Investments in strategic naval programs strengthen Brazil’s defense at sea
By First Lieutenant (RM2-T) Daniela Meireles – Brasília, DF
More than two centuries have passed since the Brazilian Pavilion was first raised on the mast of a warship. If today the country’s fleet has 99 naval assets, including ships, submarines and aircraft, it was made up of just six ships when it was created on November 10, 1822. At that time, the main challenge was to maintain Brazil’s territorial integrity after its independence was declared. The missions are now different, but the need for a modern Naval Force ready to act remains.
“The Imperial Squadron was born and went into combat in the War of Independence, which our history does little to highlight, leaving the current perception that Independence was won by shouting. In fact, only São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais joined immediately. The rest of the country had to be compelled to do so, in a war that lasted more than a year,” emphasizes Rear Admiral Guilherme Mattos de Abreu, one of the organizers of the book “Esquadra 200 anos: livro de quartos 1822-2022”, published by Letras Marítimas.
That flag, hoisted aboard the ship “Martim de Freitas”, renamed “Pedro I”, the first flagship of the Brazilian Squadron, symbolized its creation exactly 201 years ago. At the time, the first Brazilian to hold the position of Minister of the Navy, Captain of Sea and War Luís da Cunha Moreira, made an effort to organize the country’s Naval Force, incorporating Portuguese ships abandoned in national ports, recovered by the Court’s Navy Arsenal, and hiring European sailors, demobilized at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Since then, Brazil has rarely been involved in battles of such proportions. Among those that stand out are the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) and the First and Second World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), as well as the little-known Lobster War (1961-1963), a crisis between the governments of Brazil and France over unauthorized fishing by French ships in the Brazilian territorial sea. Although diplomacy is the country’s main alternative for resolving conflicts, the Navy and its Fleet continue to defend the nation’s interests at sea.
In 1923, Captain Lawrence M. Overstreet of the US Navy asked: “Will the reduction of naval armaments reduce the probability of war?”. According to the Commander, whose article was reproduced in this month’s Revista Marítima Brasileira, the United States’ decision to deactivate its Navy after independence in 1776 compromised the country’s ability to protect its merchant ships from pirate attacks in the Mediterranean and from the French during the Napoleonic Wars.
“The Navy has already experienced problems similar to those exposed by Overstreet, considering the Squadron’s degree of readiness. It was exclusively ocean-going when the War of the Triple Alliance began, a typically riverine campaign, which required rapid adaptation, with the acquisition of new means,” says Rear Admiral Guilherme Mattos, adding that Brazil experienced the same difficulty during the World Wars, due to the lack of resources at the time. “Although the ships were relatively new, they were already obsolete due to the rapid technological evolution.”
Has Brazil learned from the past?
Over the last ten years, Brazil has spent an average of 1.32% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense, while other developing countries continue to make progress, such as India (2.4%), Colombia (3%) and Chile (1.8%).
The Senate is currently working on a proposal to amend article 166 of the Federal Constitution, which aims to establish a minimum annual budget of 2% of GDP for national defense actions and services. The document conditions 35% of the Ministry of Defence’s discretionary expenses, i.e. those that are not obligatory, for the planning and execution of strategic projects, prioritizing the national industry. It also includes a transition rule, so that the amount gradually increases until it reaches its level.
The text of the PEC, as presented by Senator Carlos Portinho, observes the gradual percentage increase (0.1%/year) and is in line with the current geopolitical scenario, which has encouraged large and medium-sized powers to increase their investments to renew their Defense systems.
The PEC justifies the proposal with data from the World Bank, which showed the global average investment in military spending last year was 2.3% of GDP. It also compares Brazil’s investments with other Latin American countries: “Thus, Brazilian spending in 2022, considered as a percentage of GDP, was lower than Peru’s (1.2%), Bolivia’s (1.5%), Chile’s (1.8%), Uruguay’s (1.9%), Ecuador’s (2.2%) and Colombia’s (3.0%).”
