NATO's SACLANT Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia (Italy) is tasked to conduct research in support of NATO's undersea operational requirements. It has been in successful operation since 1959 and has a track record of significant contribution to NATO's military capabilities. It operates a purpose built acoustically silent ship, N.R.V. ALLIANCE, so far the only ship that is commonly owned by the NATO nations.
Funding for a new coastal research vessel was approved in 1998. Following a seven-month design phase executed by Burness, Corlett and Partners (UK), and an international competition, a shipbuilding contract to construct a 28 metre Coastal Research Vessel was awarded last December to McTay Marine (UK). The vessel is scheduled for delivery on 30 April 2002.The new vessel, to be named "LEONARDO", will be the first vessel to operate as an Italian Public Vessel and will be listed on a special register within the Italian Ministry of Defence. She will be "classed" and certified by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).