by Luca Peruzzi
The joint French-Italian FREMM (Frégate Européenne Multi-Missions or Fregate Europee Multi-Missione) programme, managed by OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmament) on behalf of the two nations’ Ministries of Defence (MoD), remains the most important multi-national initiative to date between European industries in the field of naval defence. The navies of both Italy and France signed the initial programme collaboration agreement in October 2002. Almost two decades later, the design and the technological solutions applied to the programme continue to demonstrate their soundness and still offer potential for growth. This has recently been demonstrated by FREMM’s selection as parent design by the US Navy for the Guided Missile Frigate programme, also known as the FFG-62 or CONSTELLATION Class.
OCCAR awarded the development and initial production contract for FREMM to Armaris and Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (OSN) in November 2005. Armaris was the joint venture between DCNS (today Naval Group) and Thales whereas Orizzonte Sistemi Navali was the joint venture between Fincantieri and Finmeccanica (today Leonardo). The selected solution was based on different platform configurations for each service. Common development was limited to specific design and combat system solutions, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and electronic warfare (EW) suites, and also propulsion. OCCAR successfully managed the development, production and in-service support (ISS) phases. The agency will continue these activities beyond the time schedule initially foreseen for the FREMM programme, potentially managing in-service support for both navies. Moreover, it will also support the Italian MoD’s decision to build two new frigates to replace the two units transferred to Egypt in an export deal signed by Fincantieri shipbuilding group in 2020.
Italian FREMM Design
and Combat Capabilities
Designed and developed by Italian MoD’s Directorate of Naval Armaments (NAVARM) together with Orizzonte Sistemi Navali, Italy’s FREMM multirole frigate design programme initially foresaw 10 platforms – six for general purpose operations and four in an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) configuration. In 2020, the Italian MoD decided to replace the two (general purpose) frigates SCHERGAT and BIANCHI, previously planned to be delivered to Italian Navy in 2020 and in 2021 respectively, that had been sold to Egypt. Thus, the production programme is to be extended by two platforms in an updated configuration.
According to the latest updates by OCCAR, the Italian programme cost amounts to about €5,500M. This includes development, production, combat system configuration updates and initial in-service support, as well as obsolescence care and Engineering Change Proposals (ECP). For in-service support, the agency calculates a requirement of about €100M per year for all the 10 FREMM platforms. The two additional platforms come without additional costs, including changes to mitigate obsolescence issues, as explained later.
Built to RINA MIL specifications, both configurations of Italy’s FREMM share a common platform with reduced radar, infrared and acoustic cross signatures. The Italian design differs from its French counterpart in several aspects. It has a higher full load displacement of circa 6,700 tonnes influenced by a longer hull (145 metres) and a more developed superstructure, a CODLAG propulsion system with conventional exhaust (instead of the French hull-mounted type), increased endurance and a higher accommodation capacity (201 instead of 145). With the exception of the French variant’s land strike capability offered by MBDA’s Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN), it also offers expanded combat and weapons systems capabilities.
The ship’s combined diesel-electric and gas (CODLAG) propulsion configuration is based on a single Avio/General Electric 32 MW LM2500+G4 gas turbine cross-connected to the shaft lines through Fincantieri/Renk gearing and two shaft-mounted Jeumont 2.15 MW electric motors for propulsion in the loiter mode. Four 2.1 MW Fincantieri subsidiary Isotta Fraschini VL1716C2 ME common rail gensets provide power for both the main, auxiliary propulsion, and shipboard electrical systems. The Italian FREMMs are equipped with twin shaft lines driving featherable controllable pitch propellers (FCPP).
In service, this configuration has demonstrated enhanced flexibility, redundancy, economy and acoustic stealth, through the provision of three alternative propulsion modes. In electric mode, which is particularly suitable for ASW operations, the ship can reach up to 15.6 knots whilst benefitting from reduced fuel consumption and noise emissions (as the reduction gear is disconnected). Maximum speed of 27 knots can be reached with the gas turbine. In a combination of the gas turbine with the electric motors, high speeds can be maintained in rough seas. Moreover, this mode also provides a degree of margin in the event of displacement increasing due to system modifications at a later stage of a ship’s life span.
