Italian Industry Gears Up for Navy Renewal

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Italian Industry Gears Up for Navy Renewal




ROME — As the Italian Navy edges closer to government approval to renew its fleet in a €5.4 billion (US $5.8 billion) program, Italy's defense firms are readying new products, from radars to sonars to cannons, that the Navy may adopt.

The massive program, which covers about six multifunctional vessels, a landing platform dock and a logistics ship, is turning into a showcase for Italian products as the Navy looks set to shop at home.

That means firms including Selex, WASS and Oto Melara — all part of state-controlled group Finmeccanica — will receive welcome funding to develop new technologies for the Navy that they can then seek to export.

Industry managers declined to go on record about their planned programs before contracts are signed, which will not happen until the government gives the Navy final funding approval, something expected imminently.

But in off-the-record interviews with Defense News, managers indicated that the Navy has set tough challenges for Italian industry to provide the necessary equipment for the ships, on which the Navy has led the design work.

Selex ES has been working on the Navy's plan to combine its combat center with the bridge on its multifunctional ships, which are known by their Italian acronym PPA.

The tasks would be combined in a "cockpit" — a glass-enclosed platform protruding from the bridge — in which all the key operations, from navigation to combat, would be handled.

Inspired by an aircraft cockpit, the technology could draw on Finmeccanica's own experience in aircraft and combat management systems design, as well as Fincantieri's design capability, industry managers said.

"This means a shift in technology and doctrine," said one.

The concept also reduces crew requirements. Fewer than five crew members might handle navigation and combat on the "light" version of the PPA, fewer than 10 on the full combat version.

Between four and 10 crew might fit into the cockpit, with data projected on the glass window of the structure.

Selex is also preparing to work on the ships' radar, providing an active, fixed-face, multifunctional radar.

On the light version PPA vessels, a C-band radar could be used, based on the MFRA active revolving radar used on Italy's FREMM frigates, which in turn are an upgrade of the passive Empar radar used on Italy's earlier Horizon frigates.

The C-band radar will take the form of four fixed arrays mounted on the topside.

In the full version, that radar will combine with an X-band radar, also using four fixed arrays, creating a total of eight arrays on the topside.

Both radars will rely on the same architecture, or "one brain," as an industry manager put it, to create a single, dual-band radar, with the X-band focusing on coastal and surface surveillance and the C-band offering longer range coverage.

Gallium nitride modules, which Selex is now able to produce in Italy, could be used on the C-band radar.

Meanwhile, torpedo maker WASS may provide an active towed array sonar for the new PPAs, the first sonar it has developed. As such, the firm may seek a partner, with L3, Thales or Atlas, among possible candidates.

The Navy is also interested in installing two tubes to launch the firm's new Black Shark Advanced torpedo from the stern of the full combat PPA vessels.

The new torpedo is the successor to the Black Shark, built with French industry, which used French-developed batteries. Following a split with the French, WASS has developed the Black Shark Advanced with Italian-developed batteries and already struck deals to supply the torpedo to new Italian submarines

The LHD will use WASS' new Black Snake torpedo detection system, which is also an option on the PPAs and the logistic ship.

For its part, Oto Melara is set to install its 127mm cannon on the bows of the PPA vessels. A multi-feeder system will allow the cannon to fire different shells, including GPS- and IR-guided munitions as well as laser-guided munitions.

The Navy plans to place an Oto Melara 76mm cannon on the rear hangar on the PPA vessels, but a redesign of the cannon has been required since the hangars are not strong enough to support its current weight.

To remedy this, the firm is developing what it has called the 76mm Sovraponte cannon, with the aim of cutting weight by 40 percent and fitting the loader inside the cannon's revolving section, rather than underneath it, as is currently the case.

The cannons will feature the Davide-Strales guided munition system, which has already been installed with the 76mm cannon on Italian FREMM frigates and on the Cavour carrier, and which is currently being installed on Horizon frigates.

"A prototype will be ready in mid-2016, ready for installation in 2018," said an industrial manager.

A new, remotely controlled version of Oto Melara's 25mm machine gun will likely be used on the PPAs, as well as a 130mm decoy system, which will feature one launcher for decoys to be fired at airborne threats as well as undersea threats.

Industrial managers said the LHD will feature three 76mm cannons, three 25mm machine guns and the decoy system. The logistics ship will be fit for the 76mm cannon but feature a 25mm gun and decoy system.


Italian Industry Gears Up for Navy Renewal
 

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