Brazil, a developing country whose global strategy is strictly defensive, in accordance with its Constitution, has a very peculiar geopolitical status. Brazil’s geographic size stands out in comparison with any other American country, including the United States of America, if one does not consider Alaska. Its economy, while rapidly recovering, has the great advantage of being propelled by a large variety of natural resources, including strategic ones. Combined with an expressive work force, it represents a huge legacy, still in the process of being exploited to its full extent by the Brazilian people.
Brazil occupies a highly strategic position in relation to the South Atlantic Ocean and Africa, and the corresponding sea lanes as we could observe during both World Wars, the Cold War period and more recently in the Falklands conflict.
The Brazilian Constitution states that National Security, expressed through the foundations of sovereignty and territorial integrity, is the unique responsibility of the Armed Forces.
One of the Brazilian Navy’s tasks is to provide close and stand- off defense of our territory, including not only vital coastal areas, but also the protection of our Merchant Fleet in vital shipping lanes, especially those converging in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The more a nation trusts its military power, the more attractive becomes the diplomatic solution for its opponent. On the other hand, the lack of this military power will lead to a strategic vacuum that someone could ultimately occupy.
If we add to these concerns the need for protection of the long Brazilian coastline, including those vital coastal areas where the Brazilian seabed provides the strategic resources from oil and gas to a vast variety of sea life, and the future’s need for food, we see that such maritime interests demand a first class Navy and Coast Guard, not affordable nowadays with a developing country’s national budget.
Therefore, due to Brazil’s current economic, social and technological constraints, it is totally impossible to acquire all the requisite naval forces to defend the nation against any potential aggressor coming from the sea.
Navy surface forces are vulnerable to satellite surveillance, but that new technology is not yet available to Latin American countries. In addition, operating surface naval forces for relatively long deployments is also extremely expensive.
Consequently, the prevailing strategy is to provide the Navy the proper means for defense, with enough offensive capacity to impose on a potential enemy considerable and meaningful costs for military aggression. This is the avenue taken instead of acquiring the required naval power to defeat any opponent. This option also prevents conflict, through the dissuasion of offensive or military pressure, thus promoting peaceful and long term solutions for disputes.
Based upon this strategic concept, the Brazilian Navy has opted for having a relatively small force, modernly designed, with quality prevailing over quantity, in order to ensure a response of high risk to any military aggression carried out by any potential enemy.
Going a little farther into this naval strategy, which aims to optimize the desired effect through the use of scarce but effective means, the submarine was found to be, within the scope of the naval warfare, the weapon of excellence for the weakest contender. This was historically proven in both World Wars, in the case of Germany against Great Britain and the former Soviet Union against the United States in the beginning of the so-called Cold War.
Thanks to their concealment capability, submarines provoke uncertainty, compelling the opponent to employ a vast amount of naval means to face a single submarine threat. Yet, the chances of blind detection are minor. It becomes obvious that on a cost/benefit ratio comparison, the submarine is extremely advantageous for it is able to deny the dominion and the use of the sea to a highly superior enemy. Therefore this underwater weapon is tailored to impose on the adversary a very high risk, thus strongly contributing to prevention of possible conflicts.
The use of conventional submarines only, however, restricts the tactical advantage of the submarine to a very stationery local scenario. One must take into consideration the area to be covered by a submarine in the open ocean, the capability of approaching the detected surface target in order to reach a desirable weapon envelope for firing, and also to maintain undetectability considering the modern high resolution compressed pulse surface and airborne radars. These factors demand a large submarine fleet for maximum patrol coverage. The dependence of a diesel boat on oxygen, not only to run its engines submerged, but also to renew the atmosphere onboard, together with the need to raise other masts for surface surveillance and communication presents quite a serious tactical constraint.
New technologies provide high performance batteries and new propulsion plants, as well as new communication resources that diminish the tactical exposure to surface sensors. The nuclear submarine, due to its strategic mobility and freedom from the surface, depends only on the endurance of its crew.
Brazil and Submarines
In fact, the Brazilian Submarine Fleet started with Italian boats designed in La Spezia and has existed for almost a century. The Fleet entered the post World War-II era operating ex-U.S. fleet type boats, evolved to snorkelling U.S. Guppies and built three especially designed British Oberons (one is currently decommmissioned) and finally entered the German Type-209 production in the Arsenal de Marinha do Rio de Janeiro .
As Brazil has an enormous oceanic area to be covered in the South Atlantic Ocean, it takes too long to deploy a conventional submarine departing from one or two submarine bases, thus diminishing the reaction time for an engagement or other specific task in a so called focal area, normally encompassing the so called patrol area.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, a new lesson has been learned by the strategists. The Warsaw Pact used to provide a well defined threat, easing the task of NATO. Nowadays one can see the continuation of the construction of large and powerful nuclear attack submarines in developed countries as well as arms sales in the developing ones independent of a precise threat.
Nations build and operate sophisticated naval means, designed to face an unexpected enemy, creating the concept of a Quick Deployment Navy. The pacifist disarming theory is no longer valid, for a nation has to invest during peaceful years for decades to be able to face unexpected conflicts. These occurred recently in the Malvinas/Falklands War., where dissuasion from the British naval nuclear. power was not enough to avoid war., as well as in Granada, Kuwait, between Peru and Ecuador, and Canada and Spain.
These new concepts also apply to Brazil, and it will continously require strong naval power to back-up its economy and political growth within its unique geopolitical scenario.
