Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stealthy Italian submarine will train with U.S. Navy

The ITS Scire sits at dock at Mayport Naval Station. The Italian submarine is taking part in a training exercise.

The ITS Scire is paying a visit to Mayport to take part in a Joint Task Force Exercise.

From its high-tech fuel cell engine to its automated torpedo loading system, the ITS Scire proudly shows off the advanced technology crammed into its narrow body.

But being on the crew of a cutting-edge fighting vessel doesn't mean one has to ignore the comforts of life - which perhaps is why cans of extra virgin olive oil manage to find a corner amid the fearsome torpedoes.

From the espresso machine outside the galley to the pizza the cook makes each night for those working the midnight shift, little touches help make the work more enjoyable for the 28-man crew of the Scire, the most modern vessel in the Italian fleet.

"These are things that make us comfortable," said Lt. Sebastiano Rossitto, the Scire's executive officer. "It's more than eating."

But the focus is on leveraging that technology, particularly a fuel cell that produces electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, allowing the boat to stay submerged for three weeks while running completely silently.

That ability will be put to the test over the next week as the Scire takes part in a Joint Task Force Exercise being held off the coast of Jacksonville.

The second Italian boat to visit the United States since the end of World War II - the first stopped by Mayport in 2008 - the crew of the Scire has been working on its role in the Joint Task Force Exercise for the past six months.

The exercise, centered on the strike group led by the USS Harry S. Truman, is designed to test the group's reaction to a variety of wartime scenarios as the carrier prepares for an upcoming deployment.

For its part, the Scire will both work within the task force and serve as an enemy, allowing the Navy's submarine hunters to do their job.

"We're not typically part of a strike group," said Lt. Cmdr. Alberto Tarabotto, the commanding officer of the boat. "This will allow us to test our skills at integrating together."

The Todaro-class submarine comes out of a joint Italian-German project started in the 1990s, focused on producing a virtually undetectable vessel with a much lower magnetic, acoustic and thermal signature than other subs.

"These important partnerships provide the U.S. Navy with unique training opportunities against the real-world threat found in the modern, quiet, diesel-electric submarine," Lt. Courtney Hillson of U.S. 2nd Fleet said about the exercise.

Including the Scire, 13 ships from nine countries will work with the U.S. strike group.

Getting to the United States took the Italian boat about 25 days, with the crew arriving at New London Naval Submarine Base after 18 days underwater.

The voyage itself presented challenges as the crew adjusted to the differences between the Atlantic and its home base, the Mediterranean.

"We had a meeting with Bill," the captain said with a laugh, referring to the hurricane the ship passed through on its way to the United States. "You could feel it even hundreds of meters under the sea."

But the crew was in no great hurry to get the trip over with. As is typical with submarines, the focus wasn't speed, but stealth, requiring slow, deliberate movements.

As the Scire slowly crept across the ocean, its crew focused on searching the deep for other boats while keeping itself hidden, using the skills that it will hone further during next week's exercise.

"The more silent you are, the better it is in submarines," Rossitto said. "Submarines are not like surface ships, transporting themselves from Point A to Point B. We have a job to do as well."

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