Autonomy amounts to 6,000 NM at 15 knots. With use of the FCPP, the frigates have demonstrated crash-stop distances well within required distances at top speeds. The forward propulsion and auxiliary compartment hosts a 1 MW azimuthal retractable thruster (ART) to provide emergency propulsion for a speed of up to 7 kn. More generally, the ART is used for platform manoeuvring and positioning at low speed, especially in restricted waters and during berthing. The BERGAMINI class frigates are the first units of the Italian Navy with a rudder roll stabilisation system. Using larger rudders not only for steering but also simultaneously for roll reduction (removing the need for stabilising fins), the ship has improved manoeuvrability and handling.
Both of Fincantieri’s configurations adopt an internal layout based on two lateral passageways with technical galleries beneath the weather deck. Twin trunks under the main foremast facilitate vertical movement of crewmembers. Applying the concept of a ‘logistic island’ permits food storage, galley and messing areas to be provided for all the crew on a single deck.
The BERGAMINI class frigates are characterised by a high level of automation. Fincantieri subsidiary Seastema’s ship management system (SMS) supports platform control, ship handling and navigation and damage control.
With 16,000 independent channels, it monitors almost every system onboard with the exception of the combat system. Two independent and well-spaced ship control centres (SCCs) provide for the management of propulsion, the electrical system and damage control, the latter assisted by an advanced firefighting system. In addition to its extensive damage control capabilities, the survivability of the Italian FREMM design is ensured by the forward auxiliary propulsion system and a design architecture that permits electric power generation even in case of three adjacent flooded compartments.
Living areas are clustered beneath the aviation facilities and amidships on the lower decks. The accommodation is arranged in single, twin, four and plus-berth cabins each outfitted with internal services, television, and computer/email connectivity. The crew is also provided with recreation areas and equipped gym. Beyond the standard crew of 165, additional space permits embarkation of a task group staff, personnel for Special Forces operations as well as other support detachments required for long-duration out-of-area missions – a requirement the Italian Navy has drawn from the EU’s counter-piracy operation Atalanta off the Horn of Africa and from deployments to the Gulf of Guinea – to accomplish all requested missions. Finally, accommodation include provision for a helicopter detachment of between 12 (one helicopter embarked) and 23 personnel (two helicopters). Utilising space which is used in the French FREMM for vertical missile launchers (16), the Italian FREMM can provide accommodation for a total of 201/203.
The general purpose frigates differ from their ASW sisters as they feature a stern launch and recovery station for an 11 metre Cabi Cattaneo RHIB for maritime interdiction and special operations. This area is used for housing dedicated anti-submarine material on the ASW platforms.
Two additional RHIBs are housed in lateral launch and recovery stations. While the ASW-type uses two 7 metre RHIBs, the general purpose-type has one 11 metre and one 7 metre RHIB. The flight deck is equipped with a Curtiss-Wright/Calzoni TC-ASSIST helicopter securing and traverse system. The hangar design (double but separated) offers the possibility of accommodating and operating two helicopters. These can be either one Leonardo AW-101 and one NH Industries NFH90 ASuW/ASW helicopter or two of the latter. It is worth noting that both AW-101 and NFH-90 are available in both ASuW/ASW and amphibious configurations.
The combat system is centred on the federated ATHENA-family 3rd generation CMS provided by Leonardo, an evolution of the systems in use onboard the carrier CAVOUR and the Horizon class destroyers. The CMS features 17 (plus two as back up) colour triple-screen, multi-function consoles.
It interacts with the Italian Navy’s Maritime Command and Control Information System (MCCIS) and manages all combat sub-systems. The Leonardo external/internal communications suite includes HF, VHF military/civil, UHF and SICRAL (SHF/UHF), NATO and INMARSAT SATCOMs, in addition to the Multi-Data Link Processor (MDLP) with data Link 11, 16 and 22, JSAT together with an IP message handling system and Tetra wireless radios.
