* Submarine plan reaffirms Brazil's growing importance
* Brazil to spend $3.95 billion to build French submarines
* Aims to bolster national defense, spur domestic arms
(Adds president, defense minister comments)
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, March 1 Brazil advanced on Friday
toward its target of 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.
She said Brazil, one of the BRICS group of leading emerging
nations and Latin America's largest nation, was a peaceful
country but a defense industry was needed to deter and prevent
"This facility allows our country to affirm itself on the
world stage and, above all, develop in an independent sovereign
way," Rousseff said.
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.
BEEFING UP DEFENSES
The commander of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Julio Soares de
Moura Neto, said the purpose of building a nuclear-powered
submarine was "deterrence" and stressed that the nuclear
propulsion system will be built with entirely home-grown
technology that was not transferred by France.
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 military project.
"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 told Reuters.
The Brazilian Air Force is 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 is also boosting its air defenses, with an eye to
dispelling the risk of terrorist attacks when hundreds of
thousands of foreign tourists visit the country for the 2014
soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Brasilia recently announced plans to buy anti-aircraft
batteries and mid-range surface-to-air missiles from Russia, and
drones from Israel that will be used to patrol its long
frontiers. It eventually plans to build the weapons locally.
The Brazilian government has insisted on a maximum transfer
of technology in such military deals to build up its emerging
private defense industry that has become a major arms exporter.
"Brazil has fully understood that national defense cannot be
delegated to others and a country must have an autonomous
capacity" that does not depend on foreign technology, Defense
Minister Celso Amorim said at the naval base event.
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.
"It was a certificate of quality for our defense industry,"
($1 = 1.98 Brazilian reais)
(Editing by Philip Barbara and Paul Simao)