Monday, September 01, 2008

Brazil's Nuclear Submarine and Journalistic Fictions

You have probably seen this curious AP headline...

Brazil spending $160M on nuclear propelled sub


Brazil will spend US$160 million by the end of next year on the development of a nuclear-propelled submarine to protect the oil reserves found recently off its coast, the defense minister said Friday. The vessel — which officials hope to be complete by 2020 — would be the first nuclear-propelled submarine in Latin America. Brazil does not have nuclear weapons.The submarine is the highlight of the Brazil's new defense plan — to be made public on Sept. 7. [color emphasis added].

Did the murky headline make you wonder ... how one nuclear submarine protects an offshore oil field? Or, more importantly, why it would even take a nuclear sub to protect an oil field that does not move? What happens to the second largest oil field discovery in twenty years, for instance, when the nuke sub returns to port to replenish, or worse enters drydock for overhaul? Well, Brazil has 5 modern conventional subs, too, and is expected to add several Scorpene class subs in the near future. Why nuclear subs then? Yes, that's right, Brazil has planned to build several nuclear subs since 1979.

The first of Brazil's 209 class subs was constructed by Germany's HDW, while the others were built at Arsenal de Marinha do Rio de Janeiro (AMRJ). AMRJ launched a fifth boat, the improved Tupi class Tikuna, on March 9, 2005. Brazil planned to begin constructing a new class of five diesel submarines [Scorpene's? ]. These would use the same hulls as eventual nuclear subs to expedite hull testing before installing nuclear reactors on the second and third of the class.

Nuclear subs come with massive technology transfers, in this case from France, that will eventually permit developing and constructing a submarine reactor entirely from Brazilian technology. Brazil's defense minister, Nelson Jobim, ridiculed the idea that Brazil's uranium enrichment program would ever be used to make a nuclear bomb. 'That's total nonsense,' he said, last November.

Brazil's strategic affairs minister said this week that Brazil is planning a 'significant increase' in defense spending. Roberto Mangabeira Unger told reporters Brazil wants to create a rapid deployment force and build a state-of-the-art weapons industry - one that would become an active exporter of arms. [color emphasis added]

The Economist noted Brazil's latest oil discovery could offset the regional influence of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. A Financial Times editorial suggested U.S. President George Bush—and his successor—should enhance ties with Brazil by reducing tariffs on its ethanol exports.

There is an even more obvious element to Brazil's rationale, of course. The Second-Largest Oil Field Discovered in the Past 20 Years - What better time would there ever be to justify an immense increase in defense spending than when a productive, natural resource
is discovered?

Some U.S. government reports have raised suspicions that Brazil's Triple Border region with Argentina and Paraguay is a haven for radical Islamic revenues.

Brazil’s Petrobras and Mexico’s Pemex also formed a strategic alliance last year. While Petrobras is a leading expert in deep and ultra-deepwater oil drilling— a technology Mexico lacks— Pemex is expert at deepwater gas exploration.

In any case, the AP seems to have misinformed us about the real purposes for building Brazil's nuclear submarine, as well as plans for building more.

Submarines are always silent and strange.



At 02 September, 2008 15:52, Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

The Brazilian Navy has had nuclear power submarine ambitions for the past thirty years. I was aboard USS GATO (SSN615) during the 1977 UNITAS run and we hosted two Brazilian officers for an underway run. One stated that he expected to be the CO of Brazil's first nuclear submarine in 1980. I suspect that he retired from the Brazilian Navy without fulfulling that ambition but it does indicate the desire of the South American country to have a nuclear submarine for a long time.

At 02 September, 2008 22:17, Blogger Vigilis said...

Thanks for adding your interesting comment, wtfnucsailor.

At 05 September, 2008 19:17, Blogger Jay said...

In a world where the submarine is the capital ship of choice for emerging and developing nations, the nuclear submarine is the sine qua non of capital ships.

The Brazilians expect to spend $3B on their first nuclear submarine, no word on whether they have a goal to ultimately get these under $2B each :)

I say, welcome to the club, let's keep these guys as allies.

At 21 March, 2009 20:41, Blogger claudioml78 said...

The AP report simply quoted a comment by the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, Nelson Jobim, who was clearly trying it to justify the need for a Nuclear Sub by tying it to an issue that had gained a lot of public attention (the oil finds) - even if that didn´t make any sense in military terms.


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