Fully Electric Solution Trades Stealth for Speed
Naval Group introduced an enhanced version of its SMX31E submarine at EURONAVAL Online this week. Already showcased as a concept submarine in 2018, the SMX31E now reappears in much more convincing fashion – a fully electric submarine with far more of the ‘operational boat’ about it. With a 77m length, a 12m beam and an estimated displacement of 3,200t, Naval Group claims its fully electric formula will bring significant advantages to a wide range of operational scenarios.
First, automation and the use of electric actuators will reduce the need for maintenance operations at sea, resulting a considerable reduction in complement to only 15 personnel. Naturally, this is also a consequence of the increasing automation of weapon systems and combat management systems (CMS).
Second, the absence of diesel engines and complete reliance, instead, on Li-Ion (or equivalent) batteries will gift the boat with extremely low acoustic signature and a relatively stealthy profile, which will be further reduced as a result of its cutting-edge hydrodynamic design and new-generation acoustic tiles.
Third, endurance at sea will be similar to that enjoyed by existing nuclear-powered submarines, but at the expense of reduced speed. In effect, the SMX31E seems to be something of a long-range surveillance platform, capable of 60-day missions at 5kts or 30 days at 8kts.
The SMX31E could also serve as a mothership for a plethora of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles/Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (AUV/UUV) of varying sizes. Two large mission bays will host large AUV, while additional smaller vessels could be carried in the weapon storage. The SMX31E will feature torpedo tubes and be able to carry up to 24 heavyweight torpedoes or a mix of weapons and unmanned assets. Thanks to such capabilities, Naval Group estimates that the concept submarine could have up to ten times the surveillance capability of a BARRACUDA-class boat.
Should the SMX31E be developed as it is, Naval Group anticipates ten years of study being required, with a further ten years for development and sea trials. The company therefore defines the SMX31E as “the submarine for the 2040s”. More realistically, the concept submarine will serve as a point of reference for developing technologies intended to improve the existing SCORPENE- and BARRACUDA-classes and, probably, to contribute to recently-launched studies (and development) for the new French SSBN that will replace LE TRIOMPHANT-class boats.
Marco Giulio Barone reporting from EURONAVAL Online for MON