A Look at the Brazilian Navy

Brazilian Navy Submarino Tikuna

One of the big problems that hamper the Brazilian armed forces in general that they cannot rely on the defence budget. Just because the government announces that x-billion reais (R$) will be spent on defence in a given year does not mean that anything near x-billion will actually be spent.

The Brazilian federal government has a nasty measure known as “contingenciamento” in which any or all federal department budgets can be subject to serious cuts, without any prior warning, if the fiscal or economic situation requires.

Defence is often one of the worst sufferers from this practice.

It happened again in 2013, with the programmed 2013 defence budget of R$18.7-billion suddenly being cut to R$14.2-billion.

Obviously, the impact on programmes can be quite serious! Fortunately, unlike with the current US sequestration, the Brazilian MoD & armed forces can prioritise their spending, so that some programmes suffer no cuts at all, while others suffer very severe cuts.

Another problem is that a big gap has developed between the missions and acquisition programmes approved by the government and the funding authorised to meet these requirements. In November 2013 it emerged that the armed forces would need R$38.5-billion in 2014 alone for “costs and invesments”, but the amount authorised came to only R$19.5-billion. Other countries have defence spending “black holes” as well.

Members of the Brazilian Congress are looking into this.

The Brazilian government’s position is that the capabilities of the country’s armed forces should reflect its economic development & wealth.

As the economy grows, more money becomes available. However, this does not mean that any significant increase in defence spending in percentage of GDP terms is to be expected. Brazil has numerous neighbours, but all are much weaker than Brazil and none can now pose a credible threat – not even Argentina, once by far the richest and most powerful country in Latin America (the only one to ever operate heavy cruisers, and strategic bombers [Avro Lincolns], and the first to operate jets [Meteors, acquired in 1948, if my memory serves – some 14 years before Brazil got its first jets, I think]).

This gives Brazil a geostrategic position similar to that of the US: a giant continental power with no landward threats. Thus, Brazil could become the modern world’s second continentally-based sea power. But currently, there is no interest in Brazil in such an option. A huge country, the population & leadership remains focused inward (or, at best, regionally) and still primarily (and correctly) concerned with development.

Now for some history.

The Brazilian Navy actively participated in both the First and Second World Wars (1917-1918 and 1942-1945 respectively), escorting allied convoys in both conflicts. In both wars, Brazil declared war on Germany because of U-boat attacks on Brazilian shipping.

The Brazilian Army also fought, with an infantry division in Italy in 1944-1945; like all allied armies it had a shaky start when it confronted the Wehrmacht for the first time, but, with the help of experienced US advisors, settled down and became a reliable and thoroughly competent component of the allied forces in the theatre.

The Brazilian Air Force,  created as an independent service in January 1941, in direct emulation of the RAF, Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica, fought in Italy (1944-1945) and the South Atlantic (anti-U-Boat operations, 1942-1945). Brazil is very proud of this record.

The only other Latin American country to actively participate in the Second World War was Mexico, which sent a fighter-bomber unit to the Philippines in 1945.

During the period 1977-1980 the US administration of Jimmy Carter was very hostile to the then military government in Brazil. As a result, the Brazilian regime terminated the country’s bilateral defence treaties with the US (Brazil remains a multilateral treaty ally of the US, under the InterAmerican Treaty of Mutual Assistance, or Rio Pact, which was the first modern treaty to hold that an attack on one was an attack on all [Nato copied this feature]. Brazil activated the Rio Pact on 12 September 2001 in support for the US.)

This led the US to halt all logistics support to the Brazilian armed forces. There was no embargo, Brazil could buy what it wanted, but all free support was terminated. This brought home to the Brazilians just how inadequate their logistics were.

For the next 20 or so years, the top priority of all the armed forces was logistics – being able to properly operate, maintain and support systems. I well remember talking to a Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Colonel in South Africa in about 1996; I said that the FAB had to acquire new fighters soon, as the Peruvian Air Force had Mirage 2000s and Venezuelan Air Force F-16s. He smiled, & replied that they had them, but couldn’t operate them properly. The Brazilians do not want ever to be in that position again.

