By Luca Peruzzi
An historical milestone in the development of Italy’s sovereign underwater warfare and submarine shipbuilding capabilities was reached on 26 February, when the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) agency, on behalf of the Italian MoD’s Naval Armaments Directorate, awarded to Fincantieri shipbuilding group the contract for the first tranche of the U212 NFS (Near Future Submarine) programme.
The contract signature was undertaken by the OCCAR director, Vice-Admiral (ret) Matteo Bisceglia and Fincantieri’s naval business unit general manager Giuseppe Giordo, at the presence of the Italian MoD’s head of Naval Armaments Directorate, Vice Admiral Massimo Guma and Leonardo’s Deputy Managing Director Electronics Division, Electronics ITA business unit head Marco De Fazio, as representative of the U212 NFS main subcontractor and combat system integrator company. The ceremony took place at the OCCAR new premises in Rome, which will host the U212 NFS Programme Division, to be established next April 1st . A satellite office will be opened in La Spezia later-on.
“This agreement, of strategic importance, will provide the Navy and its submarine component with highly technological assets capable of excelling in the underwater dimension and to play, in the current geopolitical scenario, a fundamental role in safeguarding the country’s interests”, said Vice Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, Chief of Italian Navy.
“We are proud that the recognition of our skills by the Italian Navy and the German partner has brought about a change in the relations, thus securing, on the one hand, our role as design authority, on the other as prime contractor”, said Giuseppe Bono, Fincantieri CEO. “This will allow Italy to continue being a main actor among the limited group of countries that can build such advanced boats”, he added.
“The OCCAR-EA awarded the contract to Fincantieri following a tight integration schedule that was achieved thanks to Italian Naval Armaments Directorate and OCCAR-EA staff’s joint effort in conjunction with a very responsive team from Fincantieri”, said OCCAR director.
The U212 NFS programme includes the design, construction, delivery, in-service support for ten years and training devices delivery for four new submarines based on an evolved U212A AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) design, which exploits the 15 years consolidated experience and proven U212A platform capabilities. To be built in Italy, the U212 NFS will be characterized by the latest technologies insertion thanks to an unprecedented degree of national industry and technology content compared to the four boats in service with Italian Navy. These were built under the joint German-Italian cooperation programme launched in 1996, with an in-service support and training memorandum of understanding renewed and enlarged to underwater domain in March 2017.
The U212 NFS programme first tranche is worth € 1.35 billion and includes the first two boats and associated new technologies development, plus initial in-service support and the new training center. The awarded contract also includes, as option, the programme second tranche with the second pair of boats, additional technologies developments and ten-year in-service support for all boats. According to the Italian MoD’s Multi-Year Defence Planning 2020-2022 document (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale 2020-22), the overall programme costs will amount at € 2.68 billion, of which the € 1.33 budget for the second tranche is to be approved in the incoming years so that the programme does not suffer delays and no gaps would be created in the submarine component composition and availability.
The four U212 NFS will be built by Fincantieri at the Muggiano shipyard, near La Spezia, under an industrial cooperation agreement signed in 2018 between thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (tkMS) and Fincantieri, which has granted the Italian shipbuilder the background information for the construction in Italy of the new underwater platforms for Italian Navy. A contract was however signed between Fincantieri and tkMS last December, according to the German group statement issued on 26 February, for the new firm order and options. As part of its supply and service obligations, tkMS will also supply components including the boat bow section ((torpedoes launching and handling system module), the fuel cell systems and various smaller components.
“We are going to take a real technological leap forward compared to the submarines of the previous class, starting with the design and the combat system developed along with Leonardo, which we are in charge of integrating on-board”, said the CEO of Fincantieri. In addition to the combat management system (CMS), Leonardo will also supply a training center and other equipment, together with training and spare parts for an overall € 150 million value. Thanks to this and other programmes and technological developments, a national core underwater industrial (from small-to-medium and large companies), academia and R&D naval/defence cluster is being coordinated by the Italian MoD’s General Secretariat/National Armaments Directorate, with consequent benefits on the export market and for dual use technologies. Moreover, the programme latest technological and system developments will play a key role in the mid-life upgrading of the first two batches of U212A submarines, as well as putting the base for new generation underwater platforms procurement.
The first-of-class boat construction is to begin in 2022 (first steel cutting) to be delivered in December 2027 (or 81 months after contract award) followed by the second one in January 2029. The Italian Navy’s U212 NFS programme aims at building four new submarines replacing the aging Sauro-improved class boats, maintaining a fleet of minimum eight platforms, and to provide the new boats with latest technologies and capabilities in terms of overall reduced signature, propulsion with enhanced endurance, command, control and communications, weapons and underwater operations capabilities. The new boats have been designed with embedded growth capabilities, being conceived for the future integration of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) as well as fitted-for the deployment of new long-range deep strike weapon systems, a significant boost in the ‘from-the-sea’ national deterrence.
The U212 NFS platform represents an evolution of U212 design with a platform characterized by an elongation of 1.2 meters in the central boat section with a longer sail of new design capable to accommodate seven electrically (with growth for an additional one) hoisted masts and an underneath larger and rearranged combat information center (CIC). The overall boat length will reach 58.3 meters (41 meters of pressurized hull and 7 meters diameter) while the underwater displacement will increase to 1,750 tonnes (surface displacement 1,550 tonnes), the platform range also increasing thanks to a larger diesel fuel load.