Both configurations share the MBDA Italy SAAM-ESD (Extended Self-Defence) air defence missile suite based on two eight-cell Naval Group SYLVER A50 vertical launcher modules, MBDA ASTER 15/30 missiles and a C2 module together with Leonardo KRONOS GRAND NAVAL 3D multifunction radar with active phased array antenna (MFRA). The air surveillance radar is complemented by a phased array IFF-system SIR-M5 PA. For surface-air search, tracking and weapon employment, Leonardo’s SASS 360° bi-spectral IRST, RAN30X/I RASS, and two NA-25 gun fire-control systems are used. The radar navigation suite also includes Leonardo LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) for navigation and GEM Elettronica helicopter control radars.
The SIGEN (Elettronica/Thales) consortium integrates a Radar Electronic Support Measures (RESM) with a Radar Electronic Countermeasures (RECM) suite supplemented by a Thales ALTESSE CESM system (also installed on French frigates) and Leonardo SCLAR-H decoy launchers (for the first six vessels) and an Oto Launching Decoy System 20 (OLDS 20) for the remaining four.
A Leonardo 127/64 mm LW (LightWeight) main gun with a completely automated magazine and handling system capable of managing both conventional and the VULCANO family of long-range guided munitions is unique to the general purpose configuration. This is supplemented by a 76/62 mm SUPER RAPIDO STRALES ILDS (inner layer defence system) with DART guided ammunitions, further expanding protection against the latest generation anti-ship missile and asymmetric threats. There are also two manually-operated 25 mm guns.
Long range anti-surface capability is provided by eight MBDA TESEO Mk2/A missile launchers (and in the future the TESEAO Mk2/E). Both types offer storage and handling facilities for airborne weapon systems, MBDA MARTE Mk2/S missiles and MU90 torpedoes deployed from the NFH90 helicopter.
The ASW configured frigates differ from the GP platforms in embarking two Leonardo 76/62 mm STRALES ILDS (one replacing the 127/64 gun) and a comprehensive ASW suite. In addition to a Thales Underwater Systems UMS 4110 bow mounted sonar, a Leonardo mine-avoidance sonar and an underwater telephone common with the GP configured platforms, the ASW frigates feature a TUS 4249 low-frequency variable depth sonar with a passive towed array sonar/anti-torpedo suite, and a panoramic echo sounder.
In addition to the two triple MU-90 torpedo launchers common with GP frigates, the ASW version features two ASW DLS (Decoy Launching System) anti-torpedo decoy launchers and four MBDA MILAS ASW weapon systems (reducing the TESEO Mk2/A missile capability to four). The ASW suite will be further developed through incremental integration of the NFH90 helicopter mission package.
Obsolescence Management and Future Capabilities
Launched by the Naval Armaments Directorate and derived from technological developments funded through the “Legge Navale” programme for the new generation of service platforms, a roadmap to address obsolescence has been established. Beginning with the seventh frigate (FEDERICO MARTINENGO), Leonardo’s full solid-state 2D SPS-732 air-and-surface surveillance radar was replaced by the RAN30X/I RASS. A new generation SIR-M-CA IFF interrogator system with conformal array (instead of phased arrays) compliant with STANAG 4193 Edition 3 was also implemented. Furthermore, damage control display was digitalised from ninth frigate (SPARTACO SCHERGAT), while The SCLAR-H and SLAT launchers were replaced by Leonardo’s latest generation decoy launching system OLDS 20 capable of launching both anti-air warfare and anti-torpedo decoys, to be retrofitted to previous two platforms.
Both Italian Navy frigate configurations have also acted as testbeds for the development of two capabilities key to present and future maritime operations. First, to support the development of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capabilities with de-risking activities and under the supervision of the Italian MoD’s Directorate of National Armaments with support from Leonardo, the Italian Navy participated in two US Navy-led Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) multinational exercises with a FREMM frigate (LUIGI RIZZO and CARLO BERGAMINI) in 2017 and 2019. Through upgraded processing and a specific software release, the MFRA radar was modified to both detect (autonomously or through external designation) and to track ballistic missiles. The CMS could not only manage these tracks but also integrate them into the Link 16 Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol JREAP network with other assets and ashore stations.