From the mid-1990s, C4ISTAR became a major priority. SIVAM (Amazon Surveillance System), which saw the FAB acquire Embraer E-99 AEW&C and R-99 air-to-ground radar surveillance aircraft (as well as ground-based radars, Embraer A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft [A-29s were designed as combat aircraft, which can be used as trainers; they have almost nothing in common with the preceding T-27 and AT-27 Tucanos] and, latterly, Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters), has proven a great success and has led to emulatory programmes for land border surveillance (SISFRON) and maritime surveillance (SISGAAZ). SIAGAAZ stands for the Blue Amazon Management System,

Blue Amazon being the PR term coined by the Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil – MB) to describe the country’s very extensive & rich waters & maritime resources.

Regarding the Navy, it must be remembered that for historical reasons it has duties and responsibilities far beyond those of the RN or USN.

The Brazilian Navy is responsible for all aids-to-navigation (at sea and in rivers) in Brazilian waters, and operates a number of aids-to-navigation tenders as a result.

There are no civilian harbourmasters in Brazil – all ports, coastal or riverine, large or small, fall under navy Port Captains (this is a specialist branch & Port Captains can be anything from Lieutenants to Captains, depending on the size of the harbour).

[Correction: Some harbor pilots are navy officers retired, Brazilian Navy is responsible for applications, exams and certificates.]

Brazil has no coastguard – the navy fulfills those functions as well.

Brazil has no counterpart to the RFA or Military Sealift Command: all vessels belonging to the Navy are manned by regular naval personnel.

Then there is the “real” navy of surface ships, naval aviation, submarines and marines.

These are grouped either into the Fleet or the Naval Districts (these are geographically-based commands, responsible for security and EEZ patrol and protection). The surface ships themselves are divided into proper warships (including amphibious vessels), patrol vessels, logistics ships, survey vessels, and specialist support tenders. Although the MB has numerous small coastal and river bases, it has only one major base complex, in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro), which includes the Arsenal, the Naval Base, the current submarine base, the Naval Academy, training schools, Marine bases, etc.

All this explains why the MB has far more people than the RN but a far smaller battle force.

The Navy is composed of the Fleet, the Naval Districts, the Directorate of Hydrography and Navigation, and the Marine Corps. The Fleet comprises the 1st Escort Squadron, the 2nd Escort Squadron, the 1st Support Squadron (amphibious and replenishment ships), the Submarine Force and the Naval Aviation Force, plus several shore bases, support facilities and operational training bases.

There are nine naval districts. The 1st 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 8th are along the coast, the 4th covers much of the north east coast plus the lower reaches and estuary of the Amazon river, while the 6th, 7th and 9th are all entirely inland, the 9th covering the western Amazon region

Each naval district has at least one base from which it and its vessels operates, but, except for Aratu in the 2nd Naval District, most are not large. Aratu seems to be the MB’s number two dockyard complex, outside of Rio de Janeiro/Guanabara Bay.

According to the MB’s website (www.mar.mil.br but available only in Portuguese), it currently possesses;

5 x SSKs (4 x Type 209 & 1 x modified 209, the first built in Germany & the rest at the Navy Yard [Arsenal in MB terminology] in Rio de Janeiro,

Brazilian Navy Submarino Tikuna
Brazilian Navy Submarino Tikuna

1 x aircraft carrier (São Paulo, ex-Foch, now extensively refitted and slowly working up),

Brazilian Navy Navio Aeródromo São Paulo
Brazilian Navy Navio Aeródromo São Paulo

9 x frigates (6 x Niteroi [pronounced Nit-er-OY], all extensively modernised, & 3 x Type 22),

Brazilian Navy F 48 - Bosisio
Brazilian Navy F 48 – Bosisio
F 41 - Defensora
F 41 – Defensora

5 x corvettes (4 x Inhauma [pronounced In-yah-OO-ma], 1 x Barroso, all designed & built in Brazil),

