ABOARD THE ITALIAN FREMM ALPINO, Atlantic Ocean — The Italian Navy’s anti-submarine warfare FREMM Alpino is in the United States on a tour of the East Coast.
The Fincantieri-built warship is a contender for the U.S. Navy’s next-generation frigate, the FFG(X), and the Alpino is on this side of the Atlantic giving the service a look at what the hull can do.
The Alpino is one of 10 FREMM destined to make up a significant portion of the Italian Navy’s surface fleet — four ASW versions like Alpino and six general purpose FREMM that replaces the variable-depth sonar array with a rigid-hull inflatable boat.
Defense News spent three days on board Alpino. Here is everything you need to know about FREMM.
Length: 167 meters (547 feet, just 20 feet shorter than a Ticonderoga-class cruiser)
Width: 16 meters (52 feet)
Displacement: 6,500 tons
Top speed: 27 knots
Range: 6,000 nautical miles. During normal operations — not zipping around at 25 knots — you can get about 2 percent fuel consumption per day.
Propulsion: A combined diesel and gas system system of four diesel generators providing power to two electric motors that turn the twin shafts for up to 15 knots. Above 15 knots there is a single LM2500 gas turbine forward of the combining gear. You need two generators to run the screws or just the LM2500. All the main components can be switched out without cutting a hole in the ship.
The ship also has an auxiliary propulsion unit that can spin 360-degress, has a top speed of seven kts, and can be used to do some nifty maneuvers. Getting underway from Norfolk, the Alpino pulled away from the pier without tugs, which is a breeze with the APU.
Power capacity: Four 2,1-megawatt diesel generators
Crew size: 167, but it can hold accommodate up to 200.
Missions: Primary mission is anti-submarine warfare. Capable of point-defense anti-air warfare, electronic warfare, anti-surface warfare and special operation insertion.
Design: The ship is largely enclosed with plenty of angles to reduce the radar cross-section.
Armaments: Two Oto-Breda 76mm Guns; 16-cell vertical launch; two three-tube torpedo launchers positioned both port and starboard; two Oto-Breda 25mm machine guns; two NH-90 helicopters.
Sensors: Primary sensors are the Thales variable-depth sonar, known as the CAPTAS-4, a towed array sonar and a hull-mounted sonar. The VDS deploys from a pneumatically controlled door and ramp system that in the general purpose FREMM is used for a 13-meter RHIB for special operations forces.
The ship is also equipped with an air search radar, surface search radar, an electronic warfare system, and commercial radars. The helo is strapped with FLIR, a surface-search radar, a dipping sonar, and Link 11.
Payloads: MU90 Torpedoes; Aster surface-to-air missiles; Teseo surface-to-surface missile; Milas anti-ship missile and anti-submarine missile, and Marte missile on the helo.
An 11-meter Hurricane rigid-hull inflatable boat that makes 50 knots through the water, used for special operations insertion and by the Marine detachment for non-compliant boardings.
Operating: The ship’s combat information center is roughly the same size as a DDGs, perhaps a little larger. Every console has three monitors and can be used in any submode. The missiles can all be fired from the combat system save the Milas anti-ship/anti-submarine missile system, which is fired from a separate control console much like the Harpoon. The consoles and layout is very similar to the AEGIS Baseline 9 equipment.
The damage control system is highly sophisticated.
The ship is equipped with an incredible camera system that exists almost everywhere except the living spaces and spaces like central control that are constantly manned. If fire or flooding is detected in any space, a live video feed will automatically pull up on the screen of the damage control system monitors.
Fire boundaries on the main deck can be set automatically from central control with the flip of a switch, which releases the magnetized door stops, and the damage control officer can see when anyone breaks fire boundaries (he will let you know).
The primary fire system is highly pressurized water sprinkler system that sprays atomized demineralized water that decouples the fire from its fuel source. About a gallon of water is sufficient to handle most spaces, including main-space fires and the demineralized water protects electronics.
