This paper addresses some of the wider issues in the design process for complex vessels with regards in particular to the design of naval ships and submarines. The presentation is given from the perspective of a British naval constructor, who spent the second half of his career teaching and researching into the design of complex vessels. This is presented to SNAME drawing on parallels with US Navy design practice from the author’s personal involvement in the design history of many of the designs that were built for the Royal Navy. A large number of the author’s publications have not been exposed directly to a SNAME audience so this paper compares and contrasts UK practice with that revealed particularly in the publications of the former Technical Director NAVSEA –Robert Keane – and his several co-authors.

The paper’s title is deliberately contrived in its alliteration commencing with a phrase taken from an early critique of systems engineering by an eminent British naval constructor, querying whether systems engineering could provide the philosophical basis for modern naval ship design (NSD). The third “B” is considered to be a key technical characteristic in designing such complex systems, that of achieving a balanced design. In this regard the paper questions why the other major stakeholders in NSD, including collaborating engineers other than naval architects, seem to have such difficulty in appreciating the nature of ship design, particularly in the crucial early stages when most critical design decisions are made. The author draws upon a major paper published in 2018 in the RINA Transactions together with its written discussion by Robert Keane among others. A major point made in that paper is that not all designs follow the same process – in fact every new design is different and therefore the applicability of any process needs to be challenged. However, the intent of the current paper is to go beyond the largely technical argument of the 2018 paper by addressing the wider “fuzzy” half of ship design, in particular regarding the environment in which such “sophisticated” design is undertaken. Furthermore the consequences for the resulting vessels from such a constrained and often fraught process and professional practice are relevant to achieving the final complex design entity.

The paper concludes by considering essential design engineering demands can be balanced with the pragmatic necessities of the design practice driven by the imperatives of the wider design environment and engineering practice. This consideration draws on not just the many and varied naval vessel projects the author has been involved in but also the subsequent research activities in the last two decades at University College London, where the UK naval constructors are trained in ship and submarine design. This leads on to considering how future research into complex ship design can be sustained through a mix of academic and practitioner collaboration. Finally, consideration is given to the complexities of the design environment and changing practices regarding how the profession of naval architecture can ensure future naval architects are best equipped to manage such complex ship and submarine designs. This applies not just in the Concept Phase but also through life as naval architecture is the only engineering discipline that can truly exercise design authority for such complex systems.

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