Aspiraciones atlánticas y progreso naval de la Marinha do Brasil

Atlantic aspirations and naval progress of the Marinha do Brasil


14 | 04 | 2023


The sinking of the Brazilian Navy's only aircraft carrier in early 2023 symbolizes its focus on projection over the South Atlantic.

In the picture

The helicopter carrier 'NAM Atlântico' [Marinha do Brasil].

report AMERICAN REGIONAL SECURITY, SRA-2023 /PDF version of article


° The exchange of an aircraft carrier, once purchased from France, for a helicopter carrier, purchased in 2018 from the United Kingdom, aligns capabilities with strategic objectives.

° The Brazilian fleet is on its way from being a "green water" fleet to a "blue water" fleet, with a permanent presence beyond its territorial waters.

° In 2022 Brazil participated in several river exercises with the navies of neighboring countries, underscoring the leadership of the largest country with the most rivers in South America.


In recent years, the Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil) has shown clear ambitions to become the strongest navy in Latin America, with increased investments in its surface and submarine fleet, and a growing projection towards the South Atlantic. Traditionally considered a fleet with only coastal capabilities, Brazil has strengthened in recent years to become one of the most important in the subcontinent. Its projection capacity extends to two dimensions of naval security: maritime operations in the South Atlantic and river operations in continental waters.

This article first reviews the evolution of the Navy's assets and main units up to the present day, followed by a brief introduction to the geopolitics of the South Atlantic and its main players, and ending with the river operations that Brazil has carried out in recent years in the waters of the continent.

Marinha do Brasil

During the period between 1996 and 2005, Brazil gave up leave a total of 21 ships of its Navy, thus leaving it in a status of leave projection capacity. However, this did not prevent the Navy from taking part in different missions, highlighting the participation of four of its vessels ('Mattoso Maia', 'Almirante Gastao Motta', 'Rio de Janeiro' and 'Bosísio') in a mission statement United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti. This period, however, was followed by another of progressive growth and new acquisitions that gradually restored the capacity to aspire to be one of the most dominant navies of the subcontinent as it is today.

More recently, 2023 began with the intentional sinking of its only aircraft carrier, the 'CV Sao Paulo'. Out of service since 2018, the leave final of this ship that was purchased from France in 2000 was compensated with the purchase from the British Royal Navy, that same year, of the former amphibious ship (or Landing Helicopter Dock, in precise terms) 'HMS Ocean', renamed 'NAM Atlântico'. This ship, which now stands out as one of the most lucid and strongest in the Brazilian Navy with capacity for 18 helicopters, needed repairs to its hangar and flight deck, as well as upgrades to its communication systems. Now, in addition to helping to monitor national territorial waters for illegal fishing or drug trafficking, the ship will undoubtedly make the Navy more willing to participate in humanitarian missions such as the one in Lebanon.

Among the latest acquisitions for the Navy, the new frigates of the class Tamandaré, to be delivered to the Navy between 2025 and 2028, will provide the Navy with greater projection capacity in the South Atlantic. Both these and the 'NAM Atlântico' will provide Brazil with greater capabilities on its way to becoming a navy with great aspirations of projection in the South Atlantic. As Wilder Sanchez points out, "the acquisition of the Atlantic helicopter carrier, together with the ProSub submarine program and the Tamandaré corvette, are examples of the Brazilian Navy's aspirations to become a true blue water navy in the 21st century".

When it comes to differentiating between navies of different caliber, one of the most widely used classifications is that of Todd-Lindberg, which distinguishes between "blue water" and "green water" fleets, which in turn have several subcategories. The former, which includes navies of the caliber of the United States, France or China (and Spain), implies a projection capacity that goes beyond the mere defense of their territorial waters and coastline. In contrast, a green-water fleet focuses solely on the defense of its territorial waters. In the case of the Brazilian Navy, it is a green water fleet, on its way to becoming a blue water fleet through the increase and strengthening of its naval assets.

Brazil's ambitions must be understood in the geopolitical context of the Atlantic, which has been receiving increasing attention in recent years.

