Brazilian Navy Adapts to Better Face New Threats
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo May 20, 2019
As of January 9, 2019, the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) has a new commanding general. When Admiral Ilques Barbosa Junior assumed his new duties, he said training of personnel was his main priority. At the time, Adm. Ilques emphasized the importance of carrying on current activities and the need to improve the ongoing interaction between the forces. From his office in the Ministry of Defense in Brasília, capital of Brazil, Adm. Ilques talked to Diálogo about the main challenges MB faces, the nuclear submarine program, and military exercise UNITAS 2019, among other topics.
Diálogo: What are your biggest challenges as leader of the Brazilian Navy?
Admiral Ilques Barbosa Junior, commander of the Brazilian Navy: Our country’s survival and prosperity rely on the oceans and waterways that carry critical products and services into Brazil. Thus, there must be continuous improvement between the integration of MB maritime protection activities, navigational security, the safeguard of human life at sea, and environmental preservation. Our biggest challenge is sustaining the development of our strategic projects, such as the Navy Nuclear Program [PNM, in Portuguese], the Submarine Development Program [PROSUB, in Portuguese], and the new Tamandaré-class corvette project, in addition to reinforcing the maritime mindset within our society.
Diálogo: What are the main projects that you intend to implement within MB during your tenure?
Adm. Ilques: The continuity of strategic programs is one of our priorities. The main programs are: Personnel, Our Main Asset; the Navy Nuclear Program; the Submarine Development Program; the Construction of the Naval Power Core, which includes the acquisition of Tamandaré-class corvettes and the construction of patrol ships; Full Operational Capacity Program; Blue Amazon Management System; and Navigational Security. These programs promote the autonomy and continuity of the technological life cycle; strengthen the Defense industrial base; create direct and indirect jobs; promote national development; stimulate science, technology and innovation; and promote the Brazilian naval industry.
Diálogo: Like other Latin American countries, the Brazilian Armed Forces are undergoing a process of adjustment to more effectively support efforts such as the war on transnational organized crime and terrorism. What role does MB play in these efforts?
Adm. Ilques: In general, the use of the Armed Forces to curb common crimes is based on Guarantee of Law and Order operations, as stated in the Federal Constitution. MB conducts routine naval patrols with their ships in Brazil’s jurisdictional waters, including the rivers of the Amazon and Pantanal regions, solidifying its contribution to preventive and repressive maritime patrol, and monitoring and implementing laws, regulations, treaties, conventions, and international agreements ratified by our country. MB also conducts patrols to fight transborder and environmental crimes, cooperating with the agencies in charge. Additionally, we have ships and helicopters ready at our Naval Districts’ headquarters, which can be summoned at any time to carry on these tasks. The special operations groups can also be quickly deployed anywhere in the national territory.
Diálogo: Are there similar operations involving partnerships with partner nations?
Adm. Ilques: Well, Brazil is a member nation of the Pacific and Indian Oceans Shipping Working Group, which promotes information exchange and follows the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping doctrine of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, within the scope of navies of participating countries. There are currently 10 member nations in the group along with Brazil: Australia, Canada, Chile, France, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The most sensitive matters are new threats to maritime transit, which include piracy, terrorism, environmental disasters, control of epidemic and infectious diseases, immigration, and illegal fishing.
Diálogo: What role will Brazil play in UNITAS 2019? Which countries will participate?
Adm. Ilques: UNITAS is a multinational maritime exercise designed to enhance interoperability between participating regional forces. This annual exercise started in 1959, and this will be its 60th edition. The operation is divided into two phases, Pacific [PAC] and Atlantic [LANT]. Chile will host UNITAS PAC this year, and Brazil will host UNITAS LANT. As the host country for UNITAS LANT LX 2019, Brazil is responsible for planning and execution of the operation. The Brazilian Naval Fleet’s Second Division Command was assigned to carry out these tasks and lead the Multinational Task Force that will be established. The confirmed countries are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Namibia, Peru, Portugal, and the United States. Operation UNITAS will take place in waters close to the state of Rio de Janeiro, with the participation of 3,500 service members. The 2019 edition of UNITAS LANT will be concurrent to UNITAS AMPHIBIOUS, which will carry out a humanitarian operation exercise through amphibious capabilities.
