NORFOLK, Va. — The Italian navy frigate Alpino visited Norfolk this week after participating in exercises with U.S. ships while at sea.

But its mission goes deeper than that, as the Italian Defense Ministry also says it’s here to hopefully interest U.S. officials in the ship’s design and capabilities as the U.S. Navy investigates future frigate designs.

Commissioned in September 2016, the ship is an anti-submarine variant of the European multi-purpose frigate and is built by the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.

Variations of the design are already in use by the French, Egyptian and Royal Moroccan navies.

“This overseas campaign, along with the joint activities and exchange with friendly and allied navies, provides a valuable training opportunity to maintain high levels of cooperation and to strengthen relations with trans-regional allies,” an Italian navy press release said..

But according to the release, the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri is the “sole sponsor and partner of this campaign.” So while the ship is here to train its crew and operate in exercises, it’s also being used as a marketing campaign.

Fincantieri is one of the shipbuilders the U.S. Navy asked in February to submit frigate designs for a contract the U.S. hopes to award by 2020.

“A special effort will be made to showcase and highlight the unit’s operational capabilities to delegations composed of members of the United States Congress and US Navy officers,” the release says.

That’s because, the release goes on to say, the U.S. Navy is in the process of developing “a new class of frigates, aimed at filling the capability gap between the Littoral Combat Ship and the Arleigh Burke-Class DDGs.”

The release also added that the Italian deployment includes outreach of another sort.

“This overseas campaign also provides an opportunity to meet the numerous Italian communities residing abroad, and includes the organization of cultural events aimed at promoting the image of Italy and its excellences,” the release said.

The ship is scheduled to be in Norfolk through May 24. A schedule of such events has yet to be released.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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