Italy has funding to buy as many as eight new multipurpose ships, although it wants to buy 12. This is the latest design of the still-evolving vessel. (Italian Navy)
ROME — The Italian Navy has secured funding for 10 large ships it plans to build rapidly over the next decade as the bulk of the current fleet goes out of service, the head of the Navy told Defense News in an interview.
Italy’s 2014 state budget, approved in late December, contains a €5.8 billion (US $7.8 billion) funding package for the new vessels, mainly a new multipurpose ship conceived by Navy planners to fight wars as well as handle humanitarian relief operations.
“There are funds to build 10 vessels, possibly meaning eight multipurpose ships, one amphibious ship and a logistics vessel,” said Navy chief Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi, who added the Navy had an eventual requirement for 12 multipurpose ships.
“I am satisfied with the budget law,” he said. “This gives us some oxygen.”
This year, De Giorgi said, he hopes to sign contracts for the multipurpose ships, — the design of which is still evolving. The work will likely go to Italian shipyard Fincantieri.
Construction of the first vessel would take two years, with a launch in three, delivery in four and entry into service in five years. “We would like to see all of them in service within a decade,” he said.
The €5.8 billion funding will not all go to the Navy. Under a system used in Italy for other large procurement programs, the government will take out bank loans to fund the program, then release the €5.8 billion over a number of years to repay the loans with interest.
De Giorgi said stripping off the interest repayments, the Navy would have about €4.5 billion to spend. With the multipurpose ships costing around €350 million each, the money might cover the 10 vessels, as well as two smaller minesweepers, he said.
The amphibious ship would replace one of three aging landing platform dock vessels and make good on a procurement plan for such a vessel that has been on standby for a number of years.
De Giorgi said the new buys needed to be finalized “as soon as possible,” adding that 50 of the Navy’s 60 vessels will go out of service in the next decade.
One analyst said that because the Navy received a large amount of funds for fleet renewal in the 1970s, it is no coincidence that many ships are heading out of service around the same time, making a second round of large investment essential.
“Without these new funds, Admiral De Giorgi would have managed to find money for one or two vessels at best through normal funding channels and thus go into a dangerous block obsolescence,” said retired Rear Adm. Michele Cosentino, a naval analyst and writer.
De Giorgi has ordered the initial design work to be done in-house, masterminding the concept work with Navy designers, rather than giving a development contract to Fincantieri, a move he said would save money and speed up the construction.
“We have returned to how the Navy did things in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said.
The baseline design offers two cannons — a 127mm gun in the bow and a 76mm gun at the stern — along with a hangar for two NH90 helicopters, the option of carrying containers or small boats on deck, and a varying number of launch cells for the Aster 30 missile. Some of the vessels could mount the Scalp Naval missile, or as an alternative, the Tomahawk cruise missile, he said.
To reach 35 knots, a water jet could be added to the traditional propulsion, De Giorgi said. Moving at that speed with containers piled on board would not threaten the stability of the vessel, he added.
Cosentino pointed out that the three innovative aspects of the design are the integrated mast, grouping radar, infrared, communications and electronic warfare; the mission bay under the flight deck, which will house small boats, both manned and unmanned; and an integrated bridge that replaces the traditional combat information center. “These three concepts have not been tried in Italy before,” he said.
Renderings released by the Navy show the design is evolving. One design features the flight deck ending short of the stern of the vessel to make room for the 76mm gun, another shows it extending to the stern with no gun.
Early designs featured the integrated mast, known as the Unimast, now being offered by Italy’s Selex ES, which combines numerous functions while overcoming the typical problems of signal interference. The Unimast, with its radar composed of fixed arrays, is due to be installed on future multimission frigates (FREMMs), replacing the current Empar radar.
One recent design of the multipurpose ship did not, however, include the mast and shows various emitters, including the fixed array radar, integrated into the bridge structure.
“By doing that, we could make maintenance of the various components easier,” De Giorgi said.
Apart from finding funding for its multipurpose ships, the Navy has also recently received funds to order its seventh and eighth FREMMs, part of a planned order of 10. The two vessels will be general purpose variants, an industrial source said, and the eighth will offer the Unimast, De Giorgi said.
Both will offer an increase of 3 to 4 knots in diesel cruising, up from the current 16 knots, he said. When ordered, the ninth and tenth FREMMs may mount the Scalp Naval missile, he added. ■