Diálogo: Are there any plans to increase combined naval exercises between MB and other countries of the region, as well as the United States? Could you point out any other partnerships between MB, navies of the region, and the U.S.?
Adm. Ilques: Interoperability and exchanges between the navies and coast guards of other countries promote further development of our relationships, partnerships, great learning opportunities, and provide a chance to exchange experiences. Brazilian foreign policy considers dialogue and international cooperation to be essential tools to overcome obstacles, bring states together, and strengthen trust among them. To maintain a prominent presence in the South Atlantic, MB establishes clear dialogues with several countries, particularly within Brazil’s strategic environment, getting to know their pressing needs and contributing to initiatives from relevant international agencies such as the United Nations [UN] and the Organization of American States. We maintain an excellent relationship of exchange with the U.S. Navy. We are constantly sending service members to participate in exchanges in the U.S., and we also receive U.S. military personnel for exercises or subject matter expert exchanges. The idea is to advance our efforts to improve interoperability, through a common planning process for both navies, knowledge exchange agreements, and communication skills.
Diálogo: What is the status of the development of the first Brazilian nuclear submarine? Could you elaborate on PROSUB?
Adm. Ilques: The first conventional submarine (S-BR), the “Riachuelo,” was launched last December 14, . The other three conventional submarines are under construction, all of which are on schedule. As for the nuclear-powered submarine (SN-BR), its basic design was completed in January 2017 by the Submarine Development Center. The next phases are project detailing followed by construction, with completion scheduled for late 2029, depending on upcoming technological challenges and available budget resources.
PROSUB is one of Brazil’s greatest strategic programs. In addition to creating many jobs, its high degree of technology empowers our industry through a technology transfer process. At the end of the program Brazil will have an industrial infrastructure at the Itaguaí Naval Complex west of Rio de Janeiro, one of the latest and best equipped naval industrial centers on the continent, with great potential, meeting the demand for repair and construction of submarines, warships, merchant ships, and other industrial products.
Diálogo: MB is the only Armed Force in Brazil where women serve in commanding roles, as general officers. When will women be able to reach higher rankings, such as admiral?
Adm. Ilques: MB was a pioneer among the Armed Forces, opening its doors to women in 1980, and many of them, from various corps and divisions, carry out operational activities, such as on ships and in Marine Corps units, including Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station and Trindade Island, as well as UN peacekeeping operations. Currently, MB has about 9,000 women in its military working force. Women are the majority in some groups, such as doctors, where 436 of the 810 professionals [54 percent] are female; dentists, 217 of 334 officers [65 percent]; and the Health Support Corps, with 77 percent [278 of 360]. Another reassuring point that supports this pioneering action was the promotion of the first female general officers of the Brazilian Armed Forces: Rear Admiral Dalva Maria Carvalho Mendes, in 2012 [a physician in the Navy Medical Corps]; and in 2018, Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni [in the Corps of Engineers], the second woman to achieve that ranking. As an ongoing part of the process of improving and updating personnel management, the Navy welcomed the first class of female cadets to the Naval Academy in 2014. In 2017, a Navy initiative amended the specific law to allow women to join any division, such as the Brazilian Naval Fleet, for naval combat; and the Marine Corps, for ground combat. I would like to point out that women may join the Brazilian Navy, the Quartermaster Corps, and the Marine Corps, and have equal opportunity with male cadets in the selection process, based on meritocracy and performance results from the course. When the women from these corps have served long enough to achieve the rank of admiral they will certainly be able to compete on equal footing with men and may reach the highest career ranking.