“Cosmic” bridge of Italy’s newest frigate

Italy’s Marina Militare has revealed photos of the navigation bridge of one of its newest ships, the Paolo Thaon di Revel, a prototype PPA-type vessel. Its appearance differs from previous solutions and heralds the direction of development of such systems in the world’s most modern fleets.

The Paolo Thaon di Revel (P430) is the first ship of a type referred to as a PPA (Pattugliatore Polivalente d’Altura), or a multi-purpose high seas patrol vessel. In reality, these vessels are ships with the functionalities and capabilities of multi-purpose frigates. Their designer and manufacturer is the Italian shipbuilding group Fincantieri.

The PPA is a highly adaptable platform for different tasks, achieved thanks to its size and design features already defined in the design assumptions, allowing its reconfiguration and selection of means depending on the mission profile. The ships are expected to operate in the area of armed conflict as well as in civilian operations.

Due to rationalization of expenses as well as actual needs, the design of the ships has been made scalable and they will be built in three variants – Light, Light+ and Full, which will already have all the characteristics of a “full-fledged” frigate. However, the lighter Light and Light+ variants are designed to be retrofitted and re-armed as needed (fitted for, but not with).

Some armament and electronic equipment will also be identical within the unified platform. Also included in the PPA design are two large modular areas for cargo and systems – one open, between the separate superstructures that are the hallmark of the PPA, and the other covered, aft under the helipad. In addition, a sizable portion of the large aft superstructure will be occupied by a hangar for a heavy or two medium helicopters.

“Space” cockpit

The most interesting new feature is the “cockpit,” a combat navigation platform jointly developed by Leonardo and Fincantieri that introduces an entirely new modus operandi for navigating, operating and self-defending the craft within the 25-mile direct zone.

The two-person watch has consoles with multifunctional volatiles and goggles linked to external cameras, giving them panoramic vision of the space around the ship. Also to appear in the cockpit are aerial heads-up displays (Head-Up Displays), which will provide operators with data on the body of water on course – depth, distance to surface and underwater obstacles, hydrometeorological conditions, etc., but also on targets and threats, representing a synthesis of information gleaned from available systems, developed by the SADOC Mk 4 combat system. For now, they are not visible in the pictures, so the data are depicted on multifunction monitors. This allows two people to normally navigate (power plant operation, steering, etc.) and respond to potential hazards.

In addition to the watch consoles, within the “cockpit” will be the ship’s commander’s station and stations with consoles for electronic warfare, weapons handling, surface and underwater situation, air situation, and communications, navigation and meteo. In order for this small staff to be able to operate normally and fight in case of direct threat, the system will use elements of virtual reality imaging.
PPA Fincantieri and Leonardo presented the prototype operator consoles and cockpit stations to the public for the first time at the Euronaval salon in Paris in 2016.

The design of the front of the superstructure itself, housing the cockpit, is also not without significance. In some operations (maneuvers, or close contact with another vessel at sea) it is possible to observe visually, without involving electronics. This region of the structure is slender and forward. It somewhat resembles the cockpit of a large aircraft, such as a transport plane.

The PPA is one of the first ships built with such an advanced, ergonomic bridge. Paolo Thaon di Revel is scheduled to start campaigning in Marina Militare this November, putting these avant-garde solutions into service. We should add that Fincnatieri’s offer has not found interest from the Polish side in the Swordfish program. Leonardo, on the other hand, is on the short list of four entities to provide solutions for the Swordfish combat system.

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