Most US Navy Ships are already electric, using portable nuclear power plants to generate electrical power for everything on board from propulsion to weapons systems, but next-generation weapons systems will need more backup power than ever before.
The power behind an artillery round may high-explosives [chemical energy], but the energy required for targeting and acquisition, as well as the gun itself, is all electrical. Moving into the next generation of weapons, such as the railgun or laser weapon systems, which are entirely dependent on electrical energy, means that backup power for these weapon systems are also necessary. Otherwise, firing a railgun could black out part of the ship.
The Office of Naval Research [ONR] sponsors work in developing electric power systems that are smaller and more portable, including generators and backup power. While some of this technology will have civilian benefit, such as in disaster situations or blackouts/brownouts, the main focus will be developing power systems for the next generation of US Navy ships and their energy-based weapons.
A substantial part of that research will be focused on silicon-carbide [SiC] which “improves power quality and reduces size and weight of components by as much as 90 percent,” says Sharon Beerman-Curtin, ONR’s power and energy science and technology lead.