Conventional (diesel-electric) submarines can provide improved stealth compared to nuclear submarines once submerged. This is because nuclear submarines are generally larger and are required to operate their nuclear reactors at all times, unlike diesel-electric submarines which are generally smaller and can run exclusively on batteries when submerged which generally requires fewer moving parts. These characteristics normally result in a smaller acoustic, thermal and magnetic signature which afford diesel-electric submarines greater stealth when submerged. However, the current underwater range and endurance is limited by the energy storage or generation for submerged operation. The application of emerging energy storage technology seeks to address this limitation and provide significant tactical and operational advantages to the conventional submarine operator. From a fire safety perspective, the potential addition of technologies such as rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems and increasingly sophisticated electronic equipment dramatically changes the risk space in an already challenging and unforgiving underwater environment. This study reviews the functions, failure modes and maturity of emerging technologies that have serious submarine fire safety implications. A semi-quantitative assessment of the fire risk associated with potential large future conventional submarine design options for batteries and AIP is provided. This assessment concludes that lithium-ion batteries pose the greatest challenge with regard to integration into conventional submarines without compromising reliability or safety.
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