MILAN – The Italian Ministry of Defense said it awarded a contract to Norwegian naval vessel manufacturer Kongsberg Maritime for the supply of an unmanned submersible vehicle capable of surveying shallow waters.
The order has an estimated value of $11 million (€10.2 million), according to a notice published this week by the Tenders Electronic Daily website, an online repository for European public procurements.
Little information was provided on the requirements for the autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, apart that it is lightweight and suitable to carry out operations in shallow waters.
The definition of a shallow-water AUV varies in terms of the depths it can reach, however, this class of system is typically designed to be used at depths of around 50 meters (164 feet). This is in contrast to deep-water AUVs, which are generally made to perform missions at depths of more than 2,500m.
Kongsberg Maritime’s AUV is in the Hugin systems, of which the Italian Navy is already a customer. In an interview given over the summer, Italian Rear Admiral Gianguido Manganaro, head of the Command of the Mine Countermeasures Forces, said that they have operated the Hugin 1000 since 2013, and that a second 3,000m capable one was set to be delivered by the end of 2023.
A report published last year by the Italian think-tank Istituto Affari Internazionali further stated that the Italian Navy already uses the Hugin 1000 and 3000, which have respective maximum depths of 1,000m and 3,000m.
Based on this information, the latest contract for a light AUV, could be the third HUGIN procured by the country’s naval forces.
One of the most recently developed variants is the Hugin Edge, described on the manufacturer’s website, as the smallest and most lightweight member of the Hugin family that possesses an autonomous launch and recovery system.
As part of the Italian Navy’s Future Combat Naval System 2035 vision, unmanned systems are listed as a procurement priority.
An Italian company that has doubled down on efforts to advance their naval systems is Fincantieri NextTech, a subsidiary of the Italian group. In 2019, it launched its surface advanced naval drone, dubbed SAND, as a multi-role unmanned surface vehicle.
“Over the past year, a launch and recovery system capable of launching and retrieving underwater unmanned vehicles for naval mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare and critical seabed infrastructure protection was integrated onto SAND,” the company said in an email statement to Defense News.
There is no defined deadline for when the platform will become operational. However, a roadmap of improvements for 2024-2025 has been identified, as market demand for such systems is expected to increase as militaries further define their requirements.
“We have seen USVs become the protagonist in 2023 in new and unexpected wars like Ukraine, and although major navies and industries started developing this kind of technology years ago, the market is relatively young,” the statement said. “In 2024 and years to follow, we will see an increase in demand for interoperability and related improvements in autonomous capabilities.”
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.