It seems an important first step has been reached towards the renewal and extension of the underwater division of the Italian Navy. According to Il Sole 24 Ore, the Treasury, Defense and Economic Development ministers have come to an agreement in recent weeks to reach a contract that would ensure financial coverage of all the Armed Forces programs, and more specifically, funds were determined and approved by the Court of Auditors to have Fincantieri build four new U-212 NFS submarine units (Near Future Submarines).
The project will cost 2.3 billion euros, 1.3 billion for the first two units, with a “1+2+2” tranche solution in order to deal with the scarcity of available funds. The first boat, the construction of which should start immediately, will be supported, during the acquisition phase, by a simulator and by systems of logistical support.
Back in March 2018, the Defense ministry, then held by Roberta Pinotti, gave the green light to sign the purchase agreement for two U-212 NFS submarines that were inserted into the 2018-2020 Defense DPP (Multi-year Planning Document) and included in the 7.2 billion euros of investments that were released last June in agreement with the Ministry of Economic Development.
Now, the new path under Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini seems to be taking the same road while also increasing the number of ships from two to four so that they might make up for the retirement of the old third and fourth series Sauro-class submarines (Pelosi, Prini, Longobardo and Gazzana Priaroggia), which will probably take place by 2025.
At the end of October, it got the green light from the parliamentary commissions in charge of the draft of the ministerial order that contained the multi-year development, purchase and ten-year logistical support plan for the first two U-212 NFS submarines deriving from the U-212A series, or Todaro class in Italy, which currently has four units lined up: the Todaro, the Sciré, the Pietro Venuti and the Romeo Romei.
The financial resources were implemented by the Ministry of Economic Development using funds for the financing of infrastructural investments and development in the country, also called “the big fund”, and three ministries reached an understanding on the first of the two contracts for the purchase plan at the end of this past year.
The procedure now foresees the resolution of administrative paperwork that will allow the Navy and Fincantieri to sign the contract, which operates under a license by the German Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems.
The U-212 class submarines, or Todaro class for the Navy, come from the Italy-Germany Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on April 22, 1996, which included the construction of six boats (four for Germany and two for Italy). Then, on August 3, 1999, the planned option of the construction of another two U-212A class second series units was employed.
Currently, the Navy has four U-212A submarines in service. The Todaro, head of its class, was added in 2006, the Sciré the following year and the Romeo Romei and Pietro Venuti in 2016.
These units are medium/small-sized submarines with hunter/killer roles (called SSK) that, however, unlike other submersibles of the same category, have air-independent propulsion systems, called AIP, which allows the boats to remain submerged for longer periods compared to classic models that run on diesel-electric motors.
The U-212A submarines have an immersion autonomy that allows them to operate for almost two weeks without reaching snorkel level. This is 6-7 times longer than a conventional submarine without AIP, and today it seems they have reached up to three weeks.
The Todaros are units of medium size. They are 55.9 meters long with a maximum diameter of 7 meters. They have an underwater displacement value of 1,727 tons (1,522 on the surface). Their maximum speed underwater is 22 knots (12 on the surface), and the powertrain is composed of a MTU Piller diesel-generator motor and a Siemens magnetic electric engine with AIP system with fuel cells of 8+1 rechargeable battery modules.
The battle system, which revolves around the DBQS-40 sonar equipped with circular base, flank-array, towed-array, ASM interceptor and sound-detection system includes six 533-milimeter torpedo tubes for Whitehead A184 mod.3 torpedoes managed by the integrated command and combat management system.
These are medium/small-sized submarines characterized by the use of innovative technology that allows for very advanced performance and are particularly noteworthy in the area of stealth navigation, detection, the electroacoustic system and weapons launch. The boat is made of two cylinders of different diameters connected by a two-meter long truncated-conical segment. The fore section is a single hull; the aft section is a double hull due to the existence of a light hull that surrounds the oxygen and hydrogen tanks that are necessary for the AIP system.
The U-212 NFS submarines
The new U-212 NFS submarines are slightly different from the previous ones according to leaks from specialized sources. First of all, they are slightly longer to make room for new fuel cells that could thus increase the overall power of the propulsion system and offer higher spurts of max speed but also to house an extra antenna for providing new ECM-ECCM electronic warfare capabilities.
More than anything, they will have more contents from Italian industries. For example, the electronic warfare systems, including also the CEMS part, will be electronic. The propulsion will still be AIP, based on Siemens Pem cells but with ion-lithium batteries of Italian production rather than lead-acid batteries.
A new Florine-polymer covering will also be applied to the hull of the new U-212 NFS boats, which will reduce scale build-up and the hydrodynamic resistance through adjustments in prow design. The new batteries, the metamaterial-based paint, the new prow design and improvements to the fuel cells will all increase the autonomy of the new boats.
As for the battle system, the new submersibles will be designed to be able to launch both sea-sea and sea-land missiles, making them, for all intents and purposes, multi-purpose units like those already in service in “richer” countries. These units are also able to operate in close contact with the raiders of the Comsubin (Diver and Raider Command Group) and use AUV and UUV remote- and autonomous-control vehicles.