“An immediate vision can cover up or attenuate the perception of threats and their associated risks and influence the allocation of defense resources, reducing this priority. This reality is dangerous and has serious consequences. The presence of extra-regional powers in Brazil’s strategic environment should be a cause for concern. The existence of cooperation and partnerships between these powers and the countries around us generates the need for constant assessment of the geopolitical scenario, including, in this analysis, the Force’s own deterrent capacity,” says the Commander of the Navy, Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen.
Part of the investment in national defense goes to the Naval Force’s strategic programs, which include the renewal of the Squadron’s resources. The Navy’s Submarine Program (PROSUB), for example, took another important step towards building the first Conventionally Armed Nuclear-Propelled Submarine (SCPN) “Álvaro Alberto”. In October, the qualification of the shipyard that will be responsible for getting the project off the ground began. The assembly of the fourth diesel-electric submarine – the “Angostura” – is being finalized.
In the coming years, one of the challenges for the Submarine Force will be to prepare the military personnel who will operate the SCPN “Álvaro Alberto”. “This challenge will be proportional to the first immersion aboard the F 1 in Italy in 1913 where Brazilians, led by our patron Frigate Captain Felinto Perry, began our journey,” says the Commander of the Navy’s Submarine Force, Rear Admiral Manoel Luiz Pavão Barroso.
This year, the Navy also kicked off the construction of the “Tamandaré” Class Frigate Program’s escort ships. At least 30% of the production of the first unit is national and this percentage should gradually increase from the second, increasing the country’s scientific and technological independence. The four new frigates are expected to start operating in the Fleet between 2025 and 2029, strengthening the power of deterrence, projection of force and denial of the use of the sea under Brazil’s jurisdiction, also known as the Blue Amazon, against national interests.
In order to boost the firepower of Brazilian ships, in the first half of this year the Naval Force carried out another qualification test of the National Anti-Surface Ship Missile (MANSUP), which is part of the program of the same name and is to be fitted to the “Tamandaré” class frigates. It is an armament developed with 100% national technology, which can reach transonic speed – close to the speed of sound – with a range of around 70 kilometers, flight at seaskimming altitude – close to the sea – and operation under any weather conditions.
In another move to expand the capabilities of the Squadron’s resources, last year the Navy activated the 1st Remotely Piloted Aircraft Squadron (EsqdQE-1), which uses the RQ-1 ScanEagle model. They have an integrated communications system with a range of more than 100 kilometers, a flight autonomy of more than 20 hours, a maximum speed of 150km/h and are used in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, including at night.
“War squadrons are not conjured up on the spur of the moment”
The strategic programs aimed at increasing the Squadron’s naval, air and marines capabilities have long-term development in common. PROSUB was created in 2008, although the Force’s efforts to develop nuclear-powered submarines began in the 1970s. MANSUP began to be designed in 2011, the feasibility of remotely piloted aircraft was studied in 2012 and the “Tamandaré” Class Frigate Program was conceived in 2017.
They demonstrate the Navy’s anticipation of defense needs, practicing the maxim of the jurist Ruy Barbosa, in his 1896 work “Letters from England”: “War squadrons are not conjured up on the spur of the moment, nor are they wedged between difficulties by ingenious inventions of the moment. With the current advances in artillery, mechanics and shipbuilding, we can establish the axiom that only ships specially built for combat are useful in war.”
The Navy is not only concerned with acquiring new assets, but also with maintaining those that are already in operation. This is the case with the Multipurpose Aerodrome Ship (NAM) “Atlântico”, the largest of the Squadron and its flagship, which is due to receive new hardware and software upgrades in the UK. The Navy giant will also have its command and control system optimized by the end of 2024, with the installation of an additional console for this purpose, according to budget forecasts.
Training as if at war
“Training and modernization require careful planning and a financial flow to support the operational costs of the ships and those of preparing and training the crews. The challenges are diverse, as they demand rationalization and prioritization in the use of the resources made available, as well as efficient application, which makes it possible to achieve the objective of keeping the assets ready to carry out their missions,” comments the Commander of the Navy’s Surface Force, Rear Admiral Rudicley Cantarin.
