Italy Paves the Way for New Amphibious Assault Vessels

Contributor:  Defence IQ Press
Posted:  07/19/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT
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The Italian navy has received the go-ahead to procure two 20,000-ton amphibious assault ships (LHDs) in addition to a third, which is notionally configured to facilitate extensive aviation (LHA) operations. The preliminary LHD project has been funded in its entirety and will take 12 months for completion. A project definition phase will follow on closely, which will require eight months of uninterrupted testing of operational limits. These crucuial interim stages will directly impact final contract negotions. Delivery of the initial assault vessel is scheduled within 30 months of approval and the first LHD is planned to arrive to plank owners in late 2014.

These next generation LHDs will replace two 8,000-ton San Giorgio-class LPDs (Landing Platform Docks), which were commissioned in 1987 and 1988. The LHA will eventually replace the legacy carrier Garibaldi, which is being converted to amphibious and helicopter roles. This redesignation was primarily catalysed by the christening of the light carrier CVH Cavour, which was purpose built to deploy V/STOL (Vertical / Short Takeoff and Landing) platforms. The new LHDs will feature a well dock capable of holding four LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushions), and boast a hangar with a dedicated maintenance area where six medium-heavy helicopters can be recovered. Maximum helicopter capacity will be in the range of 12-15, variant dependent (notionally, these could include AW101 Anti Submarine and Anti Surface Warfare helos acquired last year from the Anglo-Italin firm AugustaWestland) .

A feature of the design is the capability of fast-tracking such naval vessles directly into civil protection roles, primarily. This requirement dictates many capabilities – for instance, large-scale electric generation and water purification capacity, including the deployment of modern flexible hoses for ship-to-dock or ship-to-ship water transfer.

The specification of the sensor suite and combat system is yet to be confirmed by official sources. However, the LHD will effectively bristle with an extensive combat management and command system, multi-role search and navigation radar, and electronic warfare protection system (including decoy launchers). The ship will have several gun systems including 25mm machine guns and potentially one or more Oto Melara 76/62-mm - the Italian manufactured naval cannon variant capable of firing 85 rounds per minute.

In order to reduce costs, the LHDs will be built to commercial standards and modified to improve survivability, but will not receive the full complement of military specifications. Tradeoffs between cost and survivability are still the subject of contentious debate. The estimated cost of each ship is EUR 300 million ($369 million), excluding combat systems.

Defence IQ Press Contributor:   Defence IQ Press

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