20 January 2014 defenceWeb
The Italian Navy’s 30th Naval Group is well into its six-month training, humanitarian and promotional sales tour and is due to port in South Africa on February 5.
The group departed Italy in November. It is led by the aircraft carrier Cavour and comprises the multi-mission frigate Bergamini, logistic support ship Etna and the Comandanti Class patrol ship Borsini.
The voyage combines training, diplomacy and humanitarian assistance with a privately funded marketing trip for Italian industry billed as a “moving country”.
The group has already ported in Bahrain and Doha in Qatar and has now moved into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. Stops at a number of ports will see the issues of maritime security and merchant shipping protection addressed as well as support to navies of African costal countries through active co-operation.
The voyage is also flying the flag for the Mediterranean country’s foreign policy as well as marketing the “Made in Italy” brand. In this respect it was called a “floating Le Bourget” by Italian Defence Minister Mario Mauro when he saw the group off in November. This was in reference to the major defence industry exhibition held in Le Bourget, France.
The rationale behind the travelling sales mission, which will call at 19 ports before returning to Italy in April, is that companies on board will foot the bill, effectively underwriting crew training as regular funding for exercises dries up, DefenseNews reported.
Industry will pay more than €10 million for fuel costs and €3 million for other expenses, including port fees, while the Navy will pick up the €7 million wages bill, Navy Chief Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi said at a press conference prior to the group’s departure.
He added the voyage would also see Italian Navy crews training in a challenging climate, far from home.
The Navy has been pushing to find creative ways to fund crew training while maintenance and operations budgets are eroding as planners divert large amounts for personnel spending, DefenseNews reported.
In the three-year budget published this year, maintenance and operations funding slips from €1.33 billion this year to €1.32 billion in 2014 and to €1.3 billion in 2015.
The Italian contingent is due to sign a co-operation agreement with Mozambique when the group ports in Maputo.
The marketing of Italian naval vessels also would be on the agenda in the Arabian Gulf, Morocco, South Africa and Mozambique, while in Angola, talks would continue regarding Italian industry helping to develop a new type vessel for the local navy, he said.
For companies in the Finmeccanica group, the voyage allows a focus on the gulf ports in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
AgustaWestland will be parking an NH90 and AW101 helicopter on board the Cavour, while Oto Melara will promote its new guided munitions and Selex ES the combat management system it installed on Cavour. Torpedo unit WASS will promote its Black Shark torpedo, while visitors also will see the Storm Shadow, Meteor and Brimstone missiles built by MBDA, in which Finmeccanica holds a stake.
Small-vessel builder Intermarine is joining the trip, as is small arms maker Beretta.
“We are interested in the visits to the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait,” said Lorenzo Benigni, vice president for communications at electronics firm Elettronica, which has supplied self-protection systems on Cavour.
The defence stands will share space with displays promoting Italy’s hosting of Expo 2015, as well as stands taken by small aircraft maker Blackshape, tire-maker Pirelli and business aircraft company Piaggio Aero. Railway technology group Mermec and microsatellite builder Sitael also will be represented, as well as an Italian trade association grouping 2 800 furniture and wooden goods manufacturers.
The voyage, according to De Giorgi, is “a business card for Italy” while the Defence Minister described it as “a piece of Italy”.
Following stops in the gulf, the ships will also port in Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Algeria, Congo, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and Algeria.