The Italian Navy is starting to shell out money for undersea drone technologies


ROME – Italy’s drive to master underwater drone technology has taken a step forward as local companies team up to respond to a series of navy subsea tenders, although an industry spokesman has said investment still needs a big boost need.

Companies including Fincantieri, Leonardo and civilian energy company Saipem are forming groups to provide joint responses to four Navy tenders seeking advanced submarine technology, a spokesperson for Fincantieri told Defense News.

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

The tenders, which cover propulsion, communications, drone launch and recovery and target location, are the first concrete sign of work underway on a new subsea center in La Spezia, Italy, which was launched last year to accelerate the efforts made in the sector made by industry, the Italian Navy and academia.

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

The Navy’s first procurement, worth €3.4 million ($3.7 million) over two years, covers land-based, ship-based and seabed-based launch and recovery systems, and which can accommodate drones up to six meters long and weighing 1,000 kg. can transmit the data that the drones download.

A second, two-year tender worth €2.9 million covers algorithms needed for target acquisition and data aggregation by the drones, while a third, €3.4 million, covers communications, including the need to get swarms of drones to talk to each other.

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

Fincantieri has boosted its subsea business with partnerships and acquisitions. This year, the company signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Saipem, which is commercializing a drone that can stay underwater for 12 months using docking stations linked to the surface for charging and transmitting data.

Last year, Fincantieri bought the Italian company Remazel, which offers launch and recovery systems for undersea mining robots.

Thanks to the new tenders, money is now available to revive the La Spezia research centre, where winning industry teams can work on the technology the Navy is looking for.

But Carlo Festucci, the general secretary of the Italian defense industry association AIAD, said the money offered was not enough.

“We need 50 million euros a year for the center to function,” he said, adding that other Italian ministries apart from the Defense Ministry should contribute.

“This technology will help the extraction of rare earth metals from the seabed and also protect critical infrastructure,” he said, adding that the Italian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Industry should add money.

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