The vessel concept is capable of operating beyond the horizon for over 100 days, will displace 700 tonnes and reach speeds above 25 knots, featuring a reliable power dense propulsion system.

Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce, General Manager Naval Electrics, Automation and Control, said: “Rolls-Royce is seeing interest from major navies in autonomous, rather than remote controlled, ships. Such ships offer a way to deliver increased operational capability, reduce the risk to crew and cut both operating and build costs."

Larger manned ships will cover multi-role missions. Allowing fleet composition to be mixed in this way, navies will reap the operational and cost benefits offered by autonomous technology, the company suggests.

“Over the next 10 years or so, Rolls-Royce expects to see the introduction of medium sized unmanned platforms, particularly in leading navies, as the concept of mixed manned and unmanned fleets develops.”

The absence of crew increases the need for very reliable power and propulsion systems. The company’s approach is to blend advanced Intelligent Asset Management and system redundancy in a cost effective manner that avoids sacrificing the cost and volume savings achieved by removing the crew.

Many of the technologies needed to make autonomous ships a reality already exist. Rolls-Royce has created what it believes to be the world’s first Intelligent Awareness System combining multiple sensors with Artificial Intelligence, to help commercial vessels operate more safely and efficiently.