ROME — UK-based Rolls-Royce has confirmed it will compete to supply propulsion for Italy's new €5.4 billion (US $6.13 billion) naval shipbuilding program, and has opened the bidding by promising to beat US rival General Electric on life-cycle costs.
In a briefing in Rome, David Kemp, Rolls-Royce vice president for naval sales, said the company was committed to winning contracts on the program, which he called "arguably the most important naval program in the world today."
As a large number of vessels reach obsolescence, the Italian Navy has secured the funding to build a new logistics ship, a landing helicopter dock (LHD) and at least six multifunctional ships, known by their Italian acronym PPA, which have been designed in-house by the Navy to handle civil and naval missions.
GE has offered its LM2500, or a variant thereof, for the PPA vessels, and managers have said they will seek to offer synergies since Italy's FREMM frigates and other vessels use the engine. Choosing GE, the managers have said, will benefit maintenance centers the firm already operates in Italy.
Taking a different approach, Rolls-Royce argues that if Italy selects its MT30, it will need to think a lot less about maintenance.
"The MT30 will need no major overhaul in 30 years," said Rolls-Royce's Italy CEO , Giuseppe Ciongoli. "I don't think anyone else has this capability," he added. GE has facilities and has to defend jobs. We want to introduce a new concept which will diminish the need for maintenance for the benefit of the Navy."
Ciongoli said Rollsthe firm would look to offer jobs to Italy on the production of "packaging" for the engines — meaning the connections linking them to the ship. He said Rolls-Royce was forging a partnership with an Italian company to work on packaging for Italian vessels as well as for the British Navy Type 26 frigates that use the MT30.
Rolls will also offer MTU 8000 diesels to power the PPAs at lower speeds. MTU, which Rolls-Royce purchased in 2014, turns over €73 million a year through its activity in Italy.
The firm will offer its mission bay handling system for the PPAs, as used on the Type 26 vessels, to assist in the moving of the ship's containers and ribs. For the logistic ship it will offer a new refueling system, funded in development by the UK Ministry of Defence, which does away with hydraulic fluids, relying on electric power.
The MT30 — which is used by the US Navy's Freedom-class littoral combat ships, the US DDG-1000s, the new UK carriers and Type 26 frigates — is rated up to 40 MW at 38 degrees Celsius, which would qualify it for use on the Italian LHD as well as the PPAs, said Ciongoli.
GE is set to offer its LM6000 for the LHD.
"We are the only supplier that can offer the same solution for the PPA and LHD," Ciongoli said.
If the MT30 offered power in abundance on the PPAs, it would "allow the ship to grow," he said.
Ciongoli said things had changed since Rolls-Royce was beaten in a close race by GE to supply propulsion to the Italo-French FREMM frigates a decade ago.
"Maybe our weak point was that the MT30 was not in service — it was certified but not operational. We were also less present in Italy. Now we order products worth £300 million a year from Italy and have a turnover of €140 million here," he said.
While the Italian program may be the biggest around right now, the number of PPA vessels that will be purchased is still unclear. Members of parliament have talked of the number rising from six to 10, but a naval source said it was likely to stay closer to six.
The reason for the uncertainty is a switch in the way the program is to be funded. Originally, the €5.4 billion funding package was to be released over a number of years and be used to pay back bank loans worth €3.829 billion obtained up front to build the vessels, as well as just under €1.6 billion to cover the interest on the loans.
That changed when parliament decided the funds were available now and loans were unnecessary, meaning the €1.6 billion in interest was suddenly freed up to buy more ships.
But a naval source said that if the money became available, planners were now thinking more about upgrades and stretching logistic support deals to 10 years on existing ships, albeit adding one option for an extra PPA.
Planners originally thought of ordering five "light"-version PPAs and one full combat version. If more funds were available, the source said, the light versions would all get 76mm cannons to accompany their 127mm cannons, just like the full combat version, and some would get a SAAM ESD extended self-defense missile defense system like the full combat version.
The light versions would still lack the full undersea warfare and electronic warfare suites offered by the full combat vessel, but thanks to the modular approach used in the design, all light-version ships would be easily upgradable could easily be upgraded to full combat version if required, the source said.
All plans for upgrades are still conditional on ministerial funding decrees on funding that have yet to be signed. "For this reason, contracts have not yet been signed," he added.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.