The International Defence and Security Fair of Spain, FEINDEF 2021, has been the scenario chosen by Navantia and the powerful Italian semi-public shipyard Fincantieri to strengthen their ties with a view to increasing their presence in the global military naval field.
Its two top managers, Ricardo Domínguez and Giuseppe Giordo, have taken advantage of the showcase provided by the biennial event dedicated to the defence industry that FEINDEF represents to sign a strategic alliance that opens the way for them to work together and provide frigates and other surface warships and submarines to the navies of Spain, Italy and any other country.
For the Spaniard, "it is a great opportunity to strengthen the European defence industry", which the Italian emphasises by affirming that it aims to be a "solid and lasting collaboration to stand firm in the face of global challenges".
Both the Spanish public shipyard Navantia and the Italian Fincantieri have their sights set on the future European Naval Defence Force that may be established by the European Union, as well as on the international market, especially in South America, Africa and Asia. Prior to this, the Spanish-Italian strategic pact has received the approval of President Mario Draghi in Rome and, in Spain, the approval of SEPI, the Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero, and the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez.
Although the two companies are collaborating on the project for a future European Patrol Corvette, the Spanish-Italian pact has come as a surprise. The Italian shipbuilding giant, Fincantieri, has had a close industrial relationship with NavalGroup, the French state-controlled shipyard, for more than 20 years. Engineers from both companies have designed, developed, built and marketed the Horizon and FREMM class frigates in service with the French, Italian, Egyptian and Moroccan navies.
In addition, the two shipyards established the Naviris alliance, an initiative to market warships in third countries, just under two years ago. However, their relations in recent months have been sour as a result of their direct competition to win contracts in third countries.
The conjunction of interests between Madrid and Rome has not been viewed favourably by Paris, where NavalGroup is at its lowest ebb following Australia's cancellation in mid-September of the purchase of 12 conventional submarines, a consequence of the AUKUS pact between the Canberra, London and Washington governments.
The agreement between Navantia and Fincantieri is in line with the words expressed by the Secretary of State for Defence during the opening ceremony of FEINDEF 21, an exhibition taking place in Madrid from 3 to 5 November, which is focused on showcasing the technological capabilities of the Spanish defence and security industry.
As the person responsible for directing the Spanish Armed Forces' armament and equipment procurement and research policies, Esperanza Casteleiro emphasises the need to "internalise" the defence industry and to "increase" public-private collaboration in order to take advantage of synergies between international players, which the Navantia-Fincantieri agreement clearly represents.
Esperanza Casteleiro had to make up for the absence of the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, "who has not been able to come, but will attend as soon as possible", she said in explanation. As the official host of FEINDEF 2021, Margarita Robles was the government minister scheduled to officially open the largest and most important Spanish military industry trade fair.
With an auditorium full of senior officials from the Ministry of Defence, the Spanish Armed Forces and most of the 73 delegations from friendly and allied countries that will visit FEINDEF over the three days, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Industry, José Manuel Albares and Reyes Maroto, respectively, sent virtual messages of support and highlighted the technological and innovative capacity of the Spanish sector.
Also the High Representative and Vice-President of the European Union, Josep Borrell, who highlighted the importance of European multinational defence projects for the development of weapons systems and equipment. Being an exhibition that combines defence and security systems, the presence of the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, or one of the senior officials of his department, was missed, given that FEINDEF has stands for the National Police and the Civil Guard.
Margarita Robles went to the two FEINDEF pavilions after the opening ceremony and the official photo. She visited a dozen stands of national companies, the Spanish Armed Forces and the exhibition of weapons of the US Army and Navy, the guest country at the second edition of FEINDEF. The final figures provided by the organisers confirm the presence of 309 exhibitors, including Arquimea, DAS Photonics, Escribano Mechanical & Engineering, General Dynamics European Land Systems-Santa Bárbara Sistemas, Heroux Devtek, Indra, ITP Aero, GMV, Iveco, John Cockerill, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Marine Instruments, Pap Tecnos, SASCorp, SENER, Tecnobit, Telefónica and Thales.
Among the weapons systems and equipment on display at the fair, the major Spanish military projects currently under development include the S-80 submarine, the F-110 frigate, the VCR 8x8 Dragon wheeled combat vehicle and the Next Generation Weapons System or NGWS/FCAS, one of the main instruments of which is the European fighter aircraft of the 2040s.
One of the most striking innovations is the ambulance version of the High Mobility Tactical Vehicle (VAMTAC) of the Spanish firm Uro, in service with the Portuguese Army. It has a coating that protects it from landmines and rifle fire, with a high degree of protection against chemical contaminants. Its interior is equipped with diagnostic and electro-medical equipment to monitor vital signs and maintain the wounded during transport.