Monday, November 19, 2007

An oily excuse

Via the Oil Drum, the AP is reporting what is, I think, one of the lamest excuses ever for a major program that was already going to occur:

This month's discovery of a monster offshore oil reserve justifies Brazil's plan to build a nuclear submarine because it would be used to protect the find, the defense minister said.

"When you have a large natural source of wealth discovered in the Atlantic, it's obvious you need the means to protect it," Nelson Jobim said Thursday at a defense conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Jobim said Brazil must safeguard the Tupi field and its 5 billion to 8 billion barrels of oil reserves from other nations and from "actions that could come from the area of terror," the government's Agencia Brasil news service reported.

Let's hit the tape as to why this is ridiculous. First, nuclear submarines are wicked expensive for oil field defense missions against small bands in small craft or hijecked/pirated merchant vessels. It is massive overkill for this mission especially since the field is not too far from shore, according to CNN.:

The Tupi field lies under 2,140 meters (7,060 feet) of water, more than 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet) of sand and rocks, and then another 2,000-meter (6,600-foot) thick layer of salt. The company drilled test wells that lie under 2,166 meters (7,100 feet) of water, 286 kilometers (177 miles) south of Rio de Janeiro.

Even when Canada used their (much) cheaper diesel submarines to sneak up on Spanish fishing trawlers near the Grand Banks, it was a matter of using available assets instead of best assets which in both protection cases would have been numerous small, rather lightly armed, very seaworthy surface patrol craft.

Secondly, the Brazillians have been seeking a nuclear submarine capacity for most of my lifetime. They have not been working that hard at it, nor have they devoted massive resources, partially because for a good chunk of my lifetime hard currency has been hard to come-by until the resource extraction boom took off in 2002 or so with the increased Chinese demand. Brazil has a navy that is split between an efficient coastal patrol and defense force and a mid-tier regional power navy with single ocean power projection desires. It is in this role of a regional power that nuclear submarines make sense compared to either diesel electric or AIP subs, or other surface patrol craft. The oil field is a convienent red herring for international consumption.

I wonder if Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money would want to discuss the early 20th Century South American Dreadnought race as a potential parrallel to the Brazilian desire for nucler submarines....

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