The Brazilian ‘Riachuelo’ class submarines represent more than just a national programme
The launching of the Riachuelo, on 14 December, represents a new milestone in the PROSUB programme and the development of a real blue-water navy in Brazil. The building of four conventional Scorpene ‘Riachuelo’ class submarines is expected to be followed by an indigenously designed nuclear submarine, the SN-BR. If this design proves successful, more SN-BR may follow, Itaguaí naval base being sized to accommodate up to ten submarines.
Obtaining technologies and knowledge for the SN-BR has always been the main purpose of PROPSUB programme. Nuclear submarines are seen as essential to protect the natural resources and communication lines over Brazil’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. As confirmed by Admiral Bento Albuquerque, who will be Mines and Energy Minister in President Boslonaro’s cabinet, compact nuclear reactors are also considered essential to complement hydroelectric power plants.
But long before the first SN-BR commissioning, PROSUB will achieve strategic goals on both industrial and diplomatic levels.
On 13 December, CEO of Naval Group Hervé Guillou confirmed that Brazilian workers and trainers from Itaguaí would help forming the backbone of the Australian shipyard selected to build the first Shortfin Barracuda submarine, HMAS Attack. Starting in 2022, hundreds of experienced Naval Group employees from Brazil, France and India will join their Australian counterparts in Adelaide. They will then operate alongside the Australian teams that are currently learning Naval Group’s way of working in Cherbourg.
For ICN, a Naval Group and Odebrecht joint-venture, it is an opportunity to provide a steady workload during the gap between the last ‘Riachuelo’ class and the first SN-BR submarines. Supporting the ramping up of the Australian submarine programme will also provide an international reach to Brazilian industrial know-how. Brazilian experience in offshore industry gives its workers a quality control driven expertise very useful for submarine construction. This unique approach led to new assembly and weight-saving techniques that will be replicated in French and Australian shipyards.
The PROSUB programme is also the most ambitious export programme in Naval Group history as it appears to be a proof-of-concept for the industrial and technological sharing already offered to Australia, but also in pending bids in India, Poland or the Netherlands. The biggest challenge for Naval Group in Adelaide will be to work with US combat systems suppliers, instead of using their own solutions.
Lockheed Martin was selected to design the combat system of the ‘Attack’ class. Moreover, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has not yet formally decided on the specific weapon package for its submarines and Lockheed Martin’s Mk48 will likely continue its career in the RAN aboard the ‘Attack’ class. That is, unless Naval Group succeeds to impress the RAN with the performances of its F21 torpedo, scheduled for delivery to both French and Brazilian navies in 2019. A friendly race is therefore on going for the first operational deployment of the torpedo that will be examined in details by the RAN.