During the 2019 edition, BERGAMINI’s MFRA radar demonstrated its ability to detect and track ballistic missile surrogate targets in a mixed scenario of conventional supersonic and ballistic threats and share the data with other participating nations via a NATO-classified network. By acting as an early-warning system and supporting the engagement and neutralisation of ballistic missiles, the MFR can therefore contribute to the international defence system.
In November 2019, two Italian Navy FREMMs participated in the international OCEAN 2020 maritime demonstration, led by Leonardo on behalf of European Defence Agency.
Its main objective was to integrate unmanned systems into fleet operations. This required not only temporary modifications and enhancements to both units, but also electromagnetic compatibility studies and testing after the installation of the respective systems. Leonardo AWHero rotary-wing unmanned system conducted operations from the frigate VIRGINIO FASAN’s flight deck, sending footage and real time data to the vessel. She transferred the information through her CMS to the demonstration station in Brussels. In another scenario FEDERICO MARTINENGO received information and controlled Leonardo SW-4 SOLO rotary-wing unmanned system which operated from ashore. The lessons learned will allow the Italian Navy to speed up future integration of unmanned systems, once procurement funding becomes available.
Representing the backbone of the Italian Navy fleet, the FREMM component has demonstrated its capabilities in almost all national and international operations in and out of the Mediterranean Sea, with the longest missions taking ships to the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. To ensure platforms’ availability after the initial in-service support package concluded, a Through Life Sustainment Management (TLSM) contract has been operating since July 2019 and it is expected to be renewed annually until June 2024. There is a possibility of extending it for the following years (until 2034), due to the excellent results achieved from the collaboration with OSN, as stated by OCCAR. The contract is not limited to a simple service of repair and checks to the ships, but is structured to guarantee the coordination of maintenance periods, the development of an informatics tool for all aspects concerning configuration management, analysis of failures and costs, the studies for the updates necessary to ‘contain’ the impacts of obsolescence and the supply of the stocks. In this sense the contract can be considered as really innovational for the Italian ships, the agency added.
Due to commonality with the French Navy in terms of various systems installed on board both the FREMM Class Units and the Orizzonte Class destroyers, the Italian Navy Logistics Command and their French equivalent are preparing a study for an In-Service Support requirement for the ships’ common equipment.
Exploiting the existing cooperation between Italy and France, which is already in place for the FREMM programme, OCCAR could potentially manage the possible contract for common In-Service Support.
and Industrial Success
With the sale of the last two units of the FREMM programme to Egypt, the Italian MoD requested and obtained proposals from industry for their replacement with two new platforms and a sustainment in-service package for the remaining MAESTRALE class frigates until the delivery of the new built platforms.
The Italian Government has given the mandate to OCCAR to proceed with contract modifications to replace the last two frigates (general purpose number 5 and general purpose number 6) by 2 new platforms (general purpose number 7 and general purpose number 8). As OCCAR revealed to MSD, the new ships are scheduled to be delivered by end 2025 without additional costs whilst including changes to mitigate obsolescence impacts and maintain a minimum operational lifespan of 25 years.
A process for a design review has started in early 2021 in order to solve the obsolescence of both platform and combat systems and define the new ships’ configuration. The “first steel cutting” of the follow-on-ship, GP 7, is foreseen in February 2021. This is to be followed in June by the Critical Design Review (CDR) in order to evaluate the most important changes, OCCAR added. The main items of equipment subject to upgrades are the ship management and platform systems, the diesel generators and electrical power system, and the combat systems. The latter will encompass the Surface-Air-Missile Extended Self Defence missile system and the communication suite. OCCAR has not released further details as the design review is in process. To maintain communality and take advantage of the technical developments funded by the ‘Legge Navale’ programme that gave birth to the new generation platform, combat and weapon systems equipping the Italian Navvy’s PPA, LHD and LSS classes, the new FREMMs are also expected to benefit from these available technologies.
According to current plans, GP7 is foreseen to be delivered in February 2025 to be followed by the GP8 in August 2025.