The Italian multimission frigate Nave Carlo Bergamini is shown under construction. A one-size-fits-all vessel under consideration by the Italian Navy would cost less than the frigates. (Italian Navy)
ROME — The Italian Navy could be in line to receive a 20-year funding boost for new vessels, thanks to the 2014 state budget working its way through Parliament.
An article in the budget bill signed off by the Senate, which is due for approval by the lower house of Parliament, envisions €5.8 billion (US $7.8 billion) in spending by Italy’s Industry Ministry over two decades, starting next year, on new Navy ships, following a campaign by the chief of the Italian Navy this year to renew his aging fleet.
Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi has promoted the design and acquisition of a new class of multifunctional vessels to replace a range of ships heading out of service.
The funding, which might not make it intact through the budget approval process in Parliament before Christmas, plans €40 million to be released each year for 20 years from 2014, €110 million to be released annually for 20 years from 2015, and €140 million a year for 20 years from 2016.
“We have a series of old ships, and if we don’t build soon, we will reach a point of no return,” said Sen. Roberta Pinotti, undersecretary for defense.
“This is also an occasion to provide work for Italian shipyards, where staff are being placed on furlough. We are looking at multifunctional ships, which will have a civil and naval use and can be exported,” she said.
In a speech to the defense commissions in Parliament in June, De Giorgi said 80 percent of the Italian naval fleet was at the end of its operational life, and he would need €10 billion in 10 years to rebuild it.
The current provision gives him roughly half that over double the time. But Pinotti said it was a decent cash boost.
“It’s not 10 billion,” she said, “but I think Admiral De Giorgi can be more than satisfied.”
Winning funding would see De Giorgi following in the footsteps of his father, who secured a lump sum for fleet building when he was head of the Italian Navy in the 1970s.
In his speech to Parliament, De Giorgi remarked on Italy’s naval campaigns in recent years, including Operation Enduring Freedom, which saw carrier-based AV-8 Harriers fly 900 hours in an air campaign over Afghanistan.
But he also stressed the humanitarian mission potential of the Navy, which has been borne out this autumn by the use of naval vessels to save migrants sailing on flimsy boats to Italy from Africa.
His stress on civil missions may deflect some of the criticism in Italy leveled at spending on the F-35 joint strike fighter program, which has put Air Force officials on the defensive.
This year, De Giorgi told Defense News he was planning a one-size-fits-all class of new vessel, costing a third less than Italy’s multimission frigates. The new ship would weigh up to 4,000 tons, have space for containers on board and could act as a floating hospital with 230 beds, as well as fight wars.
Apart from the naval funding, this year’s budget law also contains provisional spending of €14.04 billon by the Ministry of Defense for 2014, a decline of 2.6 percent on the €14.41 billion spent this year.
A change in the way Italy publishes its defense spending figures means there is no breakdown of the spending by program in the budget document, as has been the case in recent years.
That breakdown will be released by the end of April, when the definitive budget is published as part of a three-year budget plan for 2014-’16. Three-year plans, which are updated every year, were introduced in 2012 as part of a widespread shake-up of the Italian armed forces, including a cut of 30,000 personnel.
Subsequently, the first three-year plan was published this year for 2013-15. That document predicted spending total on defense in 2014 of €14.08 billion, meaning the figure of €14.04 billion released in the latest document is about €40 million below the forecast.
“This drop has been prompted by the spending review carried out this year by the Italian government,” Pinotti said.
The 2014 budget just published sets defense procurement spending at €3.2 billion, a 5 percent drop on the €3.4 billion spent in 2013. Personnel spending stands at €9.5 billion, down 2.1 percent, and maintenance and operations (M&O) spending stands at €1.34 billion, a 0.6 percent rise over last year.
Although admittedly a tiny hike for M&O spending, it marks a reversal of the recent downward trend that has seen the Italian military mothball equipment and scale back training.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defense stated in the spending document that the funding is “gravely insufficient with respect to real needs and will create an increase in the critical state” of the armed forces.
The new document lacks details on the top-up funding that the military receives every year for procurement from the Industry Ministry. That number will be published in April in the three-year budget. This year, the ministry handed over €2.18 billion in top-up funds.