| BRASILIA, March 1
BRASILIA, March 1 Brazil took a major step on
Friday toward joining the small club of nations that have
nuclear-powered submarines with the opening of a naval shipyard
installation that will build French-designed submarines.
President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated the factory that will
make metal hull structures for four conventional diesel-electric
Scorpene attack submarines and eventually a fifth submarine
powered by a nuclear reactor developed entirely by Brazil.
The submarines will be made by French shipbuilder DCNS in a
joint venture with Brazil's Odebrecht at the Brazilian Navy base
on Sepetiba bay south of Rio de Janeiro.
The 7.8 billion reais ($3.95 billion) program will turn out
the first conventional submarine in 2015 and the nuclear-powered
submarine will be commissioned in 2023 and enter operation in
2025, the Brazilian Navy said in a statement.
The submarines are a key part of Brazil's effort to build a
modern navy that can defend its oil and trade interests in the
South Atlantic, a region long dominated by the British and U.S.
navies. It is also a revival of nuclear development by the
Brazilian military that was halted in 1990 with the end of the
country's nuclear bomb program.
If successful, Brazil will join the United States, Russia,
Britain, France and China - the five members of the permanent
U.N. Security Council, a club Brazil aspires to join - as a
country with a home-grown nuclear submarine capability.
The Indian Navy has a nuclear-powered attack submarine, the
INS Chakra, that was leased from Russia, and India is building a
nuclear submarine with its own technology that is expected to be
in service by 2015.
The Brazilian Navy statement stressed that the nuclear
propulsion system will be built with entirely home-grown
technology that was not transferred by France.
"Brazil needs to modernize its national defenses because we
have not invested in this for years," said Congressman Leonardo
Gadelha, of the Social Christian Party, a member of the lower
chamber's International Relations and Defense Committee.
"Brazil has one of the longest coastlines in the world and
we need submarines to patrol and defend this coast," he said.
The Brazilian-French submarine program was agreed to in 2008
by Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Nicolas Sarkozy and
is Brazil's most costly defense project.
The air force of Latin America's largest nation is also
seeking to renew its fleet with the purchase of 36 fighter jets,
a coveted defense contract worth $4 billion initially. Boeing
Co., France's Dassault Aviation SA and Sweden's
Saab are in the running for the deal.
Brazil has insisted on the maximum transfer of technology in
such military contracts to build up its emerging private defense
industry that has become a major arms exporter.
On Wednesday, the defense unit of Brazilian planemaker
Embraer SA won its first-ever U.S. military contract for
the sale of 20 Super Tucano light attack planes for use in
counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.
($1 = 1.9771 Brazilian reais)
(Editing by Philip Barbara)