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Trieste - NEWCON Multipurpose Amphibious Unit [MAU] - Background

Italy operated three 8,000 ton San Giorgio class small dock landing ships LPD/LSD-type ships with full-length flight deck, the first of which entered service in 1988. The plan of the Italian Navy had always been to have 4 amphibious ships in service. The Marina Militare Italiana [MMI] has a requirement to be able to carry out an amphibious operation with a battaiion-ievei force. This requires 3 ships, including one with increased C4l, transport and aviation capabilities. Given that at least one ship would be unavailable at any given time because of refit/maintenance periods, at least 4 ships are needed.

In the mid-1990's, when the NUM carrier [eventually commissioned as the Cavour] was supposed to be a small 100% aircraft carrier with almost no amphibibous capability, a 12,000 ton LPD/LHD design was considered, with a bigger docking well, accomodations for around 500 troops and reasonable aviation capabilities (including a hangar for up to 5-6 EH-l0l helicopters). Then, in the late 1990's, as the NUM design evolved towards a multirole carrier/amphibious platform (with a docking well, 600 troops, etc...), the requirement for a 4th amphibious ship was dropped for some time because it was basically merged with the NUM program.

The flagship of the Italian Navy, Cavour, was initially conceived as a LHD, then the design was changed to a pure 27,500 tons STOVL carrier. When the decision was finally made in 2000 to go for a "real" aircraft carrier (then known as the lTS Andrea Doria) with only a secondary and limited amphibious/helicopter assault capability (no docking well, only 360 troops, ...), it became clear that a 4th dedicated amphibious ship was needed.

By 2002 it was reported that a further 10,000 ton transport ship was planned. Initially there was some interest in a helicopter carrier [LPH], designed for vertical assault operations but without the capability to operate landing craft, such as HMS OCEAN. As early as 2003 there was discussion of a fourth LPD which Italy wanted to build, with a displacement of 20,000 tons. At that time it was expected that such a ship would enter service around 2011. Since the 12,000 ton design of 1996, the dimensions of the platform had grown, and given the recent European programs in that field, it seemed likely that the Italian unit would end up in the 180-190 meter length and 16,000-20,000 ton displacement range.

As of 2007 the definition process was still in progress, with the aim of contracting the ship first ships in late 2008 and having it in service by 2012, with the two further units following at some three year's interval. More detailed planning for this project began in 2008, and as of 2009 the keel-laying of the first of three ships was scheduled for 2012. According to the navy, the estimated cost for the whole project will be almost 1.5 billion. In June 2010 the Italian navy received the go-ahead to procure two 20,000-ton amphibious assault ships (LHDs), with the possibility of a third ship. At that time delivery of the first ship was to come within 30 months after a contract wward, with the first LHD to arrive in late 2014. At that time, according to one estimate, the ship can be built for 300 million ($369 million), excluding combat systems.

According to the 2009 document "The renewal of the Italian Navy Fleet in the 2010-2020 time-frame" by Admiral Tortora, head of the italian navy new constructions department, the need for new, more performing LHDs is strongly perceived as one of the higher priorities of the Navy. As far as the operational scenarios are concerned, missions and tasks will be carried out mostly in the proximity of coastal waters and/or in narrow and shallow basins.

With a full load displacement or 20,000 tons, the new LHDs outmatched their 6,000 ton predecessors by a wide margin. As of 2009 the perspective displacement of the ships was 16,000-17,000 tons, large enough to accommodate 600 troops. With an overall length of 190 meters, they will be nearly 60 meters longer, and with a beam of 33 meters also about 13 meters wider. Despite this, the draft is only to increase by less than a metre to 6.5m.

The vessels are to maintain a continuous speed of 20 knots and have an endurance of up to 7,000 nm at 16 knots. In 2009, although the type of propulsion had not yet defined, it was deemed necessary to be able to maintain a continuous speed of at least 20-22 knots with sea state 3, even though a NATO requirement for this type of unit foresaw a speed in excess of 24 knots.

One major advancement of the LHDs will be their capability to act as a command ship, especially for the commander amphibious task force or commander landing force (CLF). The new vessels will also receive well-outfitted extendable hospital areas with at least 50 beds for in-patients and an adequate number of beds for intensive/semi-intensive care patients. In case of disaster relief event, the ships medical capabilities could be increased through a system of modular medical shelters.

Each vessel will support a landing force of 750 troops, while each of the ealier LPD amounted to only to 350 troops. The space for vehicle transport, especially armored vehicles and tanks, would also increase accordingly. A 50 meter x 15 meter floodable stern dock would accommodate four mechanised landing craft [LCM], allowing two to operate simultaneously.

The flight deck with five landing spots will be able to handle up to eight EH101 helicopters, with hangar accommodations for five EH101 helicopters. The earlier LPDs could operate up to four helicopters, and had no hangar. Two landing spots might be outfitted to support operations of heavier helicopters or VSTOL aircraft like the AV-8B or F-35B JSF.

The ship shall be provided with self-defence capability (artillery and machine-guns systems) against asymmetrical threats coming from all the directions and filtered in through the security framework provided by the escort combat ships. Besides, the ship shall have the capability to operate under CBRN threat and, in case of this occurrence, to provide collective defence to personnel and on-board equipment/systems. In principle the ship will be designed and built in accordance with merchant ships regulations and standards, pursuing high reliability and easy maintainability.

As of 2015 the first vessel was planned to be launched in the first quarter of 2017 with delivery scheduled in the same year. With the steel cutting scheduled for the autumn of 2017 and planned delivery in spring 2022, the 22,000t displacement, 210m [685 feet] long and 30m large LHD will feature a full flight deck with at least five helicopter landing spots, hangar with extensive facilities and a well deck capable to accommodate both national and NATO craft, including the US Navys LCACs. Designed to carry-out both disaster relief and humanitarian crisis support operations in addition to more traditional military tasks, the new LHD will have 1,200 meters linear of deck for vehicles as well as accommodations for around 1,000 persons (including 450 crew), an expandable NATO Role 2 hospital area with 20 beds and 6 intensive care units, plus electrical power generation for ashore needs.

The propulsion suite in CODOG configuration is able to reach a top speed of 24 knots plus electric motors for low-speed operation, supporting 7,000 nm of endurance at 16 knots. With a single-island design, the LHD will have a PPA-derived combat system including a new Selex ES AESA rotating L-Band long-range radar and a weapons fit including three 76/62 SUPER RAPID in STRALES configuration and OTO Melara multi-role decoy launchers.

According to the Italian Naval Staff, the two new special forces UNPAV combatants will be built in composite material, featuring reduced radar and infrared signatures and a top speed of 40 knots, with a CODAG-configured propulsion plant (two diesel plus one GT) a displacement of 150 tons, 39m in length and 8m beam. They will be able to carry up to 20 special forces (SF) in addition to a crew of 9.

With a reconfigurable deck to accommodate SF equipment, including two high-speed boats, these vessels will have a sophisticated navigation, command and control suite, in part with ballistic protection, a sensor and armament package based on dual-band radar and EO/ IR turrets, a 12.7 mm remotely controlled weapon system, up to six-7.62 mm and one 40 mm grenade launcher.

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