There is also a fixed gas system as a backup in the main spaces. All the fixed systems have mechanical back-up systems should the ship lose power completely.
If the sprinkler and gas systems fail, there are dozens of fire stations — 87 to be exact — throughout the ship for the fire-party’s use.
The stations are fully equipped with several kinds of fire extinguishers and canisters of agent, including AFFF and F-500, and in-line eductors for extracting them.
The bridge is state-of-the-art, but in a way that makes your job easier, not in the way that saves people by lumping too many functions in one watchstander. There is a long row of terminals and screens that are manned by no fewer than four personnel including the navigator, a bright bridge monitoring the surface search radar, the helmsman and an engineer monitoring the plant status. The Marina also has the normal OOD, conning officer and XO or CO supervision during sea and anchor detail.
The bridge wings have quartermasters who function as lookouts and can shoot bearings if the electronic chart fails.
The visuals on the bridge are fantastic, with 180-degrees plus visible without stepping outside on the bridge wings.
Berthings and staterooms
The crew lives in staterooms, the largest of which are two six-person staterooms for (of course) the Marines and air detachment. Most are four-person staterooms. One-person staterooms are for the embarked admiral, the captain, the executive officer, and the department heads. The rest of the officers are in two and four-person staterooms. The beds are the same throughout the ship. In the two-person staterooms the racks the fold out from the wall, with the bottom rack folding out into a couch. In the four-person staterooms the racks are fixed. Each stateroom has an identical private bathroom, officer and enlisted.
The Alpino comes equipped with no fewer than five espresso machines, but sailors hoping the U.S. Navy will buy Italian espresso machines shouldn’t hold their breath.
The littoral combat ship is the closest relative to the FREMM currently in the fleet in terms of crew accommodations but it’s not even close to the same level of luxury. As said one Alpino sailor, a 20-year veteran of the Marina: “It’s a luxury, five-star hotel” compared to his first ship where he shared a berthing with 119 other sailors.
If the Navy selects FREMM it would easily be the more luxurious ship in the fleet. However, NAVSEA’s predilection for saving weight might strip a U.S. version of some of FREMM's amenities.
The ship is pretty darn cool: It’s built to fight and has plenty of power to go around. An AEGIS version of the FREMM being pitched by Fincantieri has an even greater power capacity.
It is very quiet. Compared with the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burkes, there is just very little in the way of ambient noise, and there is almost no noise in the berthings. Even the engine room is quiet enough that hearing protection is not required to enter.
The ship has also integrated a ton of technologies that cuts down on manning. Foremost among them is the damage control system but there are others. For instance, during underway replenishment the lines are reeled in with winches rather than with a team of line handlers as is done on U.S. Navy ships.
There are however a couple of things on this version of the FREMM that would make the U.S. Navy uncomfortable in terms of design.
FREMM has only a single LM2500 and the redundancy-obsessed NAVSEA would likely want two. The AEGIS version of the FREMM being pitched by Finacantieri has two independent propulsion systems, one for each shaft, instead of two motors and one LM2500.
Almost the entire ship is enclosed save for spaces on the O-2 and O-3 levels between the enclosed forward mast and the rear traditional mast used for box launchers, a space above the helo hanger, a large flight deck, a small forecastle closed to foot traffic underway, and an amply large bridge wings. The mooring lines feed from enclosed areas both forward and aft under the forecastle and flight deck.
The Navy likes more weather deck space in its combatants but recent ships, including the littoral combat ships and the Zumwalt class, have had less transitable deck space.
Finally, the top speed is 27 or 28 knots in normal conditions — that’s about as fast as FFG-7s but not as fast as a Burke or Ticonderoga. That means this version would have to push itself to keep up with a U.S. aircraft carrier. The AEGIS version of the FREMM lists its top speed at 30 knots.
All told, this is a survivable, purpose-built ship and it’s plainly evident after three days on board why the Navy put it in the final five for its FFG(X) program.
Got any more questions? Fire away on Twitter: @DavidLarter
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.