PARIS and ROME — Naval Group and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri have together taken a close look at a German tender for MKS-180 warships and decided against pursuing a deal, signaling a strong cooperation, the chairman of the French shipbuilder said on Thursday.
“Naval Group and Fincantieri had made a pitch in a German warship competition and then withdrew, considering the rules were too specific to the country,” Hervé Guillou told Defense News. “We hope to make a common offer to other countries soon.”
Guillou was speaking a day after the Franco-Italian summit agreed to pursue a naval alliance to build and sell warships, and backed a plan for Fincantieri to take a 51 percent stake in French shipbuilder STX.
That joint approach in attacking foreign markets shows the French and Italian companies are cooperating, a key element in their plan to form the flagship for a European naval alliance.
The two companies hope to offer a mix of French and Italian FREMM multimission frigates in Canada’s tender for warships, according to a defense executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One hitch to a possible Franco-Italian offer to Canada is that Fincantieri does not plan to submit a proposal on present terms.
The Italian shipyard objects to the way that Canada has tasked the private firm Irving with coordinating the work of the ship’s designer, fearing that the winning bidder would be forced to hand over too much intellectual property to Irving.
“Fincantieri has not bid,” a spokesman said. “We are interested in the program, but not in the current procurement procedure.”
Italian industrial sources said that Fincantieri would look to enter the competition if it were reorganized in a way in which less intellectual property would be handed over.
“If that happens, a Italian-French joint FREMM offer could not be excluded,” a source noted.
Paris and Rome pledged “to allow the creation of a world leader, particularly for complex and high value-added ships, which would be supported by an exceptional technological portfolio,” the nations said in a Sept. 27 joint statement from Lyon, central France.
The two partner nations would also study the possibility of cooperation in electronic and anti-submarine warfare, particularly torpedoes and countermeasures, the summit statement said. France and Italy also hoped there would be a swift agreement on a program for a fleet auxiliary tanker.
That plan for a common tanker holds hope for Naval Group and Fincantieri to build a new tanker, and there are prospects for surveillance patrol ships, the defense executive said.
Under the planned industrial alliance, the two companies would take up cross shareholdings of 5 to 10 percent and set up a 50-50 joint venture company. The latter would work on joint research and development, and seek foreign deals.
The cooperation would allow a wider product range to be offered in export tenders, such as a French 30,000-ton and Italian 15,000-ton helicopter carrier. A key aim is to work faster than China and Russia, which are now tough competitors in the world market, the executive said.
A steering committee to draw up the cooperation plan will meet next month, comprising Fincantieri and Naval Group chairmen — Giuseppe Bono and Hervé Guillou, respectively — and a French and Italian government official.
The aim is “to define by June 2018 a road map detailing the principles of the future alliance,” the two companies said Sept. 27 in a joint statement after the summit announcement.
The executive noted that perhaps Germany will later join the alliance, despite a reluctance to work with France in the naval sector. The signing of the Anglo-French Lancaster House defense treaty sparked close attention in Berlin, which would not want to be left behind, as those that are last to join a partnership will likely get the least favorable terms.
There is little appetite for the planned naval alliance to include Leonardo and Thales, as these are equipment suppliers to Fincantieri and Naval Group, which are prime contractors, the executive said.
Thales holds 35 percent of Naval Group, with France owning 62.5 percent.
Naval Group and Fincantieri will become shareholders in STX France, “a first important step and an opportunity to go forward in naval cooperation,” the companies said.
The latter will control STX, under a compromise deal reached with the French government at the summit. Fincantieri will own 50 percent, with France lending 1 percentage point, while Naval Group will hold 10 percent.
Naval Group and Fincantieri pitched rival bids in a Qatari warship tender, with the latter winning the deal last year.