Brazil Building Fleet To Protect Resources
By christopher p. cavas
Published: 4 May 2009
RIO DE JANEIRO - The Brazilian Navy, like all of the country's military services, is changing, adapting to a new national defense strategy that seeks to protect the country's burgeoning offshore oil fields and focus anew on the sprawling and still largely undeveloped Amazon River basin.
For its new missions, the Navy plans to build a variety of ships, ranging from small, shallow-draft patrol boats to nuclear submarines to big-deck amphibious ships. Funding the fleet will be a continual challenge, but President Lula da Silva's left-leaning government has pledged to support the ambitious expansion plan, which includes a heavy emphasis on importing and developing new technologies.
"The interesting thing is not that the military needs a new fleet, but that the political powers said to us, 'Find a place to build a new naval base,'" observed Rear Adm. Antonio Carlos Frade Carneiro, head of the Navy's re-equipment program.
"This is important," Frade said, "because defense matters are now being discussed in Brazil at the highest levels of our political structure. We are thinking that things are changing in Brazil in the correct way."
Frade spoke during an April 20 interview in his office overlooking the Arsenal de Marinha in downtown Rio. The Arsenal, on a small island first fortified in the 16th century, is Brazil's most modern naval industrial facility. In addition to other ships, the yard has turned out four diesel-electric submarines based on the German Type 209 design, the most recent in 2005.
But a new shipyard that can build conventional and nuclear-powered submarines is to begin construction soon about 300 miles south of Rio at Itaguai. The new Arsenal de Sepetiba shipyard is to build the Brazilian Conventional Submarine - a design based on the DCNS-Navantia Scorpène scheme - and a nuclear-powered attack submarine.
A new submarine base adjacent to the yard also will be constructed and is scheduled to open in 2013, replacing the sub base at Rio.
Environmental assessments of the new site are nearly complete, Frade said.
The submarine deal has captured most recent naval publicity. The Brazilian-French agreement was announced in December for four modified Scorpène subs, all to be built at Sepetiba. The first submarine is to be delivered in 2014, and the rest of the class is to follow at two-year intervals, Frade said.
The submarine program sits atop a list of ambitious projects that Brazil plans to execute over the next 20 years, Frade noted.
In order of priority, the near-term projects are the submarine program, including four conventionally powered subs and a nuclear-powered unit; a patrol vessel program of three different classes: 500 tons, 200 tons and an 1,800-ton Ocean Patrol Vessel (OPV); a new fleet tanker (AOR); an Escort Frigate program of three ships of about 6,000 tons each; and a Multi-Purpose Ship (LPH) of about 20,000 tons.
Longer-term projects include a new class of shallow-draft river patrol boats and, by 2025, a replacement for the full-deck aircraft carrier Sao Paulo.
Replacements for the carrier's A-4 Skyhawk aircraft also will be needed, Frade said, but first, fleet helicopters able to operate from the frigates will be needed to replace the current Super Lynx helos.
The expanded fleet will need more people, Frade admitted, and the Navy is planning to ask Congress to increase the combined number of sailors and Marines beyond the current limit of about 55,000 - a number, Frade said, that hasn't changed since he entered the Navy in 1973.
The new arrangement with DCNS will include a heavy emphasis on training Brazilian engineers to design submarines, Frade said, unlike the 1980s-era deal with Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) for the Type 209s that focused on developing an ability to build the ships.
The Brazilian submarines will displace more than a standard Scorpène, he said, and be longer and wider. Unlike other Scorpènes, the ships won't have air-independent propulsion (AIP) because the diesel-electrics will be complemented by the nuclear submarine.
"We need a diesel, conventional submarine for our strategy to use the submarine in the patrol zone near the focus areas and shallow waters," Frade said.
"We need a nuclear submarine because Brazil has a long coast and deep water and we need a submarine with the capacity to go to any part of our waters with agility."
While DCNS will participate in designing the nuclear submarine, Frade said, the nuclear plant will be an all-Brazilian design. A land-based prototype is set to go critical in 2014, and the submarine's reactor is to be ready for installation in 2019.
Two 500-ton "NAPA 500" - Naval Patrol Boat 500 tons - craft now are under construction at the INACE yard in Fortaleza. Frade said 12 ships are planned, with a set of bids for the next four scheduled to be opened shortly; a contract for that batch should be signed in June. Funding is available for a further group of six patrol boats, with a new round of competition ready to start and contracts scheduled for October or November. The first two NAPA 500s cost $38 million each, Frade said, and he expects the follow-on ships to be cheaper.
A program to procure five 1,800-ton OPVs is scheduled to kick off in 2010, Frade said.
"This ship will have enhanced capability including a helicopter, hangar, a medium-caliber gun, such as a 76mm, and a fast craft launched by the ship."
The OPVs are needed to provide extended search-and-rescue coverage of ocean areas, Frade said, and will need to remain on station 20 days a month.
Construction is to begin next year on a new class of four small NAPA 200 shallow-draft patrol boats designed by the Arsenal de Marinha, Frade said. Although intended for the Amazon region, the craft also will be seagoing. The number of patrol boats could grow.
"The numbers of ships is not a closed matter," he said.
A new fleet tanker is needed to replace the aging Marajó, Frade said, and the AOR program will begin in 2010. The ship is to have four fuel transfer stations and a dry cargo station, with a flight deck and hangar, an infirmary, and the ability to carry ammunition and other dry goods. The program will seek a foreign shipbuilder to partner with a Brazilian shipyard to build the ship.
Brazil has begun discussions with foreign companies to replace its aging fleet of mostly British-built frigates with existing frigate designs. Fincantieri's Andrea Doria Horizon-class design from Italy has attracted Brazilian attention, Frade said, as has the Korean Daewoo firm's KDX-2 design.
"There are many shipyards in the world producing escort ships that fit almost completely our requirements," he said.
Brazil expects that at least the initial ships will be beyond the country's capability to build.
"We need to bring the foreign shipyard to Brazil and associate with a Brazilian shipyard," Frade said. "Maybe Arsenal de Marinha, maybe not."
The defense strategy calls for a Multi-Purpose Ship with the capabilities of an LPD or LPH - "a new class of ship we don't have," Frade noted. The LPH will have a well deck for small landing craft or amphibious vehicles, a flight deck and hangar, and troop-carrying capacity.
"We need to have this ship," he said, "but we don't have a shipyard able to build it."
Among the designs attracting the country's interest, he said, is the 21,000-ton Mistral design from DCNS.
A Brazilian naval delegation will visit the United States in June, Frade said, and officers will tour Northrop Grumman's shipyards and see the LPD 17-class ship, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard's National Security Cutter.
Frade admitted funding for the new fleet, shipyards and bases will be an issue. The Navy is vying with the other services for defense programs, which include the Air Force's FX-2 fighter program and the Army's VBTP armored vehicle effort. The drop last year in oil prices meant that 2009's acquisition budget was cut 30 percent, he said, but the strategy to tie the new efforts with the need to protect developing industries and regions is a key factor.
"I never listen to the discussion" about whether to fix the defense budget as a percentage of oil revenue, he said. "Two percent, 2 and a half percent, 3 percent - I don't listen to that discussion. I only listen to the fact that Brazil is growing, and it's only natural to put money into many areas. The budget has improved in education, health and other programs, and the military budget has generally been very small."
But an investment in the military is an investment in Brazil, Frade said.
"It's important that the world's shipyards look to Brazil for a business opportunity," he said. "Come to Brazil to participate in our program to build a new fleet."