March 10, 2015

Brazil's New Submarine Program (ProSub) and Australia - March 2015 Update*
See Guanabara Bay (Baia de Guanabara) to the right of central Rio. Guanabara Bay is the home of Brazil's current submarine base. To the left of Rio is Sepetiba Bay (Baia de Sepetiba). Brazil's new submarine base-shipyard complex at Port Itaguaí, 80 km west of Rio. The creation of the new base is due to base growth, environmental and population concerns including dangers from stored ammunition and the remote possibility of nuclear reactor leakage.
Please link with: Brazil's Future SSN -DCNS Assistance - Australian Interest? of January 5, 2014.

Brazil's Future Submarine Program (ProSub) Comparison with Australia's

Brazil's decision to build its own submarines is, of course, relevant to the submarine building aspirations of many in Australia. Australia's experience in the 1980s and 90s was similar in that it built its current submarines, the Collins, in Australia just as Brazil built its current Tupi class, in Brazil. A difference now is that Australia aims to have its new submarines built overseas while Brazil is building its Scorpenes in Brazil.

Another difference from Australian is that the fifth and last Brazilian submarine will be nuclear propelled - known as SN-BR. Going nuclear propelled is a major financial and technical risk for Brazil. A roughly comparable case is India's development of its indigenously built INS Arihant. Arihant has been developed with probably closer Russian support than France intends for Brazil. Still India has found that Arihant's reactor has been more problematic than expected with consequent delays in fully running the reactor.

India's experience is also a reminder to Australia that if Australia wanted nuclear propulsion it is probably best for Australia to buy or "lease" complete SSNs from the US rather than evolving indigenous solutions. Arihant is unlikely to be India's last developmental submarine. SN-BR may not be Brazil's last. If SN-BR is based on France's Rubis-Amethyste class SSN that may save Brazil much time and cost. Still much depends on foreign policy outlook. Brazil and India are basically non-aligned while Australia is very dependent on and aligned with the US.

A further difference between Brazil and Australia is that Brazil is pursuing a lower (conventional Scorpene) and high (SN-BR) capability strategy while Australia has restricted itself to a "medium" strategy of an unusually capable conventional submarine.

A similarity between Australia and Brazil is the need to move the submarine base. Australia moved its submarines from (HMAS Platypus) in Sydney from the 1980s to HMAS Stirling (Rockingham, Western Australia). There were several reasons for Australia's decision including the desire to host nuclear submarines of Australia's allies away from a (or the) major city. Implicitly Rockingham also offered the option of being the base for Australian nuclear submarines.

Returning to Brazil - Port Itaguaí shipyard and base is being constructed by the Sociedade de Proposito Especifico (SPE) consortium, which includes Brazil’s Odebrecht (50%), France’s DCNS (49%) and the Brazilian Navy (1% “golden share,” with veto power).

There are many question marks (?) that follow due to language differences, repetition in official sources and much old information in secondary sources. In French and Portuguese Submarine Program is reversed to Program Submarine, hence ProSub. With base-shipbuilding facilities now (fully?) established actual submarine building has commenced.

Brazil's new Conventional Submarines

Four of the five new submarines will be enlarged (75 m long, 2000 tons displacement) Scorpenes of DCNS design "CM-2000" and ProSub designation "S-Br". Brazil's Scorpenes may well have a crew of up to 45 and 18 torpedos or missiles. It is unclear whether these Scorpenes will have AIP(?). The hull of the first Scorpene (Riachuelo) was laid down at Cherbourg, France on 27 May 2010 and flown in prefabricated sections ("jumboized") by Airbus to Brazil in late 2012. Sections (including steel fabrication) for the next three Scorpenes are being made in Brazil.

No.     Name            Laid down               Launched      Commissioned   Based

S40     Riachuelo       27 May 2010              maybe 2015      maybe 2017             Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay

S41     Humaitá         1 Sept 2013                 maybe 2017      maybe 2019             Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay

S42     Tonelero         maybe 2015                maybe 2019      maybe 2021             Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay

S43     Angostura       maybe 2017                maybe 2021      maybe 2023             Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay

Brazilian Nuclear Submarine (SN-BR)

Due to non-proliferation and broader political sensitivities DCNS and Brazil claim that DCNS will not actually help Brazil place the reactor in SN-BR. This claim may be somewhat disputed due to the reactor being of partly French design and SN-BR perhaps being based on the French Barracuda SSN. Training of some Brazilian crew on French SSNs is likely - on Rubis-Amethyste SSNs and/or Barracudas.

No.        Name                  Laid down          Launched         Commissioned    Based 

SN10    Álvaro Alberto     maybe 2017        maybe 2022       maybe 2027         Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay

Brazil has medium-long term plans for 5-6 further SSNs if Álvaro Alberto is successful.  

