European Patrol Corvette (EPC)
The “European Patrol Corvette” (EPC) objective is to design and develop a prototype for a new class of military ships which allows to host several systems and payloads, in order to accomplish, with a modular and flexible approach, a large number of tasks and missions. The new EPC ship will displace between 3,000 and 4,000 tons and will be called to replace the Comandanti- Cassiopea – Vega-class patrol vessels of the Italian Navy (10 ships) and the Floreal-class frigates of the French Navy (6 ships ), as well as other types of patrol boats and old corvettes. There are potential sales of at least 40 intermediate frigates around the world, a senior Naval Group executive said in 2016.
The EPC will be a smart, innovative, affordable, sustainable, interoperable and flexible vessel to meet the future missions in the evolved world context of mid-21st century. EPC will be a fully ready surface combatant to carry-out diversified missions, primarily aimed at enhancing maritime situational awareness, surface superiority and power projection, particularly in the context of governmental peacetime actions, such as those aimed at counteracting piracy and smuggling, as well as those actions dedicated to humanitarian assistance, migration control and aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation. It will be about 100 meters and 3.000 tons, able to replace in the near future (from 2027 onward) several classes of ships, from patrol vessels to light frigates. The design requirements for these vessels, with a clear objective of commonality of solutions and modularity for adaptation to national requirements, are expected from the Navies in 2021.
The ambition of the project, which has been joined so far by four Countries at PESCO level, (Italy as coordinator, France, Spain and Greece), is to include other European partners to integrate technological bricks, which correspond to innovation streams matching with national EPC requirements and European Commission strategy and guidelines.
These ships will be highly handy, will have excellent nautical qualities and seaworthiness, long range and will be able to operate in open seas missions and to manage protracted helo and uav operations. The vessels will be built following stealth principles. The EPC will be able to accommodate different Combat System versions and operational configurations. The unit must be able to operate from minor port infrastructures thanks to a draft of less than 5.5 meters. The length of each unit should be approximately 110 meters and the propulsion system will be centered on diesel and / or electric engines, customizable according to the basic requirements.
Corvettes are small, maneuverable warships — one class lower and smaller than frigates. The perhaps more renowned Chevrolet sports car was named after the class of vessel, which had gained notoriety in the Second World War. The company wanted a non-animal name beginning in "c" for their new flagship.
This program was introduced into the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in 2018 when the European Council launched 13 new collaborative projects under the framework. This latest batch of projects brings the total number through PESCO up to 47. These projects answer to a list of recommended pan-European defence programs aimed at providing participating Member States with “options on how to plan and bridge capability gaps in a collaborative manner”. PESCO is an attempt within the EU to develop means for standardisation of training, development, and information flows, through synchronisation of capabilities requirements and goals and harmonisation of investment in research and technology. Thus, it ideally aims to create a greater Europeanization of capabilities and stimulate supply chain cultivation to achieve greater European strategic autonomy.
The EPC project is a cornerstone of the new naval joint venture between Italy’s Fincantieri and France’s Naval Group, which was launched in 2019 under the name “Naviris“. This undertaking is part of the Poseidon plan, which aims to forge closer links between French and Italian maritime industries, particularly between the Naval Group and Fincantieri. For instance, France and Italy signed an agreement on June 14th, 2019, to create a joint venture in which capital would be held equally by both sides. This partnership represents “a step forward to the strengthening of cooperation in the naval defence sector, to create a more efficient and competitive European shipbuilding industry”.
The project is available in three versions:
- EPC optimised for anti-surface (ASuW) and anti-aircraft (AAW) warfare with the possibility of extending the warfare domains to anti-submarine warfare (ASW); the vessel is equipped with self-defence capabilities.
- EPC optimized for ant-surface warfare (ASuW) and designed with oceanic reach (range of 10,000 nautical miles at 14 knots).
- EPC optimized for blue-water (off shore) patrol missions
The first version seems to match Italian considerations and could match Greek needs, while France could be interested in two of the three preliminary projects. The corvette remains an essential requirement for Italy and France though it was not initially known how many corvettes Italy and France wanted to fund. Rome needs to replace four Cassiopea- and Minerva-class vessels that are currently phasing out, as well as four ageing Commandante-class vessels (eight corvettes in total for the Marina Militare). From nine to eleven EPCs would be for the French Navy, which intends to replace six ships of the Floreal class. The first class would be Italian, with a date of entry into service in 2027. While the first of the French variant is aimed to be delivered in 2030.
With Greece and Spain’s decision to participate in the project, France and Italy could then request to gain get access to EU funding. PESCO programs are possible candidates for cash from the European Defence Fund, but only if they have more than two partners on board. The Franco-Italian project European Patrol Corvette was endorsed by the European Council 12 November 2019.
Greece's participation is expected to offer work to Greek shipyards, to ensure - and why not - create new jobs, but also an incentive for investors to operate in this long-suffering sector of the economy. It should be reminded that the program does not concern exclusively (possible) Greek needs and promises income from meeting the requirements of the French and Italian Navy, as well as profits from potential export contracts.
