Brazil's Navy Makes Progress on Project to Build a Nuclear-propelled Submarine

The Brazilian Navy's Submarine Development Program is in the final stage.
Nelza Oliveira/Diálogo | 7 November 2016

Capacity Building

Aerial view of the South Naval Base at PROSUB-EBN's Naval Complex in Itaguaí. (Photo: COGESN)

Brazil's Navy is in the final design phase of its basic plan to build the country's first nuclear-propelled submarine through the Submarine Development Program (PROSUB, per its Portuguese abbreviation). PROSUB will place the country among a select group worldwide, including the United States, who has the technology to develop this type of military equipment.

Admiral Gilberto Max Roffé Hirschfeld, General Coordinator of the Nuclear-Propelled Submarine Development Program. (Photo: COGESN)

The program is part of the Navy's investment to ensure Brazilian sovereignty at sea and to protect the so-called "Amazônia Azul," a maritime area of 3.5 million square kilometers through which the country's imports and exports pass and where its petroleum and biological and mineral resources are located.

"The project's purpose is a nuclear-propelled submarine. It isn't a nuclear submarine with nuclear weapons. It is faster and can remain under water for as long as it wants. The limitation is human capacity (limited solely by the physical and psychological endurance of the crew and their provisions). Even without nuclear armament, it is a tremendously dissuasive weapon (to prevent hostile threats)," says Admiral Gilberto Max Roffé Hirschfeld, General Coordinator of the Nuclear-Propelled Submarine Development Program (COGESN, per its Portuguese abbreviation). "Our natural resources are wonderful. The country and the Armed Forces as a whole need to have means of deterrence. Nobody wants to go to war; on the contrary. This submarine is a dissuasive weapon," he added.

PROSUB is part of the National Defense Strategy launched in 2008, in which the Navy was charged with developing and mastering nuclear technology for peaceful ends. It also includes building four conventional submarines with electric diesel propulsion and the PROSUB-EBN, with industrial infrastructure and support for new military equipment.

The PROSUB industrial complex in Itaguaí

PROSUB-EBN, which is being built at the Navy Base and Shipyard (EBN, per its Portuguese acronym) in the municipality of Itaguaí, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, is stunning in size: 750,000 square meters. It consists of the Metallic Structure Manufacturing Unit (UFEM, per its Portuguese acronym), which fabricates and installs lightweight structures and outfitting activities, and has the following: two shipyards (one for construction and another for maintenance) with two piers that are 140 meters long and two 140-meter docks; 13 wharfs and a ship lift with the capacity to support 8,000 tons; a naval base, divided into north and south areas and interconnected by a 703-meter long tunnel that is 14 meters in diameter; a Center for Instruction and Training for the submarine crew; and a Radiological Complex, where the nuclear fuel will be exchanged.

The Metallic Structure Manufacturing Unit of PROSUB-EBN is already fully operational. (Photo: COGESN)

The four conventional submarines are already in progress and are being built simultaneously, as if on an assembly line, but at different levels of execution.

Multiplying knowledge

Fuel production and the nuclear propulsion system are being developed at the Navy's Technology Center in Iperó, a city in the metropolitan region of São Paulo.

To facilitate the recruitment of high-level human resources for PROSUB's development, A company called Amazônia Azul Tecnologias de Defesa, S.A., (Amazul) was created to facilitate the recruitment of high-level human resources for PROSUB’s development.

"PROSUB involves a program that the Navy has been working on for 30 years, which is the nuclear program, and that isn't sold abroad; either we develop it or we don't have it. The entire nuclear program has a very long maturation period. That's why it has to be a strategic, state-run company that can be solid and ensure continuity," explains Vice Admiral Ney Zanella dos Santos, the CEO of Amazul. " There are now nearly 250 engineers working on this project, and the idea is for this number to go up. We may even get close to 500 at the peak of the construction phase," he added.

Adm. Max explained that PROSUB is based on three pillars: absorbing technology, training personnel, and nationalization. The participation of Brazil's industry comes from the use of the country's existing technology for building industrial infrastructure (materials, systems, equipment, machinery, and inputs) and from training domestic firms so that they are able to become autonomous, independent suppliers during future projects.

"The National Defense Strategy says that the Navy should be able to design and build conventional and nuclear-propelled submarines with or without partnerships with other countries. The word 'design' is what makes all the difference. The Navy has already built conventional submarines, but it's never designed one," explained Adm. Max. "It's going to be a step forward, knowledge that we can't lose. The three pillars aren't easy. But it's a program that only produces benefits for the country, in terms of respectability and credibility for the future, for those who come after us. Its sensational technological knowledge that creates a great deal of jobs, nationalizes it, and provides knowledge for companies," he stressed. "We are forecasting the launch of the first conventional submarine in July of 2018, with delivery in 2020. The second submarine would be delivered in 2021, the third in 2022, and the fourth in 2023. Our objective is to have a nuclear-propelled submarine by 2027," he concluded.

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