Italy Launches the “Emilio Bianchi”: Tenth Fremm Frigate

Italy has launched the final FREMM frigate: the Emilio Bianchi. The launch, which took place at the Riva Trigoso shipyard, brings to a close one of the most important programmes of the Italian navy of the last few years, the FREMM-the European multi-purpose frigate, the jewel in the crown of Franco-Italian defence cooperation.

The tenth multirole frigate of the Fremm programme is an essential element in Italy’s naval strategy. It is for this reason that particular attention was paid to the launch in which not only Defence Minister, Lorenzo Guerini, took part but also the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone.  The Emilio Bianchi is scheduled to be delivered in 2021 and the features of the ship make plain the reason for Italy’s strategic interest in this class. With a high degree of flexibility and capability to operate in variety of different situations, the Emilio Bianchi is 144 metres long, has a beam of 19.7 metres and a displacement at full-load of 6,700 tonnes with a maximum speed of 27 knots.

The Fremm programme arose out of the need to revolutionise the Italian fleet with the modernisation of an essential element of the maritime strategy of the country, i.e. the frigate group. Moreover, the confirmation of a partnership agreement with France (which already had a successful outcome with the destroyers Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio) uniting Fincantieri, Leonardo, Naval Group and Thales gave an impetus to a European defence capability that placed Italy in the avant-garde on the entire European and Mediterranean chessboard. A scenario that is becoming increasingly central on the international scene and cannot but be fundamental for Italy. Rome’s strategy cannot but pass through the Mediterranean because of the energy sector and trade as well as problems linked to the safeguarding of strategic national interests and the relationships with partner and rival states.

Over the last few months the Italian naval presence has become increasingly visible. In this regard, it should not be forgotten that the use of the Fremms has also become a symbol of the projection of Italian power in the hottest seas. It was the Federico Martinengo that was sent to Cyprus in the exercises involving the French and Cypriot navy as a signal to the Turkish navy that has been far too active in the blockades where ENI operates.  It was, again, a Fremm, the frigate Antonio Marceglia, that spearheaded operation Atalanta against the Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden recently. And with the European operation in the Strait of Hormuz, together with the possible renewal of the Eunavfor-Med activities off the coast of Libya, the role of the Italian fleet seems more central. And that of the Fremms in particular.

For Italy it is a question of pursuing two different strategies. On the one hand, there is the economic one which obviously results from the fact that that the construction and activities of these ships not only boosts the domestic economy but also creates the opportunity for these projects and models to be exported abroad. In this regard, the recent visit by Sergio Mattarella to Qatar along with the agreements signed in the defence sector, is a perfect example of how the programmes of the armaments industry are closely linked to the foreign policy of a country.  On the other, however, there is a strategic element indicating what Cavo Dragone himself called the rediscovery of the “maritimeness” of the country. The idea that Italy cannot abandon a primary role in a widened Mediterranean in which all the international and riparian powers try to gain the upper hand, where the areas in crisis are growing continually from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea via the Black Sea and from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Libyan coast, it is obvious that Italy is constantly required to  make an effort as an individual country and in terms of the obligations arising out of its membership of NATO and the European Union. Modernising the fleet is a signal that Rome, despite everything, understands the need to distinguish between government and strategy.