PARIS --- Italian shipyard Fincantieri has committed to delivering two new FREMM-class frigates to the Italian Navy by 2024 to replace the two ships that are being sold to Egypt, Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini told a July 28 Parliamentary hearing.
This is the first ministerial confirmation of a multi-billion euro Italian arms sale to Egypt that has been regularly reported in Italian media for the past two years. The reports also mentioned corvettes, helicopters and two or four squadrons of Eurofighters, with a total value of up to €9-10 billion euros.
The commitment to deliver two new ships by 2024 is predicated on signature of a contract by the end of the year, a senior industry official said July 30. “Negotiations have been approved, but contract signature won’t happen until the government issues the export licences,” he said. The contract will be signed directly by Fincantieri with the Egyptian government.
Speaking to the “Regeni Committee,” an ad-hoc parliamentary panel looking into the disappearance of Giulio Regeni, an Italian student at Cambridge University whose tortured body was found in a ditch Cairo in March 2016 several days after he had disappeared, Guerini said "I do not see any risks to our ability to perform the assigned tasks."
One of the panel’s inquiry lines is to determine whether Italy should supply cutting-edge weaponry to a government that not only is regularly criticized for its brutality and flouting of human rights, but whose secret police is also widely held responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of Regeni.
The sale of the two FREMMs marks a reversal for France, whose Naval Group had sold a FREMM frigate, two Mistral-class amphibious ships and four Gowind corvettes to Egypt before the bilateral relationship broke down, reportedly after French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Egypt’s human rights record during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The initial sale could be followed by two additional FREMMs, for a total of four, with a value of about €2.4 billion. In addition, Egypt is also interested in buying patrol ships from Fincantieri, some of which it would build locally under license along the same business model it adopted with the French Gowinds.
The initial agreement with Egypt now being finalized calls for Fincantieri to modify and deliver to Egypt two frigates which it built for the Italian Navy but which have not yet entered service. These are the ninth and tenth Italian FREMMs, Spartaco Schergat and Emilio Bianchi, which were launched in January 2019 and January 2020 respectively. Both are being outfitted by Fincantieri. The modifications will include removing NATO-specific and Italian-specific equipment, and fitting instead new equipment specified by the Egyptian Navy – a process will require some time.
Guerini told the committee that "preliminary contractual activities" between Fincantieri and the Egyptian government on the frigate sale began in the first half of 2019, and in February 2020 Fincantieri selected the two ships. The sale was then cleared on national security grounds by the Unità per le autorizzazioni dei materiali di armamento (unit for the authorization of armament matériel, or UAMA) and was subsequently approved on March 27 by the Defense General Staff.
The Defense General Staff then asked Fincantieri to build and deliver to the Italian Navy two latest-generation ships by 2024. Construction of these new Fremms will begin later this year, the minister said.
Finally, Guerini concluded by saying that “industry has committed itself to carrying out a series of maintenance and adjustment operations on the ships currently in service” with the Italian Navy to extend their service life until the two new replacement Fremms are delivered, “without any [financial] impact on the Defence" ministry.