The Future Combat Naval System according to the Italian Navy

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)
12/01/22

The Navy has announced a document where it summarizes the vision of the Armed Force on the maritime instrument of the future, focusing on the most prominent aspects and indicating the direction for the development and management of highly technological capabilities.

The set of these capabilities constitutes the Future Combat Naval System 2035, which represents for the Navy the cornerstone of the maritime instrument destined to face future operational theaters. These tools will be developed through a process capable of dynamically adapting to innovation, taking on challenges and opportunities.

Some points of the document may be subject to further analysis.

Evolution of capabilities in Multi-Domino

In its development logic, the Future Combat Naval System 2035 must have, as a whole, anti-missile defense capabilities to intercept hypersonic and ballistic missiles, in order to ensure the protection of the territory and the population against the risks associated with the proliferation of ballistic threat.

The Navy's plans to build two 10.000-ton displacement destroyers (DDXs), replacing the class Durand de la Penne, should support this perspective (the JMSDF, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, has 28 missile destroyers for this purpose). However, the small number of units would not allow a capillary coverage of the national territory, nor at the moment there is a certain knowledge of the number of VLS cells that will be installed on board. Expected expenditure for the program is around 2,7 billion euros, in addition to costs for electronic equipment and armament.

Units of this size should have more than 100 VLS cells, in which to house surface-to-air missiles (Aster-15 / Aster-30 Block 1N), anti-ship missiles (Teseo Mk-2 / E) and cruise missiles (Scalp Naval). The latter, currently, are not in the Navy's programs (nor in those of the political decision maker).

Unfortunately, there is a serious risk of launching two units with very high costs, also in terms of logistics and maintenance, without having a strategic return.

The crucial role of the Unmanned

In all the environments that make up the complex and articulated marine dimension, including the scenarios in which special forces operate, unmanned and autonomous systems will play an increasingly crucial role, both as a threat and as a resource. The related acquisition must therefore proceed with the highest priority.

The Navy plans to acquire 14 unmanned aircraft, including Boeing candidates ScanEagle (already in service at the Navy), the Ruav Leonardo AWHero, but also an unmanned (or optionally piloted) VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) variant of the ultra light sporty Blackshape Prime, capable of operating both continuous deck and discontinuous deck ships and equipped with modular pods for a variety of missions.

In all cases it would be aircraft with surveillance and reconnaissance tasks, lacking in attack capacity. While it would be appropriate to equip oneself with the so-called stray ammunition (loitering Ammunition), which can be launched by naval units, such as those produced by UVision and already selected by COFS, in the version Hero Tactical.

In practice, it is a document that imposes the need to acquire very important capabilities in the future operational scenarios that the Navy will have to face, under penalty of total marginalization of the country (if not worse).

It is also true that some critical issues of no less importance should be addressed at the same time. One above all the staff! In the next few years, the number of sailors should be around 25.000 (a consequence of Law 244 of 2012, better known as the Di Paola Law). Already in October 2020, the then Chief of Staff of the Navy, Cavo Dragone, had "denounced" the problem of the lack of crews before the Defense Commission of the Chamber. A new "Naval Law", given the geographic location of Italy, should provide for a substantial increase in the workforce.

In addition, serious consideration should be given to the need to give up the on-board flight group. The aircraft carrier Cavour it is nothing more than a helicopter carrier used as a platform for V / STOL and STOVL (fixed and rotary wing) embarked aircraft.

The forced choice of the F-35B as a replacement for the AV-8B Harrier II Plus has certainly not solved the problem of payload. The Cavour, being a conventional propulsion vessel, it does not have sufficient power to operate a catapult (CATOBAR) and allow a fighter to take off fully loaded. So it would have been useless for the Navy to acquire the F-35C (which can boast higher performance than the STOVL version).

Same goes for the Royal Navy. There Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, although they are “real” aircraft carriers, with a displacement of 65.000 t, they have conventional propulsion. However, the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm compensate for this limitation with the number, in fact, when fully operational, they will be able to dispose of 70 F-35Bs (The Cavour, at the most, it will be able to embark 8/9).

A possible alternative could be to sell the 15 STOVL machines acquired to the Air Force and set up an inter-force flock with the Navy (on the model of the 41st but with greater integration). The Cavour would thus become, to all intents and purposes, an LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock) embarking 4/5 F-35B (the same would apply to the Trieste) depending on the operations to be performed.

Basically, aiming at a technological evolution, on the part of the Navy, of capabilities Multi-Domino it will be absolutely necessary but it should be done by looking more at Heil HaYam HaYisraeli (Israeli Navy, read article) and less to the Royal Navy.

Photo: Navy / Online Defense