The Digital Ship

Posted on: October 21, 2018 by Quentin Lallement

"For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself." Still relevant today, Sir Walter Raleigh reminds us of the importance of the navy, especially in the 21st century, where its importance is on many levels:


  • Economics, with new opportunities allowed by the opening up of the Northwest Passage allowed by the melting of the ice,
  • Energy, with the exploitation of offshore, fossil or renewable energies,
  • Geopolitics, due to territorial conflicts, particularly in the South China Sea,
  • Security, following the resurgence of maritime piracy, particularly on the African coasts,
  • Humanitarianism, ensuring the safety of those migrating across the Mediterranean.

There is still great need to be powerful at sea and to master maritime routes, and for this industry 4.0 is fundamental in allowing the emergence of the digital ship.

From design to completion of the digital ship

Thanks to supercomputers that drive technological advances in complex fields such as structural calculation and fluid mechanics, digital simulation has revolutionized the design of ships and their various components. Through digital modeling R&D engineers can refine and optimize their work rather than needing to build and experiment in real conditions.

During the construction phase of a ship, connected objects like augmented reality glasses bring new uses for the technicians working on the shipyards. Paper is disappearing in favor of tablets, where construction plans can be viewed and activity or monitoring sheets can be created. Augmented reality is also emerging, the use case developed by the NASIMA consortium is an interesting example. NASIMA stands for: Digitization, Augmented Reality, Simulation for assembly lines and industrial sites.

The abundance of "intelligent" electronic equipment on board a digital ship requires the implementation of a network capable of managing and securing all of the on-board data. As the lifetime of a ship is several decades, the concepts of scalability and maintenance must be considered from the design phase onwards because digital ships must be able to accommodate future equipment that will replace and complement the initial equipment. The massive flow of data across different networks on the digital ship also requires a universal approach to security and appropriate management of cyber risks. As a result, digital ships are faced with the issues of virtualization and cyber-resilience.

Operation and maintenance of a digital ship

The automation of tasks enabled by digital technology has allowed the volume of equipment and number of sailors on board to be considerably reduced. The profile of the sailors on board has also changed. Digital ship sailors are experts in understanding and managing the complex systems for navigation, propulsion, energy production, etc.

Similarly, the power of a warship is no longer measured by the thickness of its armor or the caliber of its guns. The power of a ship is now determined by the quality and reliability of its digital combat system, of which the Combat Management System is the nerve center.

Always bigger and always faster

Maritime transport is a race to the limit, which reached its peak with the construction of 400m long ships with a power of 100,000 HP. But the economies of scale have reached their limits. The pathway to financial optimization is now turning to digital with the breakthrough of Big Data.

A first usage is to optimize fuel consumption and transit time by adopting the most appropriate route and speed. The expertise of the Chief of the Watch is thus complemented by artificial intelligence based on the vessel's intrinsic data and external data such as weather forecasts.

A second usage is to optimize the ship's availability by repairing or replacing defective equipment just before it breaks down. Much more relevant than preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance is possible through the collection and analysis of a set of data from a large network of embedded sensors. In short, the integration on board of decision support tools requiring powerful machine learning and deep-learning functions is one of the main challenges for digital ships.

Technological hegemony and the excellence of the various embedded systems are the prerogative of the digital ship. A navy concerned about its sovereignty must equip its ships with the best technological solutions.

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About Quentin Lallement
Global Client Executive & Naval expert
After a first experience as Chief of the Watch in the French Navy, Quentin joined Bull in 2008 on DCNS Combat Management System programs and then joined Atos in 2013 as a business engineer for Naval Defense activities. Today Global Client Executive, Quentin's mission is to strengthen collaboration between Naval Group and Atos in France and abroad.