Brazilian SSN Plans
The Brazilian Navy always knew that it would never be strong enough without possessing a real deterrent weapon such as the nuclear powered attack submarine. That is why, realizing very clearly that the construction of such a powerful and strategic weapon could never rely on foreign technology transfer or even on the weapon’s international market sale, the Brazilian Navy started very early, in 1978, to develop its indigenous nuclear plant for submarine propulsion. It also served as a fantastic and unique example to the Brazilian scientific community of how to manage sensitive and sophisticated technology in a very proficient and autonomous manner.
The Navy has very recently come to realize that, despite the top priority of a future nuclear submarine fleet, the Brazilian economy was demanding severe budget constraints, including defense. Consequently the Navy would be unable to maintain the same pace on the project as before.
It must be considered also that the Brazilian Navy has a historical tradition of surface warfare, with many other tasks assigned. Brazilian Navy surface warships and auxiliaries conduct amphibious operations, aircraft carrier operations, minelaying and mine sweeping, logistic support at sea, coastal patrol and search and rescue (those normally assigned to a Coast Guard) besides all the activities of the Marines. All of which require not only funds for operation, but also for modernization, overhauls, shipbuilding and so on.
Although the project had already spent $700 million in successful development over the past 15 years, it cannot be considered a large amount of funds. Considering the results obtained, in comparison to other civilian projects, it would certainly require around $1 billion in addition for the rest of the development and the construction of the first submarine. The initial estimates for the second and third submarines would be equal, considering the large investment required for the specific support and maintenance facilities, such as bases, shipyards, submarine tenders (eventually) and also personnel training. That is a huge amount of money if one considers the extremely severe budgetary shortage imposed on the Navy this year, which is currently allowed only $ 200 million for modernization programs. The Navy had five times as much available for investment 15 years ago.
Considering that the prospective view of the Brazilian economy is bound to be favorable, once government expenditures get balanced, expectations are that the defense budget will gradually provide sufficient funding for investment, thus ensuring the country the naval defense means it deserves.
Back to submarining, the solution the Brazilian Navy found to overcome this temporary constraint is the intelligent and proficient use of this transition period for the accomplishment of the
following intermediate goals:
- Continue building the rest of the Type-200 boats, limited to five submarines, and upgrading the last one, in terms of propulsion plants and other features. Taking advantage of the operational feedback the Brazilian builders are getting from the first two submarines, the S. TUPI and TAMOIO, as the S. TIMBIRA has only been recently launched. The contract for the last Type-20′) is already signed and construction is already underway for completion in 2002;
- Continue the development of the new conventional submarine project, entirely designed by the Brazilian naval builders, large enough to provide the naval expertise and the experience required for the nuclear project. The estimates in costs for the first submarine are presently around $300 million. The number of units would still have to be thoroughly discussed visa-vis budget availabilities in the near future;
- Continue the development of the nuclear propulsion plant, upgrading the size of the current project, through the domain of new technologies that permit the construction of a smaller hull in diameter, like the French nuclear boats, which provides better shaft power/speed ratios, as well as more discreet, quiet and deep operations; an intermediate step will obviously include a prototype plant ashore;
- Upgrade the firing system of the S. Tupi class (Type- 209) through the acquisition of a new class of smart torpedoes. The current studies include the Mk 48 torpedoes (U.S. designed), the German SUT, a French torpedo, the Swedish Type 2000 (not operational yet) and the latest version of the Tigerfish (Mod 2). Some technical points to be carefully considered are the reliability, interoperability (interface) with the current firing system, storage and handling on board (Type 209 class is very limited in space) and of course other maintenance and logistic issues including shore facilities.
The advent of the nuclear submarine in our Fleet will bring to discussion several other points concerning new technologies and personnel requirements.
Submarines are very different from surface ships for they are not supposed to keep continuous communication while submerged. The standard use of masts and antennas, mainly in HF or SAT- COM, are only available when operating at periscope depth, to ensure full tactical discretion. That demands the capability of having land based antennas able to transmit in VLF or ELF, in order to penetrate the ocean to a certain depth, allowing the submarine relative depth freedom for transit, patrol, attack or evasion. These installations are extremely costly and require a careful and detailed study of the region to be covered within the operational theater.
Another technology to be available is the inertial navigation for submarines, which requires very specific requisites different from those available in commercial airplanes and military aircraft. Taking into consideration that the nuclear submarine remains submerged for days or months, normally next to the enemy environment, most of the times it will not be possible to get any fix to update the inertial system. As well as the nuclear power plant and missile technology, these are systems that have to be indigenously developed, for the commercial versions available for sale do not match operational requirements.
Even a basic need as air purification on board a nuclear submarine requires sophisticated systems, which must be capable of providing enough oxygen for various demands and at various operational depths. These systems must also provide continuing monitoring of the internal ambient in relation to the several existing polluters such as CO, CO2, freon gases (refrigeration and air conditioning plants) and other hazardous elements.
Not only new technologies will be required to operate this new weapon, but also a full reevaluation of the recruitment process, training requirements and psychological and medical follow-up that will certainly change the professional profile of this new submariner who will have to face new professional challenges. The experience already lived in developed navies over several decades operating nuclear boats will be vital, including the aspects related to differential payment in relation to personnel on board surface ships. This aspect has been one of very special concern in the Brazilian Submarine Fleet, due to the loss rate from the silent service during the past ten years. This is not an exclusive problem of the Brazilian Navy, but also happened in other navies, including the Royal Navy, specially after the Falklands/Malvinas War, when the Oberons (the only British conventional submarines at that time) had to deploy for longer transits and patrol periods in the South Atlantic.