Brazilian Navy V 34 - Corveta Barroso
Brazilian Navy V 34 – Corveta Barroso
Brazilian Navy V 33 - Corveta Frontin
Brazilian Navy V 33 – Corveta Frontin

1 x LSD (ex- USN) and 3 x LSTs ( 1 x ex-USN, 2 x ex-RFA),

Brazilian Navy G 29 - Garcia D'Avila
Brazilian Navy G 29 – Garcia D’Avila
Brazilian Navy G 28 - Mattoso Maia
Brazilian Navy G 28 – Mattoso Maia
Brazilian Navy G 30 - Ceará
Brazilian Navy G 30 – Ceará

1 x submarine rescue ship,

Brazilian Navy K 11 - Felinto Perry
Brazilian Navy K 11 – Felinto Perry

2 x replenishment ships,

Navio Aeródromo São Paulo (A12) e Navio-Tanque Marajó (G27)
Navio Aeródromo São Paulo (A12) e Navio-Tanque Marajó (G27)

1 x training frigate and 1 x sail training ship.

Brazilian Navy U 27 - Brasil
Brazilian Navy U 27 – Brasil
Brazilian Navy U 20 - Cisne Branco
Brazilian Navy U 20 – Cisne Branco

All these are classified as “Fleet assets”.

Under the classification of “[Naval] District Assets” are

6 x MCMV,

Brazilian Navy Navio Varredor Aratu
Brazilian Navy Navio Varredor Aratu

3 x offshore patrol ships (recently delivered),

Navio-Patrulha Oceânico “Apa”
Navio-Patrulha Oceânico “Apa”

2 x “corvettes” (actually, old patrol ships),

6 x OPVs,

Brazilian Navy Navio-Patrulha Macaé
Brazilian Navy Navio-Patrulha Macaé

5 x ocean-going tugs (usually employed as patrol ships),

18 x coastal patrol boats,

Brazilian Navy P 60 - Bracuí
Brazilian Navy P 60 – Bracuí
P 43 - Goiana
P 43 – Goiana

1 x river monitor,

5 x river gunboats (2 x with a flight deck for a light helicopter),

Brazilian Navy P 21 - Raposo Tavares
Brazilian Navy P 21 – Raposo Tavares
Brazilian Navy P 10 - Piratini
Brazilian Navy P 10 – Piratini
P 32 - Amapá
P 32 – Amapá
Brazilian Navy P 31 - Rondônia
Brazilian Navy P 31 – Rondônia

1 x river logistics support vessel,

2 x river transport vessels, and

5 x river hospital vessels (to support remote civilian communities).

Brazilian Navy Navio de Assistência Hospitalar Soares de Meirelles
Brazilian Navy Navio de Assistência Hospitalar Soares de Meirelles

It should be noted that some of the OPVs and older coastal patrol boats are assigned to river missions. The MB has two river flotillas.

“Hydrographic assets” are

6 x survey ships,

Brazilian Navy Navio Hidroceanográfico Cruzeiro do Sul
Brazilian Navy Navio Hidroceanográfico Cruzeiro do Sul

1 x Antarctic survey ship,

Brazilian Navy Navio Polar Almirante Maximiano (H41)
Brazilian Navy Navio Polar Almirante Maximiano (H41)

1 x oceanographic support ship,

1 x “hydro/oceanographic lighthouse support ship”,

2 x river survey vessels and

Brazilian Navy Aviso Hidroceanográfico Fluvial “Rio Negro”
Brazilian Navy Aviso Hidroceanográfico Fluvial “Rio Negro”

5 x aids-to-navigation tenders.

Classified separately are 1 x research ship, 3 x small training vessels, plus museum ships.

Brazilian defence media suggest that the operational level of the Fleet assets is about 50%. One Niteroi-class frigate, on rotation, is executing 6 month deployments to support the UN in Lebanon. These ships are deployed in full war condition. Normally, Brazilian ships do not deploy in full combat mode – they usually embark only half their SSM capacity (4 instead of 8), for example.

