Italian Navy starts doling out money for sub-sea drone technologies

ROME — Italy’s bid to master underwater drone technology has taken a step forward as local firms team up to respond to series of sub-sea Navy tenders, although an industry spokesman has said investment still needs a big boost.

Firms including Fincantieri, Leonardo and civil energy company Saipem are forming groups to give joint responses to four Navy tenders seeking cutting edge undersea technology, a Fincantieri spokesperson told Defense News.

“We are interested, and the responses to all four tenders will be made by clusters of companies,” the spokesperson said.

Covering propulsion, communications, launch and recovery of drones and target location, the tenders are the first concrete sign that work is getting underway at a new sub-sea centre in La Spezia, Italy, which was launched last year to pool efforts made in the sector made by industry,the Italian navy and academia.

State shipyard Fincantieri and Italian defense giant Leonardo signed their own deal last year to work on sub-sea technology as interest grows in using drones to protect internet cables and energy pipelines on the sea bed.

The first Navy tender, worth €3.4 million ($3.7 million) over two years, covers launch and recovery systems to be based on land, ships and on the sea bed, which can house drones up to six meters long and weighing 1,000kg, and can relay the data the drones download.

A second, two-year, €2.9 million tender covers algorithms required for target acquisition and data fusion by the drones, while a third, €3.4 million tender deals with communications, including the need to let swarms of drones speak to each other.

A fourth, €2.65 million tender covers energy sources for drones, including the ability to produce energy from sea currents.

Fincantieri has been boosting its under-sea activity with partnerships and acquisitions. This year the firm signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Saipem, which markets a drone able to remain underwater for 12 months using docking stations linked to the surface for recharging and relaying data.

Last year Fincantieri purchased Italian firm Remazel which offers launch and recovery systems for sub-sea mining robots.

The new tenders mean money is now available to breathe life into the La Spezia research center where winning industry teams could work on the technology the Navy seeks.

But Carlo Festucci, the general secretary of Italian defense industry association AIAD said the cash on offer was not enough.

“We need €50 million a year to make the center work,” he said, adding that other Italian ministries, apart from the defense ministry, needed to chip in.

“This technology will help the sourcing of rare earths from the sea bed as well as protecting critical infrastructure,” he said, adding that Italy’s Foreign and Industry ministries should be adding funds.

Author: Tom Kington
Source: DefenseNews

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