ROME – Plans by Italy and France to win European Union funding for the construction of a new corvette have been boosted as Spain looks set to follow Greece and sign up to the program.

The planning for a new 3,000 ton corvette is a cornerstone of the new naval joint venture between Italy’s Fincantieri and France’s Naval Group which was launched last year and named Naviris.

The two firms are hoping to match Italian and French navy requirements with a jointly built, modular vessel that can handle patrol and surveillance missions as well as taking second-tier roles in anti-submarine and anti-surface missions.

The program, dubbed the European Patrol Corvette, has also been inserted in the EU’s so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, list of recommended pan-European defense programs, which according the EU offers members “options on how to plan and bridge capability gaps in a collaborative manner.”

The PESCO corvette project is coordinated by Italy, with France as partner, but in recent weeks, Greece has also joined as a partner, following discussions between the countries’ navies. And now Spain is likely to follow, an industrial source told Defense News.

“Naviris presented the program to Spain’s Navantia which is interested and it is likely Spain will sign up,” said the source.

On its PESCO listing for the corvette, the EU states “the objective is to design and develop a prototype for a new class of military ship, named “European Patrol Corvette” (EPC), which can host several systems and payloads, in order to accomplish, with a modular and flexible approach, a large number of tasks and missions.”

Adding new partners to the roster of Italy and France is key to winning EU funding. PESCO programs are possible candidates for cash from the European Defence Fund, but only if they have more than two partners on board.

“The corvette is the only naval program on the PESCO list and it should be a priority,” said the source.

Naviris expects the EU fund to issue a Request for Proposal for projects this year, with proposals to then be submitted by industry in 2021, and for decisions on fund allocation to be made the same year.

The source said that if the corvette program gets EU part-funding, it would help sustain the development of the ship’s modularity, allowing it to serve different functions for different navies. “It would have a very open architecture, as well as having a basic and enhanced version,” he said.

Apart from the boost given the program by potential EU funding, the corvette remains a requirement for Italy and France. Rome needs to replace Cassiopea- and Minerva-class vessels being phased out as well as aging Commandante-class vessels.

France is looking to substitute its Floréal-class vessels.

“Italy might need eight corvettes and France is looking to substitute six ships. They both have a need, so the EU funding would be an added opportunity that could create a bandwagon effect with other navies,” said the source.

As Naviris picks up steam, Naval Group CEO Hervé Guillou has said the industrial alliance is open to new partners joining, but so far Germany seems to be uninterested.

Addressing the economic affairs committee of the French Senate on Jan. 28, Guillou said he had visited Berlin the week before to sound out German interest but got little response.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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