The Brazilian Aeronaval Force (to directly translate its title) has

A-4 Skyhawks (23, with 12 or so being radically upgraded by Embraer),

Brazilian Navy AF- 1 Skyhawk 8
Brazilian Navy AF- 1 Skyhawk 8

modernised SH-60B Seahawk ASW helicopters (4 in service, 4 on order),

Brazilian Navy Seahawk-MH-16
Brazilian Navy Seahawk-MH-16

13 x SH-3 Sea King ASW/ASuW (being phased out; no more than 7 were ever operated),

Brazilian Navy SH-3AB - Sea King 3
Brazilian Navy SH-3AB – Sea King 3

7 x Super Puma (assault),

Brazilian Navy Aeronave UH-15 "Super Cougar"
Brazilian Navy Aeronave UH-15 “Super Cougar”

12 x Super Lynx ASuW (very popular with its pilots),

Brazilian Navy AH- 11A Lynx 2
Brazilian Navy AH- 11A Lynx 2

26 x Squirrel (utility, patrol, light attack), and

Brazilian Navy UH-12.13 Esquilo 6
Brazilian Navy UH-12.13 Esquilo 6

19 x JetRanger (training);

Brazilian Navy IH-6B-Bell-Jet-Ranger 3
Brazilian Navy IH-6B-Bell-Jet-Ranger 3

16 x Super Cougar have been ordered (assault and ASuW – reportedly the Super Pumas will remain in service), with early deliveries under way (most are being built in Brazil, by Helibras).

In late 2010, the MB bought eight ex-USN Grumman C-1 Trader airframes, held in storage in the US, under the FMS system. At least four of these are being refurbished and modernised (including the fitting of turboprop engines) to serve as carrier-onboard-delivery and air-to-air refuelling aircraft. At least two of the others are likely to be used as sources of parts. In 2010, the Brazilia defence website Alide (www.alide.com.br) reported that four Grumman S-2Gs were to be acquired refurbished modernised and converted into AEW aircraft (almost certainly using a longtitudinal ‘beam’ electronically-scanned system, as on the FAB’s E-99s). There has been no information since.

There is one major naval air station, plus three small air stations, which house small utility helicopter squadrons which support three of the naval districts. These are the 5th, 6th and 9th  Naval Districts. As in the UK, and unsually for a country in Latin America, maritime patrol and surveillance is the responsibility of the Air Force.

The Marine Corps has an amphibious brigade, a riverine battalion (under the 9th Naval District in the Amazon) and a number of regional “groups” (of varying size, all smaller than battalions, for base and internal security), assigned to the remaining naval districts.

Operação Felino

Its equipment includes light tanks, APCs, armoured amphibious assault vehicles and 105 mm light guns.

The Navy’s absolute top priority is ProSub: the programme for 5 new conventional submarines (Scorpene-class) and, subsequently, a class of SSNs.

Coupled with this is the construction of a new dockyard to build and refit the submarines and, right alongside, a new base to house them when in service. These are located at Itaguaí in Rio de Janeiro state. The new dockyard will become operational in 2014, with the new base following not long after. The current sub construction facility and base are both in Guanabara Bay, which is hardly a suitable location for SSNs.

Brazil future submarines
Brazil future submarines

Necessary supporting industrial facilities are also being refurbished (eg that which produces the high quality circular steel sections needed for submarine pressure hulls). And the navy has already invested decades in developing a nuclear power plant, nuclear fuel manufacturing, and uranium enrichment capabilities and facilities.  The ProSub programme has not suffered any cuts at all and is driving forward.

The first conventional sub is now under assembly, using sections manufactured in France. Production of the first sections of the second, to be manufactured in Brazil, has started. Brazil hopes to launch its first SSN in 2025. It is not yet clear how many will be built – 4 or 5 are the options.

Nor is it clear if Brazil will retain SSKs after its SSN force is fully operational. (The lack of clarity is because the Brazilian Navy itself is still pondering these issues.) Currently, it is likely that Brazil’s future SSNs will be larger than France’s Barracudas and smaller than Britain’s Astutes. The Brazilians are fully aware that they will not be as advanced as the latest US, UK, French and Russian designs.

