Italian MoD provides first details of its new long-range ISR/ASW AUV programme, an Italian-Israeli solution based on an Israeli platform and Italian payloads

Luca Peruzzi

Unveiled with the release of the Italian MoD’s Multi-year Planning Document (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale) 2023-2025 in October 2023, the programme for a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) platform capable to conduct intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions has been submitted for approval to the Italian Parliament, providing first details

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To strengthen the presence, surveillance and data collection in areas of direct national strategic interest, as well as uncrewed ASW capabilities in support of force projection from the sea, together with the control of off-shore platforms and underwater infrastructures that convey energy and data flows, the Italian Navy General Staff has proposed to procure three Large Displacement Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (LDAUV) together with a remote command and control station as well as launch and recovery system, to be deployed from surface and underwater platforms with advanced capabilities in terms of modularity, endurance and flexibility. The programme also includes payloads and systems as well as logistic support and training of the personnel for the system use and maintenance.

The programme is based on the international cooperation between Italy and Israel on the specific topic, which is regulated by the framework arrangement and memorandum of understanding (MoU) that was signed between to the two nations’ procurement bodies in December 2021. This has taken to the current Italian-Israeli BlueWhale (IIBW) LDAUV solution based on the BlueWhale platform developed by IAI/Elta Systems with the integration of payloads and systems developed by the Italian industry. The international cooperation at industrial level is managed through the memorandum of collaboration that was signed in February 2022 and which defines the perimeter of industrial cooperation and workshare between the involved companies.

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The document was signed by Elta Systems and the Italian companies Elettronica, FAAM, CABI Cattaneo, BATS Italia and ICS Technologies. According to first information released to the Parliament, CABI Cattaneo will develop the vehicle integration with the surface and underwater platforms, FAAM will provide lithium ion batteries, ICS Technologies the sonar suite integration and BATS Italia the logistic support. Although no details has been provided for Elettronica, the latter is expected to supply the EW suite including signal and communication intelligence equipment. The programme aims at developing sovereign technological competences, which could find in prospect potential export applications, according to the accompanying documentation. It also highlights that no national solutions exist to satisfy the operational requirement set by the Italian Navy.

The cooperation scope regards the joint research and development activities with the aim of developing an IIBW with the equal contribution of Israeli and Italian companies.

According to the document presented to the Parliament the programme, which will last 13 years, has an overall estimated cost of 254.3 million Euro of which 6 million have already been allocated for the first two years also called “first phase”.

The accompanying documentation specifies that “these vehicles will be used in a coastal environment, as precursor sensors of underwater or surface launching platforms, or in the open sea, as an extension of the organic sensor suite of the launching platform, ensuring a particular benefit especially in the case of submarines.

The Italian Navy is currently not equipped with autonomous assets capable of actively contributing to the achievement of advanced maritime situation awareness (AMSA), in particular underwater awareness (UWSA).

Photo courtesy IAI