Italy Buying Next 4 FREMM Frigates?
The Franco-Italian FREMM (FREgate Multi Mission or FREgata Multi Missione) program is designed to create an affordable and somewhat flexible naval combatant that offers good to very good performance in the 3 key fleet roles of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), ship to ship combat, and fleet defense. Each ship will be produced in 1 of 3 variants will tip this common package toward further specialization, offering excellent performance in the ASW, land attack, or air defense roles. A DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS destroyer can already perform all of these roles at a top-tier level, but they weigh 8,350t/9,200 tons and cost about $1.1 billion each, even after a production run of over 60 ships. In contrast, FREMM is a European project that aims to offer less all-around performance in a 5,800t hull, while including design advances like greater stealth, and Herakles/ Empar electronically scanned radars whose multiple-beam capabilities offer a potent defense against saturation attacks from supersonic missiles. All for a target price around EUR 350-450 million (currently about $525-675 million) per ship.
So far, anticipated orders sit at 28 ships: (17 France, 10 Italy, 1 Morocco), but export sales are more than possible as the FREMM consortium of DCNS, Finmeccanica, and Fincantieri goes head to head with other French (DCNS Lafayette Class variants), Spanish (Navantia’s AEGIS frigates), and Russian offerings in the global defense market. First, however, they must secure the expected orders from their home countries.
Italy provided some moments of high drama for the program in 2005, though they eventually managed to finesse their way out of the 2005 drama, ordering its first 2 frigates. A repeat seemed likely in 2007-2008, and a similar escape was used as Italy raised its order to 6 ships. Now a supplementary contract to Thales evokes an interesting comment regarding Australia…
In 2007, Italy’s government reached for a similar trick, using loans from the Ministry of Industry rather than the defense budget to pay for the 2 of the 4 frigates in tranche 2. The problem was a EUR 770 million budget of extra monies, vs. a government that wanted 2 FREMM frigates, plus 40 VBC 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carriers that cost about EUR 6 million each (EUR 240 million) to meet land deployment needs. In response, Defense News reported that the money might be increased to about EUR 800 million in 2008, with payments for the wheeled APCs spread over more than one year and a EUR 1.05 billion final cost for the loan by 2035.
Why would the Ministry of Industry get involved? In a word, jobs. Italian Defense Undersecretary Giovanni Lorenzo Forcieri has reportedly been quoted as saying that:
“This program has substantial economic and employment benefits not only for the Riva Trigoso and Muggiano naval shipyards, but also for subcontractors such as Oto Melara, Selex and Elsag, and will provide work until 2016.”
Sergio Ghio, trade union representative for Riva Trigoso, was similarly supportive, as are workers at Avio SpA, whose 800-person Brindisi plant might have closed without the GE-derived LM2500+G4 engine orders from the FREMM program.
The Orizzonte Sistemi Navali SpA consortium of Fincantieri and Finmeccanica extended the penalty payments deadline from Nov 16/07 to Feb 26/08, in order to give the government room. Now Defense Aerospace reports that OCCAR, the European Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation and the FREMM program’s joint executive agency, signed a contract with Italy for 4 ships in late January 2008. While the total contract was not mentioned, the likely figure based on reports is about EUR 1.4 billion (about $2.1 billion).
Deliveries of the first 2 Italian FREMM frigates, ordered in 2006, is scheduled for 2011 and 2012. Thus far, 15 ships have been ordered: 8 by France, 6 by Italy, and 1 by Morocco.
March 27/08: Thales announces an order to supply, integrate and install 4 additional sonar suites under the Franco-Italian FREMM multimission frigate program: 3 anti-submarine warfare frigates will be equipped with Type 4110 hull-mounted sonars in service on the Franco-Italian Horizon Class, and Type 4249 active very low-frequency towed arrays. The 4th frigate will be a general purpose ship with the Type 4110 sonar only.
The release adds that “A variant of the FREMM ASW configuration has recently been proposed for the Air Warfare Destroyer programme for the Royal Australian Navy.” That’s a very odd statement, given firm AWD contracts with Navantia for a variant of their F100 Class. It is far more likely that the statement refers to an offered replacement for Australia’s FFG-7 frigates, whose modernization has run into difficulties.
Because the Italian ships use Finmeccanica’s Empar radar, drawings of the Carlo Bergamini Class FREMM frigates by Orizzonte Sistemi Navali et. al. show the frontal “mast and ball” profile also seen on the DCNS-Orizzonte consortium’s larger 6,700t Horizon Class air defense frigates. This is very different from the lower, squared profile of the French Aquitaine Class FREMM ships and their Herakles radars, which appear to be mounted just above the bridge in DCNS drawings.