But Brazil has a huge coastline and a large sea area to patrol, which can only effectively be done by a force of SSNs or a very large SSK fleet (with 2-3 bases). One concept design for the Brazilian SSN shows a boat with torpedo tubes & vertical launch tubes for missiles. (Brazilian company Avibras is currently developing a 300 km range ground-launched tactical cruise missile for the Brazilian Army under a programme known as Astros 2020.) The other shows a SSN with just torpedo tubes.

The MB’s number two priority is new patrol ships and boats.

This programme is currently being executed with the building (in private-sector yards) of French-designed 500 t coastal patrol craft and the acquisition, from BAE Systems, of the 3 x patrol ships rejected by Trinidad & Tobago.

The number three priority is new helicopters

Being fulfilled by the purchase of refurbished ex-USN SH-60Bs (to replace the Sea Kings) and the Airbus Helicopter (formerly Eurocopter) Super Cougars.

New “escorts” form the fourth priority.

There are two aspects to this. One is the well-known ProSuper project, for 5 x 6 000 t (max) frigates, 5 x 1 800 t ocean patrol ships and 1 x 22 000 t multipurpose support ship. This has attracted much attention, but is still in its very early stages. No formal RfP can be expected for at least a year and the programme is likely to undergo significant restructuring before it is started. It is possible – nay, probable – that it will be delayed.

Some Brazilian commentators have speculated that the navy might end up buying 2nd hand frigates again, to replace the Type 22s. But the available selection is not good. More likely, the Type 22s will get some kind of refit. One has already had its MM38 Exocets replaced by MM40s. When built, the new frigates will be equipped with medium-ranged SAMs.

These are almost certainly going to be jointly developed with South Africa.

Whether it will take the form of a radar-guided development of the current Umkhonto SAM, or be a new weapon, is not yet clear. Probably the latter. The problem for both sides is funding.

But, in parallel to this is a separate programme, which as far as I can tell has not yet been reported on in the English-speaking world (although, of course, reported  in the Brazilian defence media), for up to 5 new Brazilian-designed corvettes.

These will be the “Improved Barroso” class.



They will use the same hull form and size as the Barroso (itself a much improved development of the Inhauma class), in order to avoid the MB having to undertake new hydrodynamic studies. The Alide website reports that the improved Barroso class will have a totally different interior arrangement to the Barroso, and will displace a little more (2 480 t as against 2 350 t).

The new design will have the capacity to carry up to 185 personnel, including crew, helicopter detachment, task group staff and special forces (combat diver) detachment. (The MB tries to do as much maintenance as it can on the ship using the crew of the ship.) The helicopter fuel tank will be 4 cubic metres larger than on the Barroso. Water storage volume (for drinking, cooking & bathing) will be almost six times greater. The superstructure will be a new design, giving reduced radar reflectivity. The hangar and flight deck will be able to take the SH-60 (using ASIST – Aircraft Ship Integrated Secure and Traverse) but would normally operate a Super Lynx.

Alide also reports that BAE Systems have told the Royal Navy that technical support for the 4.5” (115 mm) Mk 8 gun will cease in 2035.

Exercício de tiro de canhão durante a Operação TROPICALEX
Exercício de tiro de canhão durante a Operação TROPICALEX

The Mk 8 is also the standard medium gun in the MB.

As the first new corvette is expected to be commissioned in 2020, the website states that the MB will not fit the new class with the Mk 8. Gun armament will probably be 1 x 76 mm, with 1 x 30 mm/40 mm over the hangar (a final decision on calibre has yet to be made). There will be SSMs, ASW torpedo tubes and, unlike all the MB’s previous corvettes, SAMs (using VLS – almost certainly a version of the missile that the MB hopes to develop with South Africa).

