ROME — Competition is gearing up to supply propulsion systems to the Italian Navy's new multifunctional vessels, just as some accounting changes by the Italian government means 10 rather than six vessels may be ordered.

The vessels will be funded under Italy's Naval Law — a massive funding package which is now working its way past final bureaucratic hurdles after parliamentary approval and should see local yard Fincantieri signed up to build a landing helicopter dock ship, a logistics vessel and the multifunctional ships.

The pending deal — which is due to be signed early this year — is set to spark the same battle between General Electric and Rolls-Royce over supplying propulsion that characterized the Italo-French program to build multimission frigates (FREMMs) frigates a decade ago.

That battle was won by GE, which supplied its LM2500+G4 turbine for the French and Italian vessels.

This time round, the multifunctional ships will use a combined diesel and gas, or CODAG system, with one gas turbine, an Italian naval source said.

Diesel electric propulsion will be used at low speeds and loitering up to 10 knots, while at higher speeds the electric motors can be reversed to become generators, using the energy from the propeller shaft to generate power.

The source said the Navy envisions envisaged using one diesel engine to reach 20 knots, two diesel engines to reach 26 knots and both diesels combined with the gas turbine to reach speeds higher than 32 knots.

"The system is flexible, economical and green — we are very satisfied," said the source said. Although Fincantieri will pick the supplier of the propulsion system, the source said the Navy has asked to be involved in the selection process "to guarantee prices remain low."

GE said it will push would be pushing to repeat its success on the FREMM program by supplying engines for the Italian multifunctional ships.

The company purchased Italian propulsion firm Avio Aero in 2012, and will formally offer its LM2500, or a variant of it, through Avio Aero, while offering the more powerful LM6000 through GE Oil and Gas in Italy.

"This gives real liberty to Fincantieri and the Italian Navy to find the best architecture," said Corrado Crotti, Avio Aero's director of military sales for Italy.

The LM2500 will offer from 23 megawatts, up to 33 megawatts in the case of the LM2500+G4. The LM6000 would offer up to 47 megawatts and could be a candidate for use on the helicopter LHD vessel, which is included in the naval funding package.

Crotti said that long term support for the LM2500 would be guaranteed since around 200 are were now being built annually. "In 50 years there will be a supply chain," he said.

Thirty-eight Italian Navy ships are were now powered by the LM2500, he said, including the FREMMs, as well as Italy's Cavour carrier and two Horizon frigates, which use standard LM2500s. A contract for the new multifunctional ships would mean commonalities for parts and training, said Crotti said. For Fincantieri, it would mean advantages for exporting the vessel, since the maintenance for the turbines is commonly available overseas.

Maintenance work on both engines would be carried out at Avio Aero's plant in Brindisi, he said.

"The vessels are being funded by Italy's Industry Ministry with a focus on national industry," said Crotti, adding that 20 percent of parts for the LM2500 would be built in Italy.

Rolls-Royce is likely to compete with its MT30, which is used on the Freedom-class littoral combat ships now being built by Lockheed Martin at the Wisconsin-based Marinette Marine yard in the US owned by Fincantieri. As it looks to sign either GE or Rolls-Royce, Fincantieri will likely consider which firm offers it greater workshare.

Whether GE or Rolls-Royce win the contract, it now looks like they could be supplying 10 vessels, not six.

The original plan for six multifunctional ships was contained in a €5.4 billion (US $6.1 billion), multiyear funding package. The funds were due to be used to pay back bank loans worth €3.829 billion for building the vessels as well as just under €1.6 billion to cover the interest on the loans.

The money was to be used to buy six multifunctional ships worth €436.7 million each, a logistics vessel worth €325 million, the helicopter carrier at €844 million and two high speed special operations vessels at €20 million each.

That deal, which was sent to Italy's defense commission for approval last month, has now however been overhauled by the Italian government.

"Thanks to a change in European Union accounting rules, Italy was able to raise the entire €5.4 billion on the program itself without breaking rules on national deficits," said Massimo Artini, a member of the parliamentary defense commission.

"With the extra €1.6 billion, the Navy will buy the four extra multifunctional ships it had envisaged as options," he said.


Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

More In Naval