Italian MoD studies underwater manned-unmanned platforms integration for ‘Seabed warfare’

Luca Peruzzi

The Italian MoD has unveiled to have a requirement to integrate unmanned underwater vehicles consisting of AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) and ROV (Remote Operated Vehicles) assets with the in-service U-212A and future U212NFS (Near Future Submarine) platforms for ‘Seabed warfare’ operations.

With a notice of preliminary market consultation made public on last 2 February, the Italian MoD’s Naval Armament Directorate has highlighted to potential interested providers the intention to award a contract for the supply of a study for the integration on board current (U212A) and future (U212 NFS) submarines of AUV and ROV assets to support ‘Seabed warfare’ operations. This will  be propaedeutic to the follow-on procurement activities for the physical integration of the selected unmanned underwater platforms.

After the tender for an AUV capable to operate to depths of at least 3,000 meters as well as for the procurement of the Special & Diving Operations-Submarine Rescue Ship (SDO-SURS) and the hydro-oceanographic vessel (NIOM, Nave Idro Oceanografica Maggiore) and their associated mission suites including deep-operating AUVs and ROVs, the Italian MoD launches another programme to support ‘Seabed warfare’ operations. Due to the nature of the platform, EDR understood the Italia MoD is looking for a covert capability not only to monitor the seabed, underwater areas and infrastructures but also areas of interest and theatres of operations and to deploy action systems in support of operations.         

According to the same notice, the study is to include the costs estimation and the timing for the planned activities required for the integration of the mentioned assets destined to conduct ‘Seabed warfare’ operations from manned submarines.

The requested study would have to be awarded with a negotiated procedure without prior publication of the tender. The requested interest by the potential providers would have to be submitted within seven days after the publication period of the notice (fifteen days). 

With an estimated contract value and supply period of respectively €3.5 million and 18 months, the scope of the indicated study includes:

  • the selection of the most performing and capable AUV and ROV on the market to be integrated on the mentioned manned platforms based on unspecified operational requirements;
  • the design of (physical) integration with the U212 platform, including the necessary accommodations for the launch and recovery of the unmanned assets and the required interfaces (such as power and signals);
  • the design of the launch and recovery system for payloads to be used with the launching tubes of the U212 platforms;
  • a study for the customization and militarization of the selected assets;
  • the design of the new components identified by the overmentioned studies.

The to-be contracted activities also includes the development of the prototypes which resulted capable to accomplish the mission and the feasibility evaluation of the solutions identified during the studies and design activities.

From a technical point, the request integration study activities will have to include the submarine software and hardware components to integrate the new assets and their management with the on-board command and control systems, in addition to system engineering studies and the updating of the technical documentation.

Although the notice indicates ‘a launch and recovery system for payloads’ from U212A submarine’s launching tubes, the connected size limitations for an AUV or ROV and the unspecified operational requirements do not exclude the possibility to operate these vehicles from a shelter platform behind the submarine sail as for the DDS (Dry Dock Shelter) used by U212A and expectedly from the U212 NFS for special operations purposes.

The fact that the notice refers to the U212A platform indicates an initial integration activity on the U212As as the U212 NFS will be available only from late 2027 onwards. This will also help to maintain communality for the U212A mid-life upgrade with the same combat system equipment where applicable on the older and smaller platform.

Interestingly, the notice do not provide information on operational requirements as well as any refer to AUV and ROV payloads but only refers to vehicles selection and integration on the platforms, leaving the door open to further programme phases after the prototypes have been tested and unmanned assets selection and physical integration solution identified for further evaluation including payloads.   

In addition to Fincantieri shipbuilding company which is the prime contractor for both the U212A and U212 NFS programmes and, therefore, mentioned in the notice as a possible economic operator able to meet the requirements depicted in the notice, the potentially interested providers will have to possess documented know-how and expertise on the U212A and U212 NFS platforms, the availability and open access to the documentation of the design authority property, ensure the technological and configuration upgrading of the onboard systems, among other administrative and contractual requests.

Photo courtesy Italian Navy