Brazil’s submarines are seen as a key part of the country’s new national armaments and defense strategy, which was released on Dec 18/08. It places a higher priority on protection of Brazil’s offshore energy reserves, and sees submarines as key players in that effort. The experience of the 1982 Falklands War, in which Argentina’s entire fleet was kept in port by Britain’s nuclear fast attack boat HMS Conqueror, is often cited as instructive.
In 2008, Brazil and France signed an agreement to build 4 diesel-electric submarines (SSK), and provide assistance in developing and fielding the non-nuclear parts of 1 nuclear fast attack submarine (SSN). Key specifics, such as the presence or absence of SSK Air Independent Propulsion technologies, have yet to be made public, but the terms of the agreement leave the possibility open. Reports regarding the submarine deal’s value have varied, but the budget is now set at almost EUR 7 billion. Financing now appears to be in place, and recent releases explain the budgets, the timing, and some of the key players in Brazil’s Prosub program.
Brazil is not alone in looking to modernize its submarine fleet. On the west side of the continent, Chile now fields DCNS’ new SSK Scorpene class as the O’Higgins class. Brazil’s neighbor Venezuela is also looking to boost its sub fleet, but plans to use Russia’s SSK Kilo Class instead. Brazil currently fields 5 U209 derivatives, as its SSK Tupi and SSK Tikuna Classes.
Brazil’s first 4 new diesel-electric submarines will be variants of the CM-2000 French/Spanish Scorpene design, which has also been sold to Chile (O’Higgins class), India, and Malaysia (Tunku Abdul Rahman class). The stretched AM-2000 Scorpene ordered by India can use French MESMA air-independent propulsion (AIP), allowing the submarines to remain underwater longer without coming up to snorkel air into their diesel engines. Surface and near-surface steaming is always the most vulnerable period for a submarine, which can be spotted by radar and other surface surveillance techniques.
The level of Brazilian technology inserts and development work, as opposed to license construction and technology transfer, was not announced when the deal was signed, as it needed to be fleshed out during the design phase. Mercopress reports in 2010 suggest that the Brazilian submarines will be about 5m longer compared to other Scorpenes, with another 100 tonnes displacement. The Scorpene’s AIP section adds 8.3m and 305 tonnes, so if Mercopress is correct, the added size is not related to any decision re: AIP.
Expected Scorpene costs are currently EUR 415 million (currently about $592 million) per boat, and the level of customization required will determine the project’s overall risk profile. This is similar to India’s budget of about $3.5 billion for an even mix of 3 CM-2000 and 3 AM-2000 Scorpene submarines, or $583 million or so per boat. The 1st diesel-electric sub will begin construction in 2011, with an expected in-service date of 2015; submarines #2-4 will enter service in 2017, 2019, and 2021.
Brazil’s MDD initally saw the nuclear-powered submarine as a far larger boat, at 6,000t compared to the diesel-electric boats’ 1,400-1,800 tonnes. By 2013, a Marinha do Brazil tech center submarine design that used Brazil’s 2131-R Pressurized Water Reactor was expected to weigh in at 4,000t submerged. The model showed the 2131-R reactor positioned amidships, with 8 torpedo tubes at the front. Printed literature showed a 2nd design that traded 6 vertical launch tubes for 6 of the torpedo tubes.
Even 4,000t is significantly larger than France’s existing SSN Rubis Amethyste class fast attack boats, which weigh in at around 2,730t submerged. Some of this can be accounted for by the need for more space, in order to accommodate larger early-stage nuclear propulsion systems. Even so, the famous USS Nautilus managed to displace only 3,500 tons. Since nuclear weapons are specifically prohibited by Brazil’s current constitution, however, a large SSN fast attack vessel is almost certainly the goal. A 4,000t vessel would fit somewhere between the Rubis Amethyte boats, and France’s new 5,300t SSN Barracuda class
Construction of Brazil’s nuclear boat is expected to begin in 2015, and it’s expected to enter service in 2021. Cost for the submarine is pegged at about EUR 2 billion, with EUR 1.25 billion assigned to Brazil’s indigenous Project Aramar nuclear propulsion/ power program. DCNS’ role involves assistance with hull technology and construction, and with non-nuclear internal technologies.
Finally, Brazil aims to set up improved naval construction facilities and a base capable of handling nuclear submarines at Itaguai, a port just south of Rio. Brazil’s U209 submarines are currently based out of Rio de Janeiro, but that densely populated city offers too many technical and environmental issues to host nuclear-powered submarines. These construction projects are expected to cost EUR 1.868 billion (6.9 billion Reals). The nuclear submarine base will be built by the Sociedade de Proposito Especifico, or SPE consortium, which includes Brazil’s Odebrecht (50%), France’s DCNS (49%) and the Brazilian Navy (1% “golden share,” with veto power).
