Navy spends $33 million for hybrid of the high seas

Some might call it an enormous floating Prius, but others will call it a step in the right direction.

Some might call it an enormous floating Prius, but others will call it a step in the right direction: A new hybrid electric engine for US Navy ships that promises to save up to 12,000 barrels of oil a year per ship. 

The folks who brought you the Predator unmanned flying aircraft, General Atomics, this week got $32.7 million to develop a proof-of-concept Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) system for a full-scale demonstration on board the Navy's DDG 51 Class destroyers. 

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DDG 51 destroyers are powered by General Electric gas turbines capable of moving the ships along at over 30 knots or about 35 mph. The General Atomics system would meld into this system and let the ship use electric power for slow-speed maneuvers.  The engines would provide more power as the ship needed to go faster.

Hybrid technology isn't as wild looking as adding football-sized kites to big ships, like the Beluga SkySails ship does, but it could do the job.

The Navy talked about the hybrid system in congressional testimony in July as a way to reduce costs in the destroyer program.  Such equipment would more fully interconnect the mechanical-drive components on each ship, producing a hybrid propulsion plant, the Navy said. The addition of this equipment would reduce DDG-51 ship fuel use by about 16%. This option would have an engineering cost of $17.1 million and a recurring cost (including both equipment cost and installation cost) of $8.8 million per ship, the Navy stated.

The Navy has paid a lot of attention to the DDG-51 ships of late.  This month signed Boeing to a five-year, $42.9 million contract to upgrade and support the Gigabit Ethernet networks it is building on its guided missile destroyers.

The Navy's Gigabit Ethernet Data Multiplex System (GEDMS) upgrades the current 100Mbps fiber-based backbone network to a 1Gbs redundant Ethernet mesh, bringing enhanced multimedia capability to the ships, the Navy said.  The GEDMS is the heart and soul of the guided missile ships and basically handles ship-wide data transfers and supports navigation, combat, alarm and indicating, and damage control systems. It also is the underlying communications mechanism for the Aegis missile system which uses a system of radars to track and destroy targets.

According to the Navy, GEDMS was designed to replace the miles of point-to-point cabling, signal converters, junction boxes, and switchboards associated with conventional ship's cabling.

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