Spain’s decision to join the EPC project is consistent with its ambition to build five F-110 frigates. Indeed, in December 2018, the Spanish Government’s Cabinet approved the final draft of a contract to procure five F-110 frigates for the Spanish Navy, which is critical in protecting Spain’s public shipyards. Spain was accepted into the European Corvette program as it became known on 11 May 2020. The Spanish proposal for participation in the European program was a surprise as the country has a similar vessel of the Meteoro class built by Navantia, but for sure, it’s not a corvette.
The intergovernmental agreement signed 27 February 2020 reaffirmed the full support of the French and Italian States to Naviris, the joint-venture between Naval Group and Fincantieri. This agreement makes the long term alliance launched by these two industrial Groups fully operational. “We welcome this intergovernmental agreement, which reinforces our joint-venture Naviris. We are delighted to be able to count on the support of both the Italian and French governments together with the Navies of our two countries to carry out our mission effectively”, declared Hervé Guillou and Giuseppe Bono, CEOs of Naval Group and Fincantieri respectively.
The Naviris joint-venture, owned equally by the two groups, will manage ambitious projects, including mid-term modernization of the Franco-Italian Horizon frigates, common R&D, export opportunities and the development of a European Patrol Corvette. Naval Group and Fincantieri are open to enlarge their cooperation to other European partners in order to make the European naval industry the worldwide leader in product performances and technology innovation.
On the occasion of the EuroNaval fair that the old DCNS, today Naval Group, has shown visitors in their exhibition hall the progress of the work carried out and the way in which they imagine the combat shipbuilding of the future. Since 2006, the Naval group has presented, in particular at EuroNaval shows, a set of experimental vessels sailing on or under the sea. More submarines were there than surface vessels. These platforms are not intended to leave the drawing board but rather to bring together innovations, evolutions of existing systems on a platform taking on the appearance of the building of the future. The different trades can come together around and try to integrate new techniques and constraints. The "Surface ship design lab" unveiled two virtual sketches of ships, one of 2000 tons with the features of Sea patrol, the other of 4000 tons. Named Ocean avenger, the 4,000 ton trimaran appeared to be the result of a series of works whose first avatar was Swordship. The 2000 ton and 4000 ton designs bracket the projected 3000 ton EPC.
EDA’s Steering Board approved the launch of a specific EDA ad hoc project in 2021 which would contribute to the implementation of a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) project aimed at developing a European Patrol Corvette. Italy, which leads a group of four PESCO participating countries involved in EPC (together with France, Spain and Greece), had requested the Agency’s support for moving this ambitious project forward. The participating Member States aimed to produce their first corvette prototype in 2026-2027.
The Agency’s new project will support the EPC PESCO project implementation through the development and adoption of Common Staff Target (CST), Common Staff Requirements (CSR) and a Business Case (BC). The objective of these documents, which are an indispensable step for a follow-on phase of the EPC PESCO project, is to shape the common core part and identify specifications and requirements that would be compatible with the modularity concept of the military ship. The Agency will also support the governance body of the EPC project. With its expertise in project management and harmonisation of capability requirements, EDA will be able to provide valuable assistance in these domains. Industry is not participating directly in this EDA project, but may be consulted, if deemed necessary by the contributing Member States.
EDA’s Chief Executive Jirí Šedivý said: “EDA is delighted to support this ambitious and innovative PESCO project. As the European hub for collaborative capability development, the Agency has the expertise to help Member States in the implementation of their PESCO projects. The European Patrol Corvette project responds directly to an existing gap in Europe’s capability landscape acknowledged by Member States during the revision of the Capability Development Plan (CDP) in 2018, namely that of naval manoeuvrability and the need for improved maritime situational awareness, surface superiority and power projection. The future EPC will provide participating Member States with those missing capabilities, thereby further strengthening the Europe of Defence”.
Italy’s Capability Director, Gen. Giovanni Iannucci said: “The project of the European Patrol Corvette is aimed at developing a new Class of military ships in order to accomplish, with a flexible approach, a large number of tasks and missions aimed to Homeland Security and protection of European waters. More in details, the EPC will carry out Maritime Security Operations and Police of the High Seas functions, playing a key role in preserving Freedom of Navigation (FoN) and fighting against terrorism and illegal trafficking at sea. The EPC will be characterized by a multi-purpose and modular approach by design that will also allow to perform dual-use missions, such as anti-pollution activities, humanitarian assistance operations and interventions in support of populations in case of natural disasters. Italy is very proud of the coordinating role and will continue to conduct all necessary activities for the EPC’s success. Furthermore I believe that this project constitutes an excellent opportunity for the whole European Defence and in particular the military shipyards sector to work together in order to foster industrial synergies, operational interoperability and maintain a technological advantage.”
NAVIRIS, the 50/50 joint venture company between Fincantieri and Naval Group in charge of development of cooperation programs, and NAVANTIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) February 11, 2021 aimed at enlarging the industrial cooperation for the European Patrol Corvette (EPC) program, the most important naval initiative within the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) project. On the industrial side, NAVIRIS and NAVANTIA will act in a fully coordinated way with Fincantieri and Naval Group for the EPC program. The studies could potentially benefit from European Union and national funds and will include a large part of R&D leading to innovative solutions for making easier the co-development and interoperability, the efficiency of the vessels in operations and the digital data management.
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