utilized. 

IPES is intended to optimize and massively improve expeditionary, shipboard power, while increasing distribution efficiency and greatly lowering the hardware footprint. This dynamic, referred to by the military services as SWAP for Space, Weight and Power, seeks to address the difficulties of finding sufficient “space” on a ship given the number of systems it needs to support.

 “Multi-function power systems have SWAP savings and will start to extend the capability by managing the energy flow within the various pieces of the system,” Matthew Superczynski, Chief Engineer for Northrop Grumman’s Power/Control Systems, told Warrior in an interview.

Navy developers have long emphasized the continued need to engineer newer, smaller form-factor, highly efficient mobile energy storage and distribution, in part with a specific mind to supporting breakthrough high-power laser weapons and radar. These technologies, and the concepts of operation associated with them, continue to be defining elements of the Navy’s DDG 51 Flight III destroyer program and now emerging DDG(X) effort.

DDG 51

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51)

Northrop Grumman’s developmental strategy, developers explain, is to offer technologies and architectures fully aligned with the Navy approach to these ships, an effort which involves an interesting blend between new innovations and upgradeable, cutting-edge now operational systems. This kind of thinking is the impetus behind why Northrop Grumman engineered their Multifunction Prime Power System to both function in the near term and also upgrade over time to ensure continued modernization for decades into the future.

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“We have an architecture in place that can support current and future weapons and sensor systems that are a key piece of DDG(X). We are in a position now to put this in the DDGX platform,” Superczynski said.

An interesting Congressional Research Service Report from March 2022 cites Navy statements related to DDGX which entirely mirror Superczynski’s comment. “The DDG(X) would integrate non-developmental systems into a new hull design that incorporates platform flexibility and the space, weight, power and cooling (SWAPC) to meet future combatant force capability/system requirements that are not achievable without the new hull design,” the CRS Report, titled Navy DDGX Next-Generation Destroyer Program, states, citing Navy statement budget documents.

These advancements are just the beginning of what maritime warfare may look like decades into the future, which is why Navy weapons developers and shipbuilders are now taking specific steps to engineer emerging technologies with a modular, open architecture approach intended to ensure sustained upgradeability. As new weapons integration options and software updates evolve, a technical infrastructure designed with common standards and IP Protocol can accommodate new systems without having to rebuild, redesign or fully re-imagine technological applications.

“We want to take the proven energy storage capability the Navy has and apply it to DDG(X). The Navy will see a cost savings of prime power as much as 30-percent and 20-percent SWAP savings,” Superczynski said.

Video Above: A next generation destroyer called DDG(X) is designed to sail alongside existing DDG 51 destroyers

Northrop Grumman has engineered their approach to IPES with this operational and developmental concept in mind with plans to progressively upgrade its power management, storage and distribution systems to in effect “grow with” emerging surface-ship technologies. More specifically, an open architecture approach aligns closely with the Navy’s approach to its DDG(X).

“The DDG(X) platform will have the flexibility to rapidly and affordably upgrade to future warfighting systems when they become available as well as have improved range and fuel efficiency for increased operational flexibility and decreased demand on the logistics force,” the CRS report states.

Architects of IPES want to offer the Navy a non-developmental, low-risk system that is extremely upgradeable in order to enable continued, high-speed modernization while simultaneously avoiding risks often associated with a brand-new developmental effort.

“Our solution has the capability they need and is lower risk given its level of maturity. We are not looking to take on too much risk. What we are offering is a more surgical implementation of an energy magazine and setting the architecture for the future," Superczynski added.

For instance, Northrop Grumman’s solution is built to accommodate new computing applications as they become available, such as AI-generated power optimization and electric plant controls.

“AI is an emerging capability that shows promise in some of these more complex electrical architectures to manage in near real time. Future capability that would rely upon AI and be more computationally intensive is likely to happen in some aspects of electric plant controls,” Superczynski said. “We are building upon the architecture the Navy already has to give them more capability and lower risk. We can build on top of that.”

 Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization