With a mandate from the Italian Navy, Europe’s defence programme overseer OCCAR – or the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation – announced today (28 June 2024) that it will exercise a €500m ($535m) option with Fincantieri for a fourth U212 Near Future Submarine (NFS).

NFS is an advanced iteration that builds on the German-Italian U212A Todaro-class submarine that Fincantieri and ThyssenKrupp jointly built between 2004-2016 – four of these were delivered to Italy while Germany placed an order for six of them.

The new class is capable of remaining at sea for longer periods of time than Italy’s previous boats and, thanks to its ‘invisibility’, is capable of collecting information without altering the environment and the subject observed, operating even in the presence of high threats, thereby acting as a credible deterrent.

An artist’s impression of the U212 Near Future Submarine (NFS). Credit: OCCAR.

Signed into existence in February 2021, OCCAR ordered two U212NFS boats with an option for two more, which were later pursued. These submarines will be constructed at the contractor’s Muggiano shipyard on the Ligurian Sea.

Only a day earlier, OCCAR revealed that steel was cut for the third NFS unit at Muggiano.

While the first boat will be delivered in December 2027, the second will follow in January 2029, the third in December 2030 and finally the last optional submarine will be inducted in Jauary 2032.

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Propulsion advancement

Italy’s NFS fleet incorporates a new method of energy storage using a lithium battery system as opposed to the traditional lead-acid batteries used in the U212A submarine.

A lithium battery will ensure a longer submergence time than conventional diesel-electric boats, which must emerge to the surface every few days. However, U212As also use an Air-Independent Propulsion system that supplies electricity to the platform eliminating the need for diesel engine operation during silent slow cruising, which allows the submarine to operate underwater for extended periods.

Italian submarine fleet

Italy’s Navy serves as a critical force in the Meditarranean Sea on Nato’s southern flank. Their undersea force is currently led by its four ageing Sauro-class submarines – acquired in the 1980s – that are largely unfit to meet the new subsea threats, as well as four Todaro boats.

So when the contract for NFS was orginally signed, the Chief of Staff for the Navy, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, expressed his satisfaction:

“This agreement, of strategic importance, will equip the Navy and its submarine component with highly technological means capable [to] excel in the underwater dimension and to play, in the current geopolitical scenario, a fundamental role in safeguarding the country’s interests.”