Submarines: South America Goes Nuclear


February 28, 2008: Brazil has found the partner it was seeking, in its quest to build nuclear submarines. Neighbor Argentina has agreed to share the expense, and contribute technology, to build a nuclear reactor to propel this new class of subs. Brazil is already spending half a billion dollars to develop a nuclear power plant for submarines. The plan was to have the power plant ready in seven years. In the meantime, Brazil has apparently got France to provide a nuclear submarine design, one that could be built in Brazil, and equipped with the Brazilian/Argentinean nuclear reactor.

France is currently building a new class of nuclear subs. The six new Barracuda class SSN's (nuclear attack submarines), will cost about $1.6 billion each. The 4,100 ton boats are smaller than America's new 8,000 ton Virginia class subs (which cost about $1.8 billion each). The Barracudas have a different mission than the Virginias, one that is closer to what Brazil is looking for.

The older American Los Angeles class boats were about 7,000 tons. Size does matter, as it indicates how much space you have available for sensors and weapons. Larger boats are better equipped and more heavily armed. But smaller boats are more useful for coastal work, have smaller crews and are cheaper to operate.

The first Barracuda won't be launched until 2012, at the earliest, will rely on a lot of automation, and have a crew of only about sixty. The Barracudas will have four torpedo tubes, which can also be used to launch missiles.

The Barracudas will enter service just in time for Brazil to get a good look at the design, and make a deal with the French. No word yet on how many of these new Brazilian/Argentinean nuclear boats would be built. If they are basically Barracudas, then they will probably cost about the same. Given the current defense spending of the two nations ($24 billion for Brazil, about $5 billion for Argentina), Brazil might build 3-4, and Argentina one or two. A single nuclear sub is a powerful weapon, although neither of these nations really needs one. But that's rarely a decisive issue when defense spending decisions are made.




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