There currently appears to be expectations that SN-BR will be around 100m long and 9m wide. This coincides with France's Barracuda SSN dimensions of:  99.4 m long and beam: 8.8 m. The Barracuda , when launched around 2016-2017 will be 4,765 tons (surfaced) and 5,300 tons (submerged). Therefore the future SN-BR may have a similar displacement when launched in the early 2020s. The broader Brazilian nuclear submarine program involves Brazil's aim to fully enrich and shaping uranium for placement in the submarine reactor.

In 1979 the Brazilian military government of the day created a secret program to develop a complete nuclear fuel cycle outside international safeguards. Under the Brazilian navy’s special projects commission (COPESP), the program initially focused on developing a small light-water reactor for submarine propulsion and an indigenous uranium-enrichment capability using gas centrifuges. COPESP began construction of a pilot enrichment plant at the Aramar Experimental Center in Iperó (São Paulo state) in 1987. At the inauguration of the plant, authorities said the facility would produce low-enriched uranium (5 percent enrichment) for existing power and research reactors and for nuclear submarine reactors. [Pete's Comment - 5% enriched Uranium seems very low energy intensity for a submarine reactor. 5% may have been a notional figure to satisfy non-proliferation regulators if the program was exposed.]

Under the 1991 Brazilian-Argentine peaceful use of nuclear energy "Guadalajara" AgreementArticle III states that “none of the provisions of the present Agreement shall limit the right of the Parties to use nuclear energy for the propulsion of any type of vehicle, including submarines, since propulsion is a peaceful application of nuclear energy."

From around 2010 the currently proposed(?) reactor is known as  2131-R Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR). France assisted in the reactor design, but the reactor itself will be built in Brazil (?). An earlier NTI article (first paragraph) talked of  land-based test reactor RENAP-11 (of 11 MW), which may not yet have been developed. The submarine reactor itself may be of 48 MW noting that the French Rubis-Amethyste class SSN used PWR reactor known as the K48 with an output of 48 MW. The Rubis weighs 2,400 tons (surfaced). At the upper end of the French scale the Barracuda SSN of 5,000 tons will have a 150 MW reactor. 150 MW would be very ambitious for a first generation indigenous submarine - noting India's INS Arihant publically relies on a 83 MW reactor.

Brazil has probably gone beyond the following description. Currently, Brazil mines and perhaps buys some uranium, converts it into yellowcake. The yellowcake is shipped from Brazil to Canada for enrichment using the hexafluoride gas method. The gas (?) is then shipped to Europe for enrichment by the US-UK-Dutch-German Urenco Group.

In December 2014 it was reported "A demonstration plant was built at the Aramar Experimental Center in Iperó (São Paulo state), which remains a naval facility to provide fuel enriched [by hexafluoride gas cascade] to less than 20% for the submarine program. Currently enrichment here is reported to be to 5% U-235." "less than 20%" enriched is stated because more than 20% enriched is considered Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) which is considered a heightened nuclear proliferation concern. Brazil and France do not want to push things by venturing into political pressures from non-nuclear neighbours or from legal nuclear weapon states like Russia and the US.*
Artist's impression of Brazil's new Submarine Program (ProSub) Base and Shipbuilding facility at Port Itaguai, Sepetiba Bay. Brazil's decision to build its own submarines of French-DCNS designs is, of course relevant, to the submarine building aspirations of many in Australia. 

Current Brazilian Submarines

Brazil's currently has five TKMS Type 209s commissioned 1989-2006 and designated the Tupi Class. Four were built in Brazil. It is unclear whether the first of class, BNS Tupi (commissioned 1989) is still active(?). They are based at Guanabara Bay, Rio Base Naval Almirante Castro e Silva (see first NTI paragraph).

Value to Brazil of Submarines

Brazil’s submarines are seen as a key part of the country’s national defence strategy which includes protection of Brazil’s offshore energy reserves, protecting the Amazon's fresh water and countering great power nuclear submarine supremacy (including that of the US). Nuclear submarine supremacy became a major issue when Britain's SSNs totally dominated (Brazil's neighbour) Argentina's Navy in the 1982 Falklands War. SN-BR can more effectively monitor (remaining submerged longer) and neutralize naval forces - as it can patrol a wider area more quickly.
The nuclear submarine project, because of the dual-use nature of its reactor development and uranium enrichment, has been touted as holding the promise of enhancing both civilian and military exports.
Nuclear propulsion also contributes to Brazil's great power aspirations - short of actually building nuclear weapons.


The following sources are useful although there is much repetition and it is unclear what is old and what is current information. Therefore there are many question marks (?).  Comments from Brazilian readers are welcome to fill in the blanks :) 

The website contains a wealth of updates on ProSub.  

For the World Nuclear Association's report, updated March 2015, see “Nuclear Power in Brazil”

Drawn from USNI


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