Brazil announced in October 2012 the names of its future submarines:
* Riachuelo (S40) – lead ship, laid down in 2010, delivery expected in 2015 and commissioning in 2017
* Humaitá (S41) – laid down in 2013, to be commissioned in 2018
* Tonelero (S42) – to be commissioned in 2020
* Angostura (S43) – to be commissioned in 2021
* Álvaro Alberto (SN-BR 10)
Contracts and Key Events
The submarines will be built by Itaguai Construcoes Navais, a joint venture with an initial capital of 10 million reals that will be responsible for management control. Odebrecht has a 59% interest, and DCNS the remaining 41%.
Dec 12/14: Infrastructure. President Dilma Rousseff inaugurates the main building of the construction shipyard in Itaguai, which is big enough that 2 submarines can eventually be assembled in parallel there.
Sources: Brazilian government, DCNS.
Feb 10/14: Infrastructure. DCNS commissioned a new integration facility in Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer near Toulon is southern France. It will be used to test data processing combat systems before they’re shipped to Brazil to be installed on board their SSKs. The company says about 20 Brazilians will receive training in combat system design and integration in 2014/15, as part of knowledge transfer agreements that Brazil was adamant about.
April 9/13: Mock-up. The Brazilian Navy’s stand at LAAD 2013 includes an actual size combustion element for their proposed 2131-R Pressurized Water Reactor nuclear design, and 2 models of their proposed SN-Br nuclear submarine. Shephard was told that the reactor design had help from France, but that the reactor itself would be built in Brazil at a later date.
The model from the Marinha do Brazil’s Sao Paulo tech center showed the 2131-R reactor positioned amidships, with 8 torpedo tubes at the front. Printed literature showed a 2nd design that traded 6 vertical launch tubes for 6 of the torpedo tubes. Tonnage is less than the original 6,000t estimate, and is now expected to be closer to 4,000t. Which is still a large submarine, even if it’s relatively small by SSN/SSBN standards. Shephard Media.
April 18/12: Sub-contractors. DCNS signs a major partnership agreement with Brazil’s Progen consulting engineering and service company, based in Sao Paulo. This partnership will give Progen a key role in both sourcing local firms to perform work on Brazil’s Prosub program, and monitoring their quality. DCNS also has an eye to upcoming naval competitions for Brazilian surface vessels:
“More specifically, DCNS and Progen plan to expand local purchasing for the Brazilian Navy’s other surface vessel programmes.”
Dec 7/11: 1st join. DCNS begins joining sections for Brazil’s 1st Scorpene submarine. The resulting 200t Section 3 & 4 assembly will be about 6m in diameter and 24m long, and will hold the operations center, the torpedo room, and on-board utilities. During the first half of 2012 the tanks and large structures will be added to this hull, as well as the bridge fin, the ballast tanks, the access trunk and the fresh air induction cupola.
Brazilian welders are working in Cherbourg alongside their French counterparts. DCNS has hosted 115 trainees since the beginning of the contract, and the current roster is 36. DCNS.
July 16/11: 1st cut. The DCNS/ Odebrecht joint venture ICN (Itaguai Construcoes Navais), launches construction of their 1st Scorpene submarine with a ‘first cut’ ceremony in Itaguaí, Brazil. Journal do Brazil [in Portuguese] | Colombia’s Terra [in Spanish] | UK’s Telegraph.
Nov 22/10: A Mercopress article fits the Scorpene and SSN projects into a larger context.
“The Brazilian navy is planning to build and incorporate in the next  decades a fleet of six nuclear powered and 20 conventional submersibles (15 new and five refurbished)… Conventional submarines will be built in two lots with a first batch of 15 new ones, of which four of them will be a reformed version of the French Scorpion with an additional 100 tons displacement and five metres longer. The other five includes the current five [SSK Tupi and SSK Tikuna Class] submersibles that will be refurbished. The first [Scorpene] is scheduled to be delivered in the second half of 2016 and the rest in the period extending to 2021.”
With respect to the nuclear submarine program, control of the entire uranium enrichment process is step 1. Uranium gas has reportedly begun trials at a $130 million plant in Iperó, and full production capacity is reported as 40 tonnes.
May 27/10: DCNS begins cutting steel for the Brazilian Navy’s new diesel-electric submarines at its Cherbourg facility. The forward half of the vessel will be built at the Cherbourg centre, while the after section will be built in Brazil. Submarines 2-4 will be built entirely in Brazil. DCNS.
Sept 2/09: Budget approval. Brazil’s Ministerio Do Defesa announces [in Portuguese] Senate approval of the long term budgets for Brazil’s helicopter and submarine programs. The Prosub program’s budget is EUR 6.79 billion (about $19 billion Reals, or $9.7 billion) and runs from 2009-2024. EUR 4.324 billion of this total will be paid for with 20-year financing from BNP Paribas S.A, Societe Generale, Calyon S.A. Credit Industriel et Commercial, Natixis, and Banco Santander.