Meanwhile, the Squadron’s participation in international exercises such as “GUINEX”, “UNITAS” and “Fraterno”, carried out in conjunction with other navies, helps to maintain the constant preparation of resources and military personnel and to promote a greater MB presence in Brazil’s strategic environment, as well as strengthening ties with friendly nations in support of foreign policy. On these occasions, the exchange of information and knowledge and the prospect of cooperation in combating illicit activities such as arms, drug and human trafficking, illegal fishing and environmental crimes in the South Atlantic are favored.
They are also opportunities for training between the different Fleet assets and with assets from the other Armed Forces, increasing their integration. “This effort is perennial and requires detailed coordination between the various levels of the Naval Power. Maintaining well-trained and up-to-date crews is crucial for operational effectiveness,” says the Commander of the Navy’s Air and Naval Force, Rear Admiral Emerson Gaio Roberto.
The Fleet’s main commissions this year
In 2023 alone, the operational assets took part in various commissions in Brazil’s strategic environment, such as “UNITAS LXIV”, the world’s oldest multinational exercise, which took place in July and had the Colombian Navy as this year’s host; “CAMEX Delta do Amazonas”, held in August, to benefit the security actions of the Amazon Summit; and “Fraterno XXXVI”, in the same month, the purpose of which was to expand interoperability and strengthen cooperation with the Argentine Navy.
There was also “GUINEX III”, which included training at sea on the west coast of the African continent, with African and European navies; Operation “Shelter by the Sea”, which brought medical support and donations to residents of São Sebastião (SP) affected by the heavy rains in February; as well as “ASPIRANTEX”, “ADEREX”, “TROPICALEX”, “UANFEX”, to prepare crews and resources, all along the country’s coastline.
For those who believe that there are currently no threats to Brazil’s interests at sea, an incident in May of this year proves otherwise. During a Naval Patrol, the Frigate “Independência” prevented a German-flagged ship from collecting samples of the marine subsoil in the region of the Rio Grande Rise (RS), for scientific research purposes. The region is the exclusive territory of Brazil, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Fortunately, South America is one of the most stable regions in the world in recent history. However, the continent and its surroundings are very rich, which demands attention. As the largest country and the largest economy in Latin America, it is natural that its size brings responsibilities that it cannot shirk,” warns Rear Admiral Guilherme Mattos, for whom the country should invest more in defense in the face of such a scenario. “You can’t wait for a serious situation to arise before preparing an armed force,” he argues.
Read on for an interview with the Fleet’s Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Edgar Luiz Siqueira Barbosa:
What are the challenges for the Brazilian Fleet to remain ready and modern?
With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western societies imagined that they would finally have a long period of peace. These years of tranquillity were responsible for propagating a false perception that conflicts were a thing of the past, restricted to the history books. It seemed possible, therefore, to review investments in the Armed Forces, reducing the number of personnel, the inventory of means and, ultimately, their combat capabilities. Unfortunately, this perception proved to be wrong. Globalization has enabled the proliferation of so-called “new threats”, such as piracy, transnational crime and environmental problems. And recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has shown that confrontations between states can occur whenever national interests are at odds. In this context, the Brazilian Fleet has sought to develop capabilities to act against these new threats, but without losing its vocation to fight at sea. Thus, we seek to ensure national interests over the rich and extensive maritime area of national jurisdiction, with 5.7 million square kilometers, another Amazon due to its size and wealth, which we call the “Blue Amazon”. At the same time, we seek to maintain the capacity to be the first line of national defense, preventing any adverse naval forces from projecting power over the Brazilian coastline. This is one of the great challenges currently facing the Fleet. Obviously, the development and maintenance of these capabilities requires major financial resources that are compatible with the political and economic stature that Brazil proposes to occupy on a global level. As the Commander of the Navy has warned, the Naval Force could lose 40% of its ships in five years, and urgent investment is needed to guarantee national sovereignty.
What threats or possible threats does Brazil currently face that require a ready and modern Fleet?
