By Jaylan Boyle, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian government has gone on a spending spree in Europe to reinvigorate the infrastructure and equipment of its defense forces.
In defiance of the recession, Brazil has increased its defense procurement budget from US$3.6 Billion to US$5.6 Billion, and will include the building of four nuclear-powered submarines with the assistance of French contractors.
The scramble to get a share of the Brazilian arms market is reportedly causing excitement among European suppliers, with the government indicating that it is prepared to deal with any sovereign nation, rather than predominantly with Spain as in the past.
Defense Minister Nelson Jobim has said that spending will include such ‘big ticket’ items as fighter aircraft, tanks and armored cars. In addition to nuclear submarines, naval spending will also include frigates and smaller vessels.
The overhaul is part of President Lula’s National Defense Strategy, a regeneration plan set out last year. Lula has said that Brazil will aim to spend at least 50% more in 2009-2010 than in previous years.
Part of the reason for the scramble among European suppliers to secure a piece of the Brazilian arms market is the fact that prevailing economic conditions dictate that financing terms will in all probability be extremely lucrative for exporters.
So far Spain tops the list of clients, with some US$977 Million in supplies exported. That figure is about to be dwarfed when the government hires French contractors to build four Scorpene-class nuclear-powered submarines on Brazilian soil, at a cost of around €1 Billion each. This figure represents nearly twice what a German firm had previously offered.
Some commentators have expressed confusion at the decision, as Brazil already produces submarines with Arsenal da Marinha of Rio de Janeiro and assistance from the German company HDW.
The decision reportedly surprised even the Navy; in 2006 Admiral Alberto Guimarães de Carvalho declared that he was, “satisfied with the performance of the current submarines.” Few government departments traditionally receive funding for items they already have and with which they are satisfied.
In July, it was reported that Brazil was preparing to purchase up to 250 German Leopard tanks, to be deployed along its approximately 10,000 miles of border. During the military regimes of the 70s and 80s, Brazil developed very strong military production capacity, however this industry was scaled down significantly when democracy returned. Since then the Brazilian military has fallen into steady decline in terms of war-readiness.
A hallmark of President Lula’s time as president has been his goal of broadening Brazil’s influence both locally and globally, and many commentators see the recent military spending spree as addressing this aim.
In particular, the assertion of Brazil’s nuclear power via the production of submarines is seen as a message to the rest of Latin America that the country intends on becoming the dominant power in the region.