Without a doubt, a prime example of obscure Latin American military hardware has to be the Sao Paulo (A-12), Brazil’s carrier. The vessel originally served in the French Navy under the name Foch from 1960 until 2000, when it was acquired by the Brazilians. The Clemencau-type carrier can hold “up to 37 fixed-wing aircraft” in addition to helicopters.
That’s correct: Brazil has a carrier in its navy, but the vessel appears to have spent more time in a dock being repaired than in the open seas flying the Brazilian flag. However, luck may be finally changing for the aging vessel. The Brazilian Navy is renovating the carrier in order to extend its operational life – a measure spurred in large part by the Texas-based company, Zentech.
In early May, Zentech was contracted to aid in the carrier’s repair, including “the creation of 3D models to accurately map the results of the vessel’s hull gauging for further detailed analytical work, and ultimately providing recommendations regarding steel replacement.” According to Zentech’s website, it has signed a five-year maintenance support program with Brazil. Another company contracted to repair the carrier is the French shipbuilding company DCNS, which was hired a couple of years ago to inspect the carrier’s forward catapult.
The Brazilian Navy is focused on maintaining the carrier as its flagship, and its current goal is to expand the Sao Paulo’s operational life until the mid-2020s, when a new carrier will be acquired. In recent years, there have been numerous reports about Brazil’s next carrier (the third in the country’s history), many of which hint that Brasilia may obtain a carrier from the aforementioned DCNS, dubbed Project PA2. This would be a logical decision as the Brazilian Navy has developed a close relationship with France, best exemplified by the French assisting in the construction of Brazil’s nuclear-powered submarine.
That said, the remaining question is evident — what does Brazil needs a carrier for? The usual argument by Brazilian defense officials is that the country’s navy needs a strong fleet (led by a carrier and/or a nuclear-powered submarine) in order to protect the country’s maritime resources, particularly its off-shore oil fields. But the problem with this argument is that it is difficult to imagine any Latin American country posing a plausible national security threat to Brazil in the immediate future.
Another possibility is that once the Sao Paulo is operational again, it may be deployed to participate in multinational operations overseas. This would not only add pedigree to the Brazilian Navy but also put the carrier to good use.
This is not a far-fetched scenario as, at the time of this writing, the Spanish-based defense news agency Infodefensa.com has reported that the Chilean Navy could send a warship to the Horn of Africa to help the European Union Naval Force’s Operation Atalanta. Its objective is to crack down on piracy off the coast of Somalia. The author of this analysis has not been able to find other sources that confirm this rumor; nevertheless, the idea that a Latin American warship could operate off the African coast is an intriguing scenario.
When the Sao Paulo is up and running, the Brazilian Navy will need a clear plan of how it is going to be utilized for the decade or so that will remain of its operational life. Here, deploying the vessel on multinational operations to combat transnational crimes is a valid option that merits further discussion. But for now, we will have to wait and see how the Brazilian Navy, along with companies like France’s DCNS and the recently hired Zentech, advance in repairing the Sao Paulo for its final tour of duty.