Design enhancements to the rear hull section and propeller, in addition to the introduction of pre-swirled rudders and the propeller boss cap fins (PBCF) developed by tkMS, will improve the overall boat hydrodynamic and acoustic signature. A new fluoropolymer foul release hull coating will help to reduce fuel consumption and self-inducted noise. The Italian MoD is also working to developed and test a metamaterials coating to reduce the effectiveness of adversary multi-static sonars capabilities under the SUWIMM (Submarine UnderWater Invisibility through MetaMaterials) research and development project as part of Italy’s national military research programme (Programma Nazionale di Ricerca Militare, PNRM).
While maintaining the same U212A platform diesel/electric propulsion arrangement based on the 3120kW MTU 16VTB396 SE84 diesel engine/Piller alternator, 2850kW Permasym permanent magnetic electric motor and tkMS AIP Fuel Cell based on Siemens Sinavy PEM Full Cell with 272 kW power, the U212 NFS will introduce, at the end of the development and qualification phase (covered by the awarded contact), a new energy storage and management system under development and testing by Italian industry, the result of ‘Far Seas’ R&D programme as part of PNRM. The new generation Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFePO4) batteries and management system provided by Italian FIB specialized company and integrated by Fincantieri, will supply higher energy density and power, providing extended underwater endurance and operational tactical benefits. The Italian MoD is also working with Fincantieri and other industries on new-generation Fuel Cell and hydrogen storage systems, which are to be applied, if the on-going dedicated R&D programme will be successful, to the second batch of two boats.
In addition to the batteries compartment rearrangement and new associated equipment, the new submarines will also feature a new hybrid emergency blowing system being developed by Fincantieri under a PNRM R&D programme, a new conditioning system for tropical waters/environmental operations and the introduction of a full suite of new electrically hoisted non-hull penetrating universal modular mast (E-UMM) and penetrating direct view attack periscope mast provided by L3Harris Calzoni.
The U212 NFS will feature a 29-crew core thanks to advanced automation, EDR On-Line understood, and will be equipped with a new generation CMS provided by Leonardo and based on the latest developments for the Italian Navy surface platforms under the “Legge Navale” programme; this is a strategic development for the Italian group, as it will allow it to broaden its offer into the submarine market, exploiting synergies between the two domains. The new generation CMS will be centered on open architecture, remote computing and extended acoustic processing know-how, nine dual-screen operator consoles (with an additional commander station) and embedded artificial intelligence growth capabilities among others. Fincantieri, Italian MoD and the service haven’t unveiled all the combat system sub-components providers, but some have already been selected or acknowledged.
The new boats will be equipped with an integrated internal/external communications suite, which EDR On-Line understood being centered on Leonardo developments and products, including SATCOM and data link 11, 16 (J-Reap C) and fitted for Link 22. Avio Aero will supply an enhanced autopilot while the integrated platform management system will be provided by Seastema, enlarging the Fincantieri’s company products portfolio to the underwater domain. The sensor suite will feature a state-of-the-art acoustic complex, which EDR On-Line understood being centered on ELAC (a Cohort company) solutions. This will include cylindrical bow array, anti-mine and collision active sonar, towed passive array, passive ranging, active sonar interceptor, flank array system and underwater telephone, all controlled by an advanced open architecture managing system. A new RESM/CESM suite will be supplied by the Elettronica group with a new integrated and dedicated antenna mast providing latest tactical-strategic generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in addition to periscope-mounted antennas. The optronic day/night surveillance and direct view attack suite, EDR On-Line understood, will be provided by L3Harris KEO and will include a surveillance optronic non-hull penetrating mast and an attack penetrating mast, in addition to an enhanced imaging processing capability. The U212 NFS will be equipped with two communications masts (one with an SHF antenna and the other with a UHF satellite antenna), one each for the Elettronica RESM/CESM antenna and a new generation low probability of intercept radar by L3Harris Calzoni-GEM Elettronica, alongside with the snorkel mast. The new boats will also be fitted for anti-torpedo countermeasures provided by Leonardo.
With six 533 mm torpedo launch tubes, a torpedo board interface from Leonardo will manage the same company’s Black Shark Advanced (BSA) heavy weight torpedo version for the Italian Navy called NSP (Nuovo Siluro Pesante, New Heavyweight Torpedo) and equipped with the new generation single-shot aluminum-silver oxide (Al-AgO) battery, which first production series batch is being delivered in 2021. As anticipated, the U212 NFS will be fitted-for the deployment of long-range deep strike cruise weapon systems, which capability is under review by the Italian MoD. This will be a major capability development for the underwater component, the Italian Navy intending to extend it to future DDX surface platforms, boosting the overall national deterrence. The new U212NFS have been also conceived for joint operations as mother ship of AUVs, the latter extending the sensors network and therefore the ISR capabilities in environments such as shallow and restricted waters and non-permissive underwater areas.
The U212 NFS will also maintain, EDR On-Line understood, the special forces support capabilities of the U212A platforms being fitted for operating with a pressure resistant transport container provided by CABI Cattaneo, as well as acting as mothership for swimmer delivery vehicles operations in addition to the special operators/escape trunk and mating station for the distressed submarine rescue system.
With the introduction of a new fully integrated CMS with an advanced sensors and combat suite, Leonardo will also provide a training and simulation center to be established at the Italian Navy’s Submarine Training Centre in Taranto and a package of logistic support including staff training and spare parts.
The U212 NFS Programme expands the OCCAR portfolio to the underwater domain. Currently a single nation programme, Italy tasked OCCAR to manage the programme to pave the way for other nations considering future underwater programmes or even other partners to cooperate on the U212 NFS programme.
Images and photos courtesy Fincantieri, Italian Navy and NATO