Brazil’s riches have been the target of international greed since its discovery and, whenever the interests of foreign powers are irreconcilable with national ones, our sovereignty can be threatened. We therefore need a Fleet that is capable of deterring hostile intentions against Brazil, forcing any challengers to seek negotiated solutions rather than those involving the use of force. Today, as far as foreign state enemies are concerned, we live in a period of tranquillity, but this situation can change rapidly in periods of scarcity. In addition, given Brazil’s maritime vocation and the high potential for living and non-living resources in our “Blue Amazon”, the unauthorized exploration and exploitation of our riches constitutes a credible threat that affects our sovereignty, and is materialized by cross-border crimes in our maritime areas. These activities encompass various types of illicit activities, such as piracy, arms, drug and human trafficking, illegal fishing and environmental crimes in our Jurisdictional Waters, making it clear that the Naval Force needs to expand its monitoring, control and rapid response capabilities.
How has the Navy sought to expand its capabilities and renew some ships that are already entering the final phase of their useful life?
Establishing the useful life of a ship involves several variables and can be extended due to maintenance and modernization periods. Therefore, although they have an old hull, a ship’s service life can be extended by updating propulsion systems and, above all, combat systems, replacing sensors and armaments with state-of-the-art ones.
Despite the scarcity of resources, the Navy has been seeking to expand its combat capabilities. In this regard, the following stand out: the Submarine Development Program (PROSUB), which delivered the Riachuelo Submarine, fully operational and integrated into the Fleet, with the Humaitá Submarine scheduled for delivery in January 2024 and two more in the coming years; and the start of construction of the Tamandaré Class Frigates, which will provide the Fleet with modern and capable surface assets, with delivery scheduled for 2025 onwards. In addition to these two important initiatives, the Commander of the Navy has sought to present the needs to Brazilian governments, seeking to increase the volume of financial resources allocated to the Naval Force, in order to allow the continuation of the Strategic Programs and their respective re-equipment. At the same time, while new assets are not being incorporated, the Fleet has sought to maintain the full capacity of its current assets, complying with a Planned Maintenance System, carrying out major repairs, including the General Maintenance Period for the Defensora Frigate, completed in 2022, and the Barroso Corvette, which is scheduled for completion in the second half of 2024.
Does the Fleet have sufficient resources to deal with possible threats to the country?
Currently, our Fleet has a total of 97 assets, excluding the School Ship Brasil (U27) and the Sailing Ship Cisne Branco (U20), including 19 surface ships, 3 submarines and 75 aircraft. This quantity is not enough for the Fleet to deal with today’s possible threats, especially if this analysis is combined with the size of our Blue Amazon.
In addition, it is important to emphasize that, apart from the quantity of resources available, the updating and maintenance of the capabilities embarked on each ship, submarine and aircraft available must be adequate to meet the country’s strategic interests, constituting a dissuasive factor against existing threats.
On the social networks, we see some comments questioning the real need to invest in the Armed Forces, given that Brazil’s foreign policy favors diplomacy, and comparing it to the needs of other sectors, which would be more urgent, according to these same comments. Why should the country invest in the renewal and quantity of its Fleet?
A country of Brazil’s territorial dimensions and population size is destined to be a protagonist in the context of nations. In this sense, all expressions of National Power must advance together and in balance. Diplomacy, without the support of a credible military power, is inefficient, and the naval forces have a traditional role in supporting foreign policy, by contributing to the establishment of strategic partnerships, strengthening the authority of the state and projecting the country on the international stage. In addition, investment in the Fleet increases the national capacity to protect its wealth, the correct exploitation of which can contribute to meeting other demands from society. In addition, the construction of naval assets generates direct and indirect jobs, with important social impacts for the country. It is estimated that the strategic program for the Tamandaré-class frigates will create 2,000 direct jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs. Finally, it should be noted that the Fleet’s assets are dual in nature, designed to be used in combat, but they can also be used in benign activities, such as supporting the actions of the State, as is regularly the case in environmental disasters and public calamities, as well as taking part in Law and Order operations.
What is the strategic importance for Brazil of building its Fleet’s naval and aeronautical assets in-house, using national technology?
In strategic terms, no longer depending on foreign technology means having the confidence that, in an eventual conflict, we would maintain the full capacity of our sensors and armaments, guaranteeing the exploitation of our combat power at the highest level. In the Falklands War, for example, the French government interrupted the supply of Exocet anti-ship missiles to the Argentine Navy, its most effective weapon, directly interfering in the outcome of the conflict. In addition, investment in national technology also makes procurement and maintenance less costly, enabling indirect returns that could be reapplied to the Force or other government sectors. In this sense, there are academic studies that prove that every R$1.00 invested in the defense industry generates approximately R$9.80 in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Finally, the development of national technologies for military use has an “overflow” effect, enabling the development of important capabilities for civilian use, through dual-use technologies.
