Naval Group flexes its muscles in Brazil

French shipbuilder Naval Group has presented its first Scorpene-class submarine to the Brazilian navy, with another 4 expected to be delivered in coming years. The French engineering firm sees itself as a sovereignty provider for Brazil and is keen to show South America its worth.

The Brazilian Navy has received the first Scorpene-class conventional submarine and awaits another four in the program which was launched 10 years ago. The new state-of-the-art diesel-electric submarines will enable Brazil to control and establish its sovereignty in the immense territorial waters and coastline in the years to come. The development programme went well, with budget overruns and delays kept at a manageable level, and the French shipbuilder sees more good news behind the successful outcome. South America has a rapidly shifting strategic landscape and Brazil will serve as a showcase and a launching platform for additional sales in the region. The new submarine, named Riachuelo, is conventionally powered, and represents only a stepping stone towards Brazil’s nuclear ambitions.

Conventional submarines were presumed to be gradually replaced by new-generation nuclear submarines for many years but have made an impressive comeback in the recent past. Recent technological innovations, such as those found on the Scorpene-class, have enabled diesel-electric submarines to close the performance gap, namely on range, stealth and performance, for a fraction of the price (operating and maintenance costs, especially). Naval Group’ Scorpene-class sub works on a reduced crew of 35, has an autonomy of 45 days, a diving depth of 1000 feet and can fire 18 torpedoes with 6 tubes. Navy Recognition covered the delivery: “The launching of the Scorpène Riachuelo in presence of the Brazilian head of state today demonstrates the success of this program, with both the successful completion of the first submarine and of the shipyard’s infrastructure.”

Submarine technology has become so elaborate and complex that very few engineering firms are able to produce submarine programs successfully. According to the Australian Maritime College: “Submarines are extremely complex to design, engineer and build, as evidenced by the 1600 subcontractors required to achieve the task. By comparison, it takes 550 suppliers to build a Boeing 777 and 600 to build a frigate.” The actual design of the ship is only the visible side of the iceberg: a submarine program must be thoroughly managed, from the day the order is passed to the day it is decommissioned. If the program is mismanaged, it will quickly hit the rocks, and the client country will suffer an immediate downgrade in its military power, with billions lost in the process. Naval Group, on the contrary, has built its success on the comprehensive command of the entire chain, and not solely on production – resisting the temptation to “take the money and run”, and staying close to the customer till the very end to ensure he gets the best value for his money.

After years of confronting Argentina for regional influence, Brazil is establishing its sovereignty over the South American continent, and this is the strategic chapter where Naval Group steps in. Submarines being major strategic assets, securing them amounts to guaranteeing the nation’s sovereignty. For this reason, Naval Group accepted the bid to build a submarine plant directly in Brazil and transferring technology, assisting the client country in the build-up of its sovereignty – not just selling it a ship. Maritime executive writes: “The project for French shipbuilder Naval Group (formerly DCNS) started in 2009 with a contract for the design and technology transfer for four conventional Scorpène submarines, and for the design and manufacturing assistance for the non-nuclear part of Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The contract also included the support for the construction of a naval base and a shipyard in Brazil. The shipyard is being built by a Brazilian company, Construtora Norberto Odebrecht (CNO), based on Naval Group specifications.” This secures Brazil from power shifts and failing alliances. By building the ships on Brazilian territory, Brasilia knows its submarine power is secure from everything.

In the next decade, Naval Group is expected to assist Brazil’s transition to nuclear technology, which the French shipbuilder also masters. By providing Brazil with the best conventional submarine money can currently buy, Naval Group also hopes to market its new Scorpene class submarines all over South America, which is expected to ramp up its military equipment in years to come, namely under US pressure. Defense reporter Oriana Pawlyk writes: “U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent months that growing influence in the southern hemisphere from countries such as Russia and China may sideline regional stability. As a result, they are aiming to broaden military partnerships and alliances.” Naval Group is hoping to set in motion a virtuous cycle in the South America. The large technological and strategic jump which Brazil achieved through the acquisition of the new ships and facilities will lead neighbouring countries to match the move and try to close the power gap.

A submarine program does not amount simply to buying a submersible ship. The complexity of submarine technology is such that any loss of control over any given part of the program, from the ship’s design to its decommissioning, will result in irreversible loss of strategic power.



Categories: Economy & Finance

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