ROME — As countries around the world, not least the U.S., search for new frigate designs to take on growing maritime missions, they should consider the Italian FREMM frigates, Italy’s Navy chief has claimed.
Adm. Valter Girardelli said the vessels, built by Italy’s Fincantieri in a joint program with French industry, were proving essential as Italy runs anti-piracy operations and faces an increased Chinese and Russian presence in the Mediterranean, including Russian submarines.
“The world is changing and FREMM vessels are able to operate in blue, brown and littoral waters,” he told Defense News in an interview.
Italy now has six of 10 ordered FREMM frigates in service, including the Carabinieri — which has visited Australia on a six-month tour as the country nears its decision on a new frigate buy — and the Fasan. The Fasan took command of the European Union’s anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa last month.
The first of the six vessels entered service in 2013.
The Navy has ordered its FREMM in two versions: general purpose and anti-submarine warfare, which Girardelli described as “currently the most technologically advanced ASW vessels in the world.”
He said the FREMM-class frigates boasted a very silent platform, which “allows you not to be heard and, in the case of the ASW type, to optimize the use of sensors.”
“It is a feature that was lost after the Cold War, until submarines again became strategic assets,” he added.
With the general-purpose version’s ability to put special forces on shore and offer ground support with its 127mm Vulcano guided munition, “FREMM is a complete system that works,” he said, adding that after a total of 20,000 hours at sea, “they are well-proven and we are really putting them to use.”
Leonardo, which developed the Vulcano guided munition, has already teamed with BAE Systems to offer the technology to the U.S. Navy.
The vessels also feature the Aster 15 and 30 missiles and the 76mm Strales system — a radar beam-guided munition to take out missiles. The Strales is also produced by Italy’s Leonardo.
“With three shots we can take out a missile at 5,000 meters,” Girardelli said.
Apart from Fincantieri’s competing in Australia, the Italian FREMM is also attracting interest from Canada and the U.S., which issued a request for information in July for a new frigate.
The RFI states that in order to get the ship into service as quickly as possible, the U.S. Navy wants suppliers to base their offers on existing designs.
“After the littoral combat ship and the focus on [6,000] to 7,000-ton ships, there is a return to seeing the importance of control of the high seas,” Girardelli said. “The need to control high seas for long periods means command and control, air surveillance, communication, and offering protection to a battle group. Think of a group of carriers in the Far East — it is a return to the past. Once you had Perry class frigates which were anti-ship and anti-submarine. The LCS cannot do that.
“The RFI shows this and we are set to have visits from the U.S. to obtain more information about the FREMM.
“The US has said, ‘Let’s see what is on the market,‘ and the FREMM could be of interest.”
Girardelli said that Fincantieri was interested in responding to the U.S. request for information.
Meanwhile, Italy’s FREMMs will prove instrumental in patrolling a Mediterranean that has once again become a hot spot in recent years, according to the admiral.
Over the summer, a group of Chinese naval vessels, including a destroyer, a frigate and a refueler, stopped in at the Italian port of Civitavecchia as part of a Show the Flag mission.
“The Greek port of Piraeus is now Chinese-owned, and they are also building a port in Algeria,” Girardelli explained.
Russian submarines were now cruising the Mediterranean, he added, while the Italian Navy has also been involved in the EU operation Sophia to track human smugglers sending migrants across the Mediterranean Sea on flimsy boats.
“Migration is not going to go away — it’s structural,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the Italian Navy’s most demanding commitment — especially in terms of involved surface and sub assets — is currently Operation Mare Sicuro,” he added. “It is a typical maritime security engagement focused on the central Mediterranean’s crucial waters, aimed at protecting national interests in the area, including shipping, fishing, offshore infrastructures and national units whilst at the same time providing prevention from terrorists infiltration from North Africa.”