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  Scirè carries out a hoist exercise with an SH-60 of the Helicopter Maritime Strike Weapons School, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, off Mayport, Fla. Italian Navy Photo.

by Lt. Sebastiano Rossitto, Italian Navy

In 1524, the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazano became the first European to explore and report on the East Coast of what is now the United States. From Aug. 27 to Nov. 3, 2009, the Italian Submarine (ITS) Scirè (S 527) carried out CON.US 09 (Continental United States 2009), a two-and-a-half month deployment to the U.S. East Coast that included participation in the 2009 Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX 09) as well as several other exercises involving U.S. Navy submarines and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets. I had the good fortune to serve on Scirè during this interesting and valuable deployment.

ITS Scirè was laid down at the Muggiano yard of the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri in July 2000, launched on Dec. 18, 2004, and commissioned in February 2007. She takes her name from a 600-ton Italian submarine of World War II that was specifically designed to support special forces. The most famous of this boat's wartime operations took place on Dec. 19, 1941, when she maneuvered close to the Egyptian port of Alexandria and released a team of six special operators, led by Lt. Luigi Durand de la Penne, who planted charges that sank the British battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth in shallow water as well as damaging the tanker Sagona and the destroyer HMS Jervis.

Today's Scirè and her sister ship, Salvatore Todaro (S 526), commissioned in 2006, form the new backbone of the Italian submarine force, which will be enhanced by the commissioning of two further units between 2015 and 2016. These Type U212A submarines are the result of a joint Italian-German program to produce a new generation of non-nuclear submarines combining conventional diesel-electric propulsion with air-independent propulsion (AIP) for silent cruising.

When operating on AIP, Scirè is extremely silent, requiring no noisy snorkeling to recharge the battery. Fuel cells—electrochemical conversion devices based on polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) technology—combine hydrogen and oxygen stored in the submarine to produce water, heat and the electricity that powers the propulsion engine and the other shipboard systems.

Other key features of the Salvatore Todaro class are:

An "X-shaped" arrangement of the stern planes that facilitates maneuvering
A prismatic hull cross-section and smoothly faired transitions from the hull to the sail that enhance stealth
Extensive use of non-magnetic materials in the hull and internal fixtures to minimize the magnetic signature
Reduced infrared and radar signature
A fully digitalized combat management system (CMS) and a highly advanced sonar
Silent Type A-184 Mod 3 torpedoes, built by the Italian company WASS, and a weapon subsystem that allows full interoperability with NATO-standard torpedoes

Scirè left Taranto, her home base in southern Italy, on July 20 and reached Naval Submarine Base New London, in Groton, Conn., on Aug. 27. After a short call, she set sail for Naval Station Mayport, Fla., on the 30th. Arriving on Sept. 8, she promptly commenced an intensive training program that included involvement in JTFEX 09 from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21.

Scirè conducted at-sea anti-submarine warfare exercises and tactical development exercises against U.S. naval assets, including P-3C and SH-60 aircraft, SSNs, and the USS Eisenhower Carrier Battle Group. Several vertical replenishment (VERTREP) operations provided valuable opportunities to check and improve interoperability with U.S. Navy helicopters. Scirè and U.S. submarines also exchanged sea riders to maximize the exchange of knowledge and experience.

After completing this intensive training, Scirè returned to Groton for a few days to refuel. She departed Groton on Nov. 3 and reached Taranto on Dec. 20, having been away from Italy on various missions for a total of five months.

CON.US 09 was actually the second deployment of an Italian submarine to the American East Coast for intensive ASW training with the U.S. Navy. The first deployment, CON.US 08, took place the year before, when Salvatore Todaro became the first Italian submarine to cross the Atlantic since the end of World War II.

More visits are likely. In 2009, the two navies launched the Italian-U.S. ASW Initiative, whose mission is to increase mutual knowledge of ASW doctrine and training and enhance the interoperability and readiness of U.S. and Italian submarine and anti-submarine assets, thereby improving the ability to cope with rising submarine threats around the world. Within this same framework, U.S. assets take part in combined or bilateral exercises in the Mediterranean arranged by the Italian Navy, such as Mare Aperto, whose 2009 edition benefitted from the participation of U.S. submarines.

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Vice Adm. Paolo La Rosa, then-Chief of the Italian Navy General Staff (a position roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations) visits Scirè's crew at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. Italian Navy Photo.

Another important gain from CON.US 09 was our interaction with the crew members of U.S. submarines. We received an extremely warm and friendly welcome from American submariners during port calls at Groton at the beginning and end of our stay in North American waters. Our host ship, USS Toledo, (SSN 769), did everything possible to support us and meet all our needs, including arranging barbecues and other events at the officer and petty officer clubs during the weekends. These occasions provided an informal, friendly setting to become better acquainted and share experiences, with both sides asking and answering lots of questions about quality of life on board, career paths, training criteria, years spent on board, etc.

American submariners visiting Scirè were impressed by the small size of her crew and the spaciousness of her interior for a boat that is only 60 meters long. Highly automated controls and computerized procedures have reduced the crew of Todaro-class boats to no more than 30 people, including the very few people required to man all stations in the combat information center when underway. Additionally, crew members are rotated to maintain a high level of operational readiness, especially during long deployments, and a deployable support group (SUG) of about 15 people follows the submarines to the ports they visit to take care of technical and logistic matters. The SUG is composed of experienced officers and petty officers, all former submariners, belonging to the Technical and Logistic Department of the Italian Navy's Submarine Force Command (COMFORSUB).

Scirè's host during her three visits to Naval Station Mayport in September and October 2009 was the U.S. Navy's "surface community." Our Mayport sister ship, USS Underwood (FFG-36), performed that role outstandingly. Like Toledo, she offered a warm welcome, took care of all Scirè's needs, and arranged unforgettable events that made the Italian crew feel at home. The nearness of Naval Submarine Base King's Bay, Ga., also made it possible to arrange a "cross deck" between Scirè and USS Wyoming (SSBN 742). After receiving some Wyoming representatives on board Scirè, a group of Italian submariners went to King's Bay to visit the boomer and the Trident Training Facility. The experience gave both the Italians and Americans the chance to observe operational, technical and logistic environments different from their own.

Finally, in the spirit of the submariner brotherhood, one of Scirè's officers attended the 46th Submariners' Congress, held in San Diego, Calif., Sept. 8-12, by the International Submariners' Association–United States of America (ISA-USA) in conjunction with the United States Submarine Veterans (USSV).

CON.US 09 was an invaluable opportunity to improve interoperability between the U.S. and Italian navies, perfectly conducted within the framework of the "ASW Initiative." We gained a great deal of experience and tactical know-how operating against SSNs in several exercises, especially experience in employing the low-frequency towed-array sonar only recently embarked on Todaro-class submarines. At the same time, CON.US 09 allowed us to demonstrate the remarkable flexibility of the latest class of Italian submarines, including becoming the first non-nuclear submarine to effectively support a carrier battle group.

We very much appreciated the opportunity to interact on many levels with the world's most prepared and best equipped Submarine Force and also to display with pride the features of Italy's most modern submarines. The bottom line of CON.US 09 was that despite differences of assets and tactics, everyone experienced the strong feelings of friendship and brotherhood that binds together submariners of many nationalities all around the world.

Lt. Rossitto was executive officer of ITS Scirè during CON.US 09.

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Cmdr. Diego Hernández, commanding officer of USS Wyoming, extends a warm welcome to Scirè's commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Alberto Tarabotto. Italian Navy Photo.