Brazil will spend US$160 million by the end of next year on the development of a nuclear-propelled submarine to protect the oil reserves found recently off its coast, the defense minister said on Friday.
The vessel — which officials hope to be complete by 2020 — would be the first nuclear-propelled submarine in Latin America. Brazil does not have nuclear weapons.
The submarine is the highlight of the Brazil’s new defense plan — to be made public on Sept. 7.
Brazil is believed to be preparing to spend US$3.5 billion by the end of 2010 to upgrade its weapon systems, local media reports have said.
Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, speaking on Friday in Rio de Janeiro, said the new defense plan includes provisions for a massive technology transfer from France — essential if Brazil hopes to have a nuclear submarine.
In February, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would transfer technology to Brazil for construction of the diesel-powered Scorpene attack submarine. It will serve as a model for a nuclear sub, Brazilian officials have said.
Brazil’s strategic affairs minister said this week that Brazil was planning a “significant increase” in defense spending.
Roberto Mangabeira Unger told reporters Brazil wants to create a rapid deployment force and build a state-of-the-art weapons industry — one that would become an active exporter of arms.
Unger did not detail how big of a jump there would be in the defense budget, which now stands at 1.5 percent of GDP. Brazil’s GDP was about US$1.5 trillion last year.
But he said Brazil’s military must become more agile to protect the country’s long coastline and vast, porous borders in the Amazon, along with its oil reserves.
Brazil has discussed building a nuclear submarine for decades, and began a formal program in 1979.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last year announced US$540 million in new funding for the program and for existing uranium enrichment efforts.
The nation has five conventionally powered submarines.