How many Fleet assets have been built in Brazil so far?
Several Fleet assets have been built in Brazil: four Niterói Class Frigates, four Inhaúma Class Corvettes, the Barroso Corvette, the Almirante Gastão Motta Tanker, and the Tikuna and Riachuelo Submarines.
It is very difficult for a naval vessel to have 100% national technology. However, the Brazilian Navy has been making efforts to ensure that construction always seeks to increase the percentage of nationalization and guarantee the transfer of technology. Whenever possible, construction should also take place in the country, in partnership with a local shipyard, as is the case with the Riachuelo Class Submarines and the Tamandaré Class Frigates (FCT), in order to promote jobs in the country itself.
What is missing for the country to be able to build its own naval and aeronautical assets using national technology?
Brazil has the capacity to build its own naval assets, but the way to increase the rate of nationalization is to foster the Defence Industrial Base (BID), so that appropriate incentives encourage national companies to invest in the defence sector and thus be able to abandon our foreign dependence in this strategic area of vital importance to the Brazilian state. To this end, we must seek to align the various expressions of national power, in order to incorporate technologies with national content for dual use, with relevant prospects for generating and sustaining direct and indirect jobs, allowing Brazilian society to realize the importance of fully obtaining this capability.
Recently, representatives of the Brazilian Navy were in the United Arab Emirates visiting the Edge Group, one of the world’s largest defense industry conglomerates, to learn about new weapons and equipment technologies, including remotely piloted aircraft. Brazil currently has one unit. Are there any plans, and if so, what would they be, to acquire this type of aircraft for the Brazilian Fleet?
The Fleet has six SARP-E RQ-1 “Scan Eagle” Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The Navy’s Aeronautics Directorate is developing studies for the acquisition and implementation of other SARP models.
With regard to the development of armaments for Brazilian naval assets and submarines, what is their current status? Are there plans to modernize them and, if so, how?
Despite the advanced age of some assets, their weapons systems have performed satisfactorily, as demonstrated in regular Weapons Launch exercises. When it comes to developing new systems, the MANSUP project stands out, under the management of the Navy’s Weapons System Directorate, which seeks to develop a long-range cruise missile to be used against ships.
With regard to the construction/acquisition of new naval and air assets, are there qualified personnel to operate them? How are they qualified?
All projects for the construction/acquisition of naval and aerial assets have agreements for the training of crews and maintainers, and involve courses and training by the manufacturers and suppliers of the equipment. In the specific case of the Tamandaré-class frigates, MB has already selected the first crew, maintainers and instructors and will begin their training in early 2024.
What are the main illegal activities curbed by the Fleet?
In April of this year, we carried out a naval patrol with the Frigate Independência and, in this action, the foreign ship (flying the German flag) was ordered to cease its subsoil research activities in the area of the Rio Grande Rise, as it did not have authorization from our government to carry out such research. The organic aircraft embarked on the Frigata Independência was also used to record images of the research device that would be used to collect the aforementioned samples from the subsoil. Immediately, the foreign ship ended its research activities in the Rio Grande Rise, a region located more than 800 km off the Brazilian coast.
Participation in international exercises is aligned with the importance of the South Atlantic as a priority area in our strategic environment, and it is essential to control maritime access to Brazil and to have an ostensible presence in this maritime space. With this in mind, the MB carried out Operation GUINEX-III between August 8 and October 12, 2023, with the aim of strengthening relations with the navies of the countries on the west coast of Africa, as well as contributing to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, which is part of our strategic environment. This operation also aimed to strengthen the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone (ZOPACAS), which is a forum for promoting cooperation between the South Atlantic coastal countries. The frigate Liberal visited ports in countries on the west coast of Africa, such as São Tomé and Príncipe, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Cape Verde. However, it has also operated with the navies of Togo, Spain and Portugal.
Source: Agência Marinha de Notícias *** Translated by DEFCONPress FYI Team ***