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Italian naval EW equipment exports tell a tale of inconsistency

10th January 2022 - 14:32 GMT | by Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo in Milan

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UAE Gowind 2500 corvette Bani Yas, pictured after the vessel was launched by Naval Group on 4 December 2021 with RECM equipment visible just above the bridge windows. (Photo: Naval Group)

Different criteria seem to have been applied to exports of naval electronic countermeasures to Egypt as opposed to Qatar, Turkmenistan and the UAE.

Naval electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment denied to Egyptian Navy FREMM frigates has been exported to Qatar, Turkmenistan and the UAE.

Before the delivery of the two Italian-built FREMM frigates to Egypt — in December 2020 and April 2021 — the Italian government decided to remove critical ECM technology for reasons of national security.

Italian regulations ban certain EW systems from being exported to non-NATO countries — yet  a number of sensors have been and will be installed on corvettes sold to the Qatari Emiri Navy and Turkmen Naval Forces.

Specifically, the Egyptian FREMM frigates Al Galala and Bernes were delivered without the Thales ALTESSE COMINT system and the Elettronica Nettuno 4100 Jamming Antenna Sub System. Considering that each ship may have ad hoc systems, it is interesting to note that the actual price of €990 million which Cairo paid for the two frigates varies significantly from the original €1.2 billion estimate for the Italian Navy.

Speaking to Shephard, a government source explained that the equipment was deinstalled partly to disable communications between the Egyptian FREMM frigates and other NATO warships. The source added that the Unit for Authorizations of Armament Materials (UAMA) in the foreign ministry took the decision for security reasons, given the close ties Egypt shares with Russia.

In Italy, UAMA is the national authority responsible for granting all export and import permits of military goods. Although there are no specific export controls for regimes such as Egypt or the UAE, export licences are harder to obtain for countries outside of the EU and NATO.

The FREMM frigate Al Galala, pictured before (left) and after the removal of ECM equipment before it was delivered to the Egyptian Navy. (Photos: Giacomo Cavanna/Ares Osservatorio Difesa).

Approval is on a case-by-case basis and depends on factors such as the type of product (with stringent scrutiny given to sensitive technology such as ECM equipment), the costs and the end-user nation’s relations with other countries. Exports of defence equipment are also denied to active conflict zones.

In contrast, informed sources speculated to Shephard that Italian authorities are likely to favour exports of sophisticated ECM systems to partners (such as Qatar) with deep existing military ties to Rome.

In February 2021, Fincantieri launched the second Al Zubarah-class corvette (Damsah) destined for the Qatari Emiri Navy. The third (Al Khor) followed in October that year and construction of the final ship (Sumaysimah) is ongoing.

Pictures taken in October 2021, when the first-in-class Al Zubarah was delivered to Qatar, showed a full electronic warfare suite provided by Elettronica. The vessel sported radar electronic support measures (RESM), communications electronic support measures (CESM), and radar electronic countermeasures (RECM) systems similar to those aboard Italian Navy ships.

Other photographic evidence from December 2021 showed that a similar ECM suite (including the Nettuno 4100 built by Elettronica) has been installed on Bani Yas, the first of two Gowind 2500 corvettes being built by Naval Group for the UAE Navy. It is worth noting that Elettronica has a longstanding presence in the UAE with offices in Abu Dhabi since 1980.

In addition, the sale of sensitive ECM material was also approved for Turkmenistan, where the Nettuno 4100 ECM system will equip the corvette Deniz Han that is being built by a Turkish JV between Gülsan and Dearsan Shipyard. 

As Elettronica is currently negotiating the supply of EW components for the future Indonesian FREMM frigates, it is not yet known if a complete ECM suite will also be provided aboard or if, similarly to Egypt, some of the equipment will not be included.

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