Fish-inspired missiles and eel-like subs? U.K. Navy explores those possibilities

Have you ever wondered what submarines might look like decades from now? Engineers from the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy have dedicated their considerable expertise to answering just such a question — and the results are pretty darn intriguing.

In keeping with the kind of nature-inspired biomimicry seen in fields like robotics, the U.K. Navy’s ideas include undersea vehicles shaped like manta rays, swarming fish-inspired missiles, and unmanned eel-like vehicles that are able to dissolve when required.

The research project also touches on innovative emerging technology concepts including 3D printing, brain-controlled interfaces, offensive shock wave emitters, hybrid “algae-electric” propulsion, underwater drones, and more. While some of the ideas are probably too far-fetched to ever become a reality, they are all based on current research and development projects taking place around the world.

“With more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface covered by w,ter, the oceans remain one of the world’s great mysteries and untapped resources,” said Commander Peter Pipkin, the Royal Navy’s fleet robotics officer. “It’s predicted that in 50 years’ time there will be more competition between nations to live and work at sea or under it. So it’s with this in mind that the Royal Navy is looking at its future role, and how it will be best equipped to protect Britain’s interests around the globe.”

The concepts were drawn up under the banner of a project called Nautilus 100, named after the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. External groups that participated in the initiative included representatives from companies including, but not limited to, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Rolls-Royce.

“We want to encourage our engineers of the future to be bold, think radically and push boundaries,” said Rear Admiral Tim Hodgson, the Ministry of Defence’s director of submarine capability. “From Nelson’s tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar to Fisher’s revolutionary Dreadnought battleships, the Royal Navy’s success has always rested on a combination of technology and human skill. The pace of global innovation is only going to increase, so for the U.K. to be a leader in this race, it needs to maintain its leadership in skills and technology.”