The announcement confirms that the diesel-electric submarines will be modified Scorpene class boats, with technology inserts and work for over 30 Brazilian firms. Brazilian manufacturers of technologies like advanced valves, pumps, water and air purification, etc. can be expected to see especial benefits. The nuclear-powered submarines will be far larger, at 6,000t compared to the diesel-electric boats’ 1,400-1,800 tonnes. France will transfer the technology necessary for submarine design and construction, as well as design and construction of the shipyard and naval base – but not nuclear propulsion technologies. Brazil’s Ministerio Do Defesa [in Portuguese] | MDD on JV Agreement [in Portuguese] | DCNS release | MercoPress | MercoPress re: France’s consolidation as naval supplier.
Aug 25/09: Venezuela’s Latin American Herald Tribune cites the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, and reports that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has approved a strategic plan for the defense of the Amazon and Brazil’s offshore oil fields that includes the 5-submarine project, along with military and procurement reorganizations, and the restoration of Brazil’s arms industry. The proposal will now be submitted to Congress, Brazilian media reported.
July 21/09: Sub-contractors. France’s state-owned DCNS Group (DCNS) acquires a stake in Itaguai Construcoes Navais SA, which will build military naval vessels (at present, submarines). Source.
April 16/09: Financing. Forecast International relays a Defense News report, which says that financing is secure based on “an authorized French source” at the 2009 at the Latin American Aerospace and Defense Show. BNP Paribas, the leading lender in the deal, reportedly asked for a state-backed guarantee from the French, who provided the guarantee through the export credit agency COFACE. That covers 70% of the total, with the other 30% reportedly coming from the Brazilian government.
The report also claims that the deal involves 4 Scorpene Class submarines, and that the total value is $8.8 billion. On the other hand, earlier reports had placed the deal’s value at a similar number of Brazilian Reals, not dollars, and the selection of the Scorpene Class has yet to be confirmed in official releases.
Feb 26/09: Financing. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo reports that Brazil is seeking 8.5 billion reals (about $3.6 billion) to build 1 nuclear-powered and 4 diesel-electric fast attack submarines. The report also cites unidentified navy officials, who say that the global credit crunch may jeopardize the financing required to execute that deal. Bloomberg News.
Dec 22/08: Contract. The purchase agreement is announced. While reports point to DCNS’s Scorpene Class as the conventional submarines, additional details in DCNS’ delayed release may contradict this:
“DCNS will act as prime contractor for four conventional-propulsion submarines to be built by the Joint Venture that will be set up by DCNS and Brazilian partner Odebrecht. The submarines will be designed in cooperation with Brazilian teams under DCNS design authority to meet the Brazilian Navy’s specific needs: They will be ideally suited to the protection and defence of the country’s 8,500 km coast. The first submarine is scheduled to enter active service in 2015. DCNS will produce key advanced-technology equipment in its own plants.”
It is not uncommon for joint ventures of this sort to build an established design with some local electronics et. al. swapped in, or to begin with an existing design on the way to a new ship class. A DCNS joint venture with India is already building Scorpene Class boats, for instance, while Singapore’s Formidable Class stealth frigates are one of several ship classes around the world based on DCNS’ LaFayette Class.
DCNS will also provide design assistance to build “all portions of Brazil’s new SSN class, except for the nuclear plant.” The key question will be how much commonality Brazil’s new SSN and SSK boats will share. If commonality is desired, DCNS has an obvious option at hand – and it is not the Scorpene. France’s current Rubis Amethyste class SSNs are scheduled for replacement by the forthcoming Barracuda class, but the design has already been converted to a conventional counterpart in the Turquoise class diesel-electric submarine. Using the Amethyste/Turquoise design as a base would allow Brazilian sailors to train on existing French nuclear vessels, while delivering a proven nuclear design, and providing the first export orders for the Turquoise class.
The third component of the deal involves “prime contractor assistance to Odebrecht,” as they build the shipyard that will build all 5 submarines and a naval base for the Brazilian Navy. French government | DCNS | AP | Bloomberg | Reuters UK
Dec 18/08: Brazil releases its national defense strategy, which calls for greater surveillance capabilities over the amazon, protection of its deepwater offshore oil reserves, and the rejuvenation of its defense industrial base. AP report | Estrategia Nacional de Defesa [Portuguese]
* Brazil – Estrategia Nacional de Defesa [Portuguese]
* Click Macae (July 19/09) – Naval Industry, the new strength of Rio de Janeiro state economy. Including Itaguai.
* US Naval Institute Proceedings (June 2009) – Why Does Brazil Need Nuclear Submarines? An in-depth look at various rationales by former U.S. Ambassador and US Navy veteran Paul D. Taylor, who is currently a senior strategic researcher in the U.S. Naval War College’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies.
* Reuters UK, via Key Publishing (Oct 11/08) – Experts say Brazil-France defence pact wrong choice. Arguments made concerning the logic of nuclear submarines.
* DID (Jan 17/08) – Brazil Seeks Sub Fleet Combat System Upgrades. For its existing U209-1400 Tupi/Tikuna class.
* Naval Technology – French/Spanish Scorpene design