Four ships currently make up the Cassiopea-class patrol vessel group of the modern Italian Navy. These are warships built during the later stages of the Cold War period (1947-1991) and developed to support Italian interests along her expansive coastline and into Mediterranean waters. The class is led by Cassiopea (P-401) joined by sister ships Libra (P-402), Spica (P-403) and Vega (P-404). All maintain an active status in the Italian Navy today (2018). They are expected to serve into the early 2020s.
The Cassiopea-class ships were conceived concurrently with the larger Minerva-class, the former intended for near-shore operation while the latter developed to operate in deeper waters along the Italian shoreline. With the broader mission set, the Minerva-class was better outfitted for direct-combat sorties and the Cassiopea-class was left more streamlined due to their relatively reduced role. The Italian government granted the purchase of the Cassiopea-class in late-1982 and contracts were given in 1986 for their construction - awarded to Fincantieri of Muggiano.
Lead-ship Cassiopea was laid down on March 16th, 1987 and launched on July 19th, 1988. She was formally commissioned on October 21st, 1989. Libra followed on March 16th, 1987 and was launched on July 27th, 1988 to be commissioned on March 23rd, 1991. Spica began construction on September 5th, 1988 and was launched on May 27th, 1989, commissioned later on March 23rd, 1991. Vega, the last of the class, was laid down on June 30th, 1989 and launched on February 24th, 1990. She was commissioned on May 8th, 1992.
The ships have a conventional, Cold War-era appearance about them as their development occurred during the "pre-stealth" period as warships go. Their bows were given an elevated hull line which remained unbroken (and lower) towards the stern. The forecastle showcased a single turreted main deck gun with the bridge superstructure aft of this placement, integrated with an enclosed main mast which also saw a surface-search radar system fitted. The smoke funnels were also integrated into the hull superstructure with a low-profile, side-by-side design arrangement. A polemast was added aft of these structures near midships. The quarterdeck over the stern section became home to a helipad for supporting a single medium-life navy helicopter (typically Agusta-Bell AB-212 outfitted for the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role). Complete hangar facilities were also included.
The ships operate through a multi-diesel propulsion scheme consisting of 2 x Grandi Motori Trieste BL-230.16 marine diesels coupled with 3 x Isotta-Fraschini ID 36SS6V diesel generators driving power to 2 x Shafts under stern. There is also a single Isotta-Fraschini VM-V613oT unit for emergency power. The relatively compact warship, therefore, makes headway at speeds reaching 21 knots and ranges out to 3,300 nautical miles.
Dimensions include a running length of 261.9 feet with a beam of 38.8 feet and a draught of 11.9 feet. Displacement under standard loads reaches 1,130 tons and 1,500 tons under full loads.
The class is outfitted with the SMA SPN-748(V)2 navigational aid, the AESN SPS-702(v)2 surface-search radar suite, the AESN SPG-70 (RTN-10X) Fire-Control (FC) radar unit and the GEM Elettronica Gemeni-DB navigational radar. A complete Electronic Warfare (EW) kit is also carried.
Armament is 1 x 76mm /62 caliber OTO-Melara Allagarto turreted main deck gun backed by 2 x OTO-Melara 25mm /80 caliber secondary guns. Beyond this the crew can operate up to 2 x 7.62mm MG42/59 general purpose machine guns against extremely-close-ranged threats approaching the ship.
Aboard is a crew of 60 personnel including six officer-level candidates. Onboard stores allow the ships to operate for up to 35 days before requiring some sort of resupply.
From 2014 onward, the class received a few modern installations centered on navigation and radar.
The Italian Navy currently (2018) operates three distinct patrol classes: Comandanti-class, Sirio-class and Cassiopea-class collectively numbering ten ships.