January 19, 2017 - Concerns over security and long-term energy costs will still drive the equipment market despite recent dips in fuel prices that have somewhat dampened interest in developing hybrid and electric drive propulsion plants for naval ships, predicted Greg Reed, a senior business development director for DRS Technologies.
"Fuel prices are low now, but [will] not always stay low," Reed said. "Regardless of fuel price, the more often you have to re-fuel a ship - when you are alongside the re-fueling ship - you are more vulnerable ... [A hybrid and electric drive] gives you more time on station".
Outgoing US Navy (USN) secretary Ray Mabus echoed that point. "Navy ships are at their most vulnerable when they are being re-fueled," Mabus said on 11 January 2017 during the Surface Navy Association (SNA) annual symposium in Arlington, Virginia. "That's when the [DDG 67 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole ] was attacked." Because of those safety and long-term cost concerns, "most navies are going to either a fully integrated electric drive or a hybrid electric drive," Reed told IHS Jane's during SNA. "There are not a lot of new ships that don't have a new system like this."
DRS is bidding for or eyeing opportunities with the USN, US Coast Guard, and fleets operated by Australia, Canada, and Spain. "We won a contract for the South Korean [Incheon-class guided-missile Future Frigate eXperimental]," Reed noted. "That one is shaft-mounted. It has a lower speed and higher torque, and it's a bit larger, but it is much quieter."
Industry is waiting to see what the USN decides to put into its next-generation LXR amphibious transport dock class ships that are currently being developed. Right now, there is no requirement for any kind of electric drive. "When [fuel prices] were high we had everybody's interest. But everybody recognizes they are not going to stay low forever," Reed said.