ROME — Italy’s Fincantieri and Leonardo are to work together on underwater drones designed to protect cables and pipelines on the seabed amid a growing awareness of the value and vulnerability of sub-sea infrastructure.
With a memorandum of understanding signed on Friday in the presence of the head of the Italian Navy, the two firms’ chief executives pledged to pool their “respective expertise and capabilities in the sector.”
As well as developing new platforms for monitoring and protecting ”strategic underwater networks, cables, communication backbones, offshore infrastructure and underwater threat alert systems,” the firms said they would work on “the safeguarding of exploration, sea mining, and extraction activities on the seabed for access to valuable mineral resources.”
This week, Italian junior defense minister Matteo Perego di Cremnago told Defense News the Italian navy was already discussing with industry how it could cooperate on the protection of the future mining of rare earths and lithium on the sea bed of the Mediterranean. Demand for the substances, which are key to microchips and batteries for electric vehicles, is soaring globally amid fears China has a chokehold on the market.
The need to protect undersea infrastructure has become more keenly felt since the Nord Stream gas pipeline attack in the Baltic Sea last year. Following the attack, the Italian navy agreed with Italian internet firm Sparkle to use its submarines to monitor internet cables which crisscross the seabed of the Mediterranean.
This year, Italy took the lead on a new project in EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO, to improve sub-sea security for energy pipelines and internet cables.
Defense firm Leonardo and shipyard Fincantieri already collaborate on naval programs through their joint venture Orizzonte Sistemi Navali. In their statement, the firms said their team-up on undersea work was linked to the pending opening of a National Underwater Hub at La Spezia in Italy next year, which will bring together companies, universities, research centres and the navy.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.