Like all Brazilian warships now in service (including the São Paulo but excluding the Type 22s) the new class will be fitted with a Brazilian Command & Control/Action Information System, in its latest version (Siconta III) and a Brazilian machinery Monitoring and Control System. While the Barroso has a CODAG propulsion system (1 x gas turbine, 2 x diesels), the Improved Barrosos will have an all-diesel system (4 x diesels).

Analysis revealed that the Barroso makes use of its GT only 4% of the time. The new ships should have a range of 6 000 nm at 12 kts. They will also be equipped with “mufflers” to reduce engine/machinery noise emission and a system to mix air with the hot diesel exhausts, to reduce the emissions temperature from more than 350 ˚ C to less than 150 ˚ C. The new ships might have conventional masts or adopt the I-Mast concept.

The idea is to build the first ship as a prototype, test it & then proceed with the rest, to allow any weaknesses to be identified and corrected. This is a bitter lesson from the Inhauma class. As for the Inhaumas, they are to be modernised – work has, I believe, started on the first-of-class. I have no details of what is involved. Contrary of some reports in the UK, the Inhaumas have never suffered from a top weight problem but they do lack endurance: hence the greater size and displacement of the Barroso.

The Inhaumas are also notorious, Alide reported, for their pitching and rolling, making them uncomfortable, rendering helicopter operations difficult and causing them to be poor gun platforms.

Alide also reports that – and this would be a major change in ProSuper – the MB has decided to abandon the plan to acquire foreign-designed ocean patrol ships.

Instead, the navy will develop a patrol ship version of the Improved Barroso design. No details are yet available. I would think it would obviously be much more lightly armed, probably have a different superstructure and maybe fewer engines but more fuel. It should be noted that the MB has its own naval projects company, Emgepron, and its own R&D agency.

The MB is also surveying options for a major new base for the fleet, in the north east of the country. This has long been needed, but only the re-establishment of the USN’s 4th Fleet galvanised the politicians into supporting, nay demanding, such a project. Ironically, of course, the 4th Fleet has no ships! So, currently, the MB has its Portsmouth (Rio/Niteroi: Guanabara Bay), is now building its Faslane (Itaguaí) and is looking for where it will put its Devonport.

The plan to acquire a new aircraft carrier (preferably, two of them) has a very long way to go.

The intent is to have a preliminary phase which would involve the training of about 40 Brazilian engineers in aircraft carrier design, engineering and technology. In due course, they would be assigned to monitor and oversee the company chosen the build these ships. This preliminary training phase is likely to cost around R$20-million.

This would be followed by a basic design phase and then a detailed design phase. This project has not been approved by the Navy General Staff yet, let alone the Defence Staff, the MoD or the President.

At the moment, with emphasis being placed on the submarine force, naval aviation, and the lightly-armed patrol force, the MB’s surface combatant force seems to be on a downsizing trend. Some 15  years ago, it had 4 x destroyers (ASW ships), 10 x frigates and 4 x corvettes. Now it has 9 x frigates and 5 x corvettes.

It looks as if, in 20 years time, it could have about 5 x frigates and 10 x corvettes. But the MB does now have a proper CV in place of its previous CVL, and it will have SSNs, making it on balance a more powerful fleet.




1)    The Brazilian Navy does not have a national prefix for its ship’s names – there is no Brazilian equivalent to HMS or USS. Rather, each ship’s name is prefixed by a type designator. Thus, F. Niteroi but Cv. Barroso (F = Fragata, frigate; Cv = Corveta, corvette). There is an almost bewildering variety of such prefixes in the MB.

2)    Brazilian naval aviation squadron designations comprise a two-letter prefix, a number and an official nickname. The first letter indicates whether it is a helicopter (H) or fixed wing (V) unit. The second letter indicates its mission (A for attack & armed reconnaissance, F for fighter, I for training [Instruction], S for ASW, U for general purpose/assault). The umber if dependent on the prefix, not independent. Thus there is an HA-1, HI-1, HS-1, HU-1 and VF-1. Examples of nicknames are HA-1 Lynx (it operated the Lynx and now operates the Super Lynx) and VF-1 Falcons (currently the only fixed wing squadron, with Skyhawks).



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