ROME — The Italian Navy has released fresh details about its seven new, multifunctional ships as it seeks to wrap up a system design review (SDR) of the innovative vessels by the end of June.
As planners mull the use of a Google Glass-type kit for navigators on the bridge, they have also opted for a so-called wave piercing bow, which is expected to add almost a knot in speed.
With industry contracts signed last year thanks to a €5.4 billion (US $6.1 billion) funding package, the Navy now hopes it is on course to have its seven, 4,500-ton, 133-meter-long vessels delivered between 2021 and 2026.
Conceived with a hefty input from the Navy's own design office, the vessels will be given dual role capabilities to help assist in civilian disaster operations or the interception of migrants in the Mediterranean, as well as fight wars.
The SDR is set to be completed by the end of this month — with some fine tuning on genset options to be made — and a critical design review is planned for February, an Italian defense source said.
Before then, steel cutting on the first ship by state-controlled shipbuilding yard Fincantieri is expected in the autumn.
In the meantime, the Navy teamed with Italian defense magazine Rivista Italiana Difesa this month to produce a special issue unveiling details of the design of the ships, which are known by their Italian acronym PPA, starting with an unusual looking sharp protrusion out from the bow near the water level.
"This simply extends the length of the vessel at the waterline, improving wave resistance without increasing the dimensions of the ship," the source said. "We think this technique is a first for a naval ship."
The source also said the system should add almost a knot to speeds.
The technique was developed by Fincantieri and first used on a Swedish ferry the firm built, according to Rivista Italiana Difesa.
Fincantieri will build two PPA vessels in "Light" configuration, three in "Light Plus" configuration and two in "Full" configuration, with prices including ten years of logistic support ranging from about €430 million for the Light versions to €530 million for the Full versions.
All vessels will feature Leonardo-Finmeccanica's 127mm and 76mm naval guns as well as 25mm and 12.7mm guns. To house the rear-facing 76mm guns on top of a hangar, the Italian group has developed a lighter version of its standard model, known as the Sovraponte.
The Light Plus and Full versions will offer Aster 15 and 30 missiles.
The Light vessels will offer an X-band AESA radar, which uses four flat panels, giving a 360-degree view housed above the bridge. The Light Plus vessels will instead use a C-band radar, while the Full version will offer both C- and X-band radars, requiring eight panels to produce a single integrated radar image.
Much has been made of the unusual bridge on the PPA vessels, which was designed with help from naval aviators to resemble an aircraft's cockpit. On the PPA bridge, two navigators will sit in a protruding section resembling a cockpit, doing the work that eight navigators do on Italy's FREMM frigates, the source said.
Studies are underway to replicate the heads-up display of an aircraft in which data can be projected onto the windows of the bridge for the two navigators, indicating for example the depth of the water they can see through the windows.
The Light vessels, artists impression shown, will offer an X-band AESA radar, which uses four flat panels, giving a 360-degree view housed above the bridge.
Photo Credit: Ufficio Stampa - Marina Militare
Another plan is to develop Google Glass-type glasses linked to external cameras, which would allow navigators to have a 360-degree view of the outside of 'through' the ship.
"This type of study will likely continue beyond the critical design review next year," the source said.
Much of the lobbying to secure the funding for the PPA vessels was undertaken by Navy Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi, earning him kudos in the Navy but also attention from the media when he was placed under investigation earlier this year for corruption.
Magistrates suspected he had deliberately handed a contract to an entrepreneur who is the partner of the head of Italy's industry ministry, who authorized the €5.4 billion in funds.
As news of the investigation broke, an anonymous dossier was sent to prosecutors accusing the admiral of spending funds on excessive entertaining.
De Gregori denied he had been seeking to win favors at the ministry and gave a blistering speech on June 22 in which he blasted his critics at a ceremony where he handed over control of the Navy to the service's new chief, Vice Adm. Walter Girardelli.
"Our navigation has not always been calm — you know what I am talking about," he said, describing his years in office. The admiral then claimed "dark forces" had sent the dossier "in a bid to shape the future of the Navy."