ROME — Nations teaming to build a flagship European corvette with the help of EU funding are looking ahead to a €200 million, or $202 million, investment from the bloc’s defense coffers next year to build the first prototype.
The so-called European Patrol Corvette (EPC) program, which teams Italy, France, Spain and Greece as launch partners has already received a €60 million ($60.5 million) cash injection from the European Defense Fund (EDF) this year for development of the vessel.
But the funding will continue in 2023, an Italian navy official told Defense News.
“Next year the EDF will issue a ‘call’ for participants to push on with the program, with a EU grant of around 200 million euros to be available, leading to the production of the first prototype,” said Captain Andrea Quondamatteo, the EPC project coordinator and head of the Capability Development Office at the Italian Navy General Staff in Rome.
Up to 110 meters long and displacing up to 3,300 tonnes, the European Patrol Corvette is being touted as a poster child for European defense integration, with Denmark and Norway joining the original members last year.
The EDF signed off on the first 60 million euros in July, with the cash available by year end for development work covering areas like propulsion, integration of unmanned platforms and modular design which will allow nations to put their own radars, combat systems and armaments on board.
Studies are also underway to cut the crew count by 30 percent from previous standards.
Beyond the core industrial involvement of Spain’s Navantia, France’s Naval Group, Italy’s Fincantieri and Navaris – the joint venture launched by the latter two firms – 40 firms from 12 nations are now on board, including Kongsberg, Siemens, Rolls-Royce, MAN and MTU.
The large number of propulsion specialists involved reflect work underway to see if full electric propulsion is an option for the vessel.
As talks have continued, Italy and Spain have come out in favour of a full combat variant of the corvette, while France and Spain are opting to pursue a long range version.
“The full combat version would be designed for use in the Mediterranean with anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities including surface-to-air missiles and torpedoes,” said Quondamatteo.
An Italian version might feature a 3 inch caliber gun, a Close In Weapon System and a Point Defense Missile System, while all versions would host a medium-size helicopter and a modular mission bay, he said.
“By 2027 or 2028, about half the corvettes in service in the world will be near the end of their operational lives, so I believe this new and innovative naval program may find a market inside and outside the EU,” he said.
Italy has sped ahead with national funding already for the program, while this year’s defense budget document suggests it is also working on a national program for a smaller patrol vessel dubbed PPX, with a displacement of about 2,000 tonnes.
That vessel could enter service as soon as 2026, four years ahead of the corvette. The defense document cites a need for a total of eight vessels, including both PPX and corvettes.
France and Spain are meanwhile both expected to order six corvettes.
The €60 million for development work is to be topped up to €90 million ($91 million) by the partner nations and the program will also receive a boost thanks to being inserted in the EU’s so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation, or Pesco, list of recommended pan-European defense programs designed to create synergies among EU defense firms.
According to EU rules, programs awarded European Defense Fund cash get a 10 percent bonus in the funding rate if they are already PESCO projects.
The teaming of Italy and France on the program follows the two nations’ work together on the Horizon frigate program.
Enrico Bonetti, COO at Naviris, told Defense News that one lesson learned from the Horizon program was the need for partners to continue to work together after the vessels go into operation.
“The fleets were operated separately, but software becomes obsolete fast. This time the nations need better structures to manage the vessels jointly during the operational lives,” he said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.