Geopolitics of the South Atlantic

The aforementioned acquisitions point to a strong desire on the part of the Brazilian government to take the lead in the South Atlantic. Such ambitions must be framed in the geopolitical context of that region. This region, flanked by Antarctica in the south, Latin America in the west and West Africa in the east, is usually also subdivided into four sub-regions.

Its northern end, located on what can be called the line dividing the North and South Atlantic, is the narrowest region. With the African coast on one side, and the Guianas and northern Brazil on the other. In this region, the most important challenge to maritime security has for years been the trafficking of arms and narcotics. Further south, dividing the center between the eastern end (Africa) and the western end (America), there are marked differences between the two sides.

In the far west, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina cover the entire coast of the new world. All three countries are, in general terms, stable and peaceful; but Brazil, with its National Defense Policy, is the one that has shown the greatest intention of wanting to lead in the region. In contrast to this stability, the African coast at the opposite extreme presents a larger issue of states (Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone), but none with sufficient capacity or size to aspire to have a solid leadership in the region; and in many cases with unstable governments.

As one moves down towards the horn of Africa, one finds larger states, characterized by greater economic and military potential derived from their large mineral reserves (Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia or South Africa). Although South Africa has shown a desire for leadership, none of these countries has ambitions for regional dominance.

Finally, the southernmost section of the Atlantic is delimited by Patagonia and the Falklands, Antarctica and the southernmost tip of the African continent. In this sector, the political dispute over the sovereignty of the Malvinas, or the degree program to control the resources of the South Pole, are some of the most characteristic features. The Falklands are strategically located in a favorable place to control the region, as well as Punta Arenas or Ushuaia. In the latter, there is a possibility that the Chinese Liberation Army is considering the option of building a military base that would give Beijing a privileged position, close to Antarctica and the Strait of Magellan that connects the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In this context, Brazil now has the capacity to progressively increase its naval projection aspirations, but for this it also needs allies in the region (such as NATO or Morocco) to provide greater strategic awareness of what many call theWider Atlantic. When it comes to cooperation, precisely, Brazil already has regional experience in strengthening maritime security in another subject of waters: river operations.

River Operations: the other front

In parallel to its growth and progression as one of the strongest navies on the South American continent, Brazil also has a very significant role in what are known as riverine operations. As the name suggests, these operations are those that take place on rivers and lakes, rather than at sea. Thus, the Marinha do Brasil also presents itself as one of the continental leaders in this respect. Many of these areas are heavily affected by drug trafficking, which often uses maritime transport to move goods.

To counteract these activities, some of the continent's navies also carry out exercises and maneuvers to protect these waters, usually internal, although sometimes marking the border with one of the neighboring countries. In July 2022, Brazil, Colombia and Peru participated in a new edition of the river exercise known as Bracolper (formed by the initials of its three members). The main purpose of this exercise is to strengthen the ties between these navies to fight drug trafficking, environmental exploitation, trafficking of local fauna and flora, or illegal mining in the region, goal .

A couple of months later, in September 2022, the Acrux X exercise took place in the waterway connecting Paraguay and Paraná, one of the largest operations of its kind to date. The Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan navies took part in the exercise, together with the Bolivian and Paraguayan navies as observers. Brazil, which contributed 192 military personnel and the ships 'Parnaíba' and 'Potengi', carried out assault exercises, river traffic control actions and special operations together with the other participants. Through these exercises, Brazil and the other countries contribute to strengthening river security throughout the region, which is severely affected by the aforementioned illicit activities.

This aspect of Brazil's naval security, in which, as we have said, it is also one of the protagonists at continental level, makes it a key player in river and maritime security on the continent. Thus, the Brazilian Navy is emerging as one of the strongest in Latin America, with serious aspirations to become one of the main maritime players in the South Atlantic. Its most recent acquisitions, as well as its construction plans for the near future, foresee an Atlantic in which ships flying the "Ordem e Progresso" flag will be increasingly common. Thus, Brazil has in its hand the opportunity to establish itself as one of the main guarantors of regional security in the South American continent. In this regard, and considering the growing importance of the continent for Atlantic security in general terms, it would be advisable to assess how desirable it would be to establish a solid cooperation between Brazil and the Atlantic Alliance, which could benefit from the support of the Latin American giant to ensure a more secure Atlantic.