Q&A with Francesco Valente of Fincantieri Marine Group

Marinette Marine Corp., part of the Fincantieri Marine Group (FMG), was recently awarded a $15 million contract to evolve its FREMM (fregata europea multi-missione)multipurpose frigate design into the next-generation FFG(X) guided missile frigate. Marinette is the builder of the Freedom variant littoral combat ship for the Navy. Fincantieri is also pursuing the Coast Guard contract for the heavy polar icebreaker (HPIB) and foreign military sales of its LCS design, response boat-medium vessel, and coastal patrol vessels.

Francesco Valente, president and CEO of FMG, the U.S. division of Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, oversees the consolidated business of the company’s U.S. shipyards focused on the design and construction of commercial and government vessels. Valente recently talked to WorkBoat from his company’s Washington, D.C., offices. 

WorkBoat: Given your current work with the LCS Freedom class that has also been submitted as an FFG(X) candidate, why did Fincantieri offer the FREMM hull as well?

Francesco Valente: “We were uniquely positioned to have two options in this competition and chose to exercise both the LCS Freedom with Lockheed Martin, our long-time partner, and the FREMM, the multi-mission European frigate. We are confident in presenting FREMM as the basis for the FFG(X) design, as it closely matches the requirements set by the U.S. Navy, enabling a low risk adaptation. Also, FREMM provides a mature construction baseline, creating confidence in the realism of our cost estimates. Last, but not least, it is a proven design with six ships already in operation (in the Italian navy) and hundreds of nautical miles underway providing a wealth of data on performance and maintenance.”

WB: Why should the Navy consider FREMM over some other domestic design?

Valente: “Many naval analysts consider FREMM as one of the most capable and modern frigates in the world. When considering the range of capabilities required by the U.S. Navy, FREMM is probably the only frigate in service that meets or exceeds all threshold requirements and in particular lethality, speed, range, flexibility and quietness. FREMM also has several other advantages including having been designed from the keel up as a frigate class warship and having proven itself in that role around the world and in being considered in various other international competitions with other navies. Its larger size and more recent design technologies over the other competitors offer both growth and sustainment options for the future.”

WB: What more can you tell us about the details of the FREMM design?

Francesco Valente. Fincantieri photo

Francesco Valente. Fincantieri photo

Valente: “At first glance FREMM’s sleek profile and its large flight deck stand out: the deck can easily accommodate and support two MH-60R helicopters. Once aboard, we’ve had several Navy riders impressed with the quietness of the ship. Further looking at FREMM in operation one would see many unique features, including a hybrid electric drive propulsion system designed for both cost efficiencies and operational flexibility. Looking inside the hull an expert eye would see equipment laid out to facilitate repair and/or replacement so as to minimize the total cost of ownership. Finally, visiting the crew accommodations most guests have been impressed by their quality and great ergonomics, reflective of our expertise in building cruise ships.”WB:

WB: What has been the process for developing the current FREMM design and how do you expect to evolve it into FFG(X)?

Valente: “Fincantieri has been able to develop a very advanced and modern product thanks to the fact that we have an unparalleled number of design and shipbuilding projects going on at the same time, which generate a flow of ideas and cross-fertilization across segments such as warships, yachts, icebreakers and cruise ships. Clearly, cooperation with the customer has been central to the development process: we have incorporated the feedback of the operators to refine the design for the Italian navy. We expect to do the same to morph the parent design to the specific requirements of the U.S. Navy, while striving to retain the existing strengths to maximize the value to the offering and to the U.S. Navy.”

WB: With all these capabilities, how can you maintain affordability?

Valente: “Fincantieri is an experienced, diversified prime contractor with a unique focus on efficiency and excellence. We have a strong basis thanks to efficient production facilities, geared for serial production and with now extensive experience working with the U.S. Navy. We also have a stable and well-trained workforce. In addition, we are recommending the use of a number of contemporary construction techniques and technologies, well-proven in military environments and in use around the world, which will enable a significant reduction in the construction cost of the vessel compared to traditional technologies. Finally, our focus on efficiency does not end with delivery, but extends to the total lifetime of the ship. For this last aspect, we have the benefit of working on an existing, operational parent design, which affords us the opportunity to design for maintainability and efficiency in operation.”

WB: What are the main challenges that you will face in this competition?

Valente: “One of the main challenges for all FFG(X) competitors is adapting the parent design to the extensive set of U.S. specifications, which include over 2,000 pages of the Navy’s system specs. FREMM is a design that lends itself to multiple configurations, and we have already demonstrated its flexibility with our different configurations for the Italian navy and again in our submittal for the SEA5000 competition for the Australian frigate program (FREMM-A). The FREMM-A accommodates an Australian radar and several American components. It has been included in the down select and is in the final stages of the competition.”

WB: Who are your partners for this venture?

Valente: “We know that to be successful we will have to accommodate a U.S. combat system and possibly make some changes to the hull and systems. We have sought to bring on board the best possible team members in every area. We have the privilege to work with top notch, highly experienced partners in our team, including Gibbs & Cox, Trident Maritime Systems and Lockheed Martin. We’ve been working with this group for a while, we know each other well and, collectively, we have extensive experience designing and building small and medium surface combatants in the U.S.”

WB: How does it feel to go against the Navy’s tier one yards? What does it mean for Fincantieri in the U.S.?

Valente: “We are honored to be in that competition as it implicitly acknowledges the reality that Fincantieri in the U.S. is now in the Tier 1 “league” — to use international soccer terminology. One needs to visit our American shipbuilding facilities to appreciate the changes that have occurred since Fincantieri’s purchase in 2008. More important than the investment dollars has been the transfer of technology and shipbuilding processes from Fincantieri, the largest shipbuilder in the western world, to what had previously been a small-scale shipbuilding enterprise working separately with far less complex vessels and customer sets. In ten years we have gone from the painful learning curves associated with building our first warship for the US Navy in these facilities to having eight such warships under construction simultaneously and planning to meet or beat US Navy financial and delivery targets. We build major modules for these ships in all our locations and move them back and forth seamlessly thus expanding our size and capacity without trying to change geography or lose the efficiency that commercial processes bring.”

WB: Do your efforts benefit the overall U.S. shipbuilding environment?

Valente: “I do not think I exaggerate when I emphasize what we have accomplished in terms of enhancing America’s shipbuilding industrial base from the quality of our in house workforce to our external suppliers. We have created thousands of manufacturing jobs, especially in the Midwest. We have built a large network of subcontractors and suppliers not by just giving them work, but by helping them develop into the competitive world class team we have now: some of our contractors have gained access to the defense world and some of our American contractors have expanded their reach overseas through the International network of Fincantieri. Therefore, I believe that our presence in this frigate competition as a competitive shipbuilder prime will help the growth of America’s broader shipbuilding industrial base.”

 

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

2 Comments

  1. Curtis Conway on

    The FREMM is very promising for all the reasons listed above. I would make sure that flight deck could handle at least a fully loaded CH-53K with a load, and is coated with Thermion so it can receive an F-35B in trouble and needs a ready deck of opportunity. An ice-hardened hull and no hull mounted sonar for Arctic operations and have something useful. They will cost $1 Billion each, and it will turn out we need more than twenty.

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