The news of the sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil has caused commentators to look at why Brazil wants the vessel while at the same time decommissioning their only aircraft carrier.
Brazil decided not to go about modernisation of its aircraft carrier São Paulo and has instead opted for decommissioning this old, but majestic French built aircraft carrier. this aircraft carrier was purchased from France in the year 2000, from the French naval shipbuilding group DCNS. However, the carrier is not without its limitations and has a history of serviceability issues which means it cannot function more than 3 months without need for maintenance and repairs, partly due to the age and also the design of the ship.
Recently, the modernisation costs were seen as excessive by the Brazilian admiralty. The modernisation plans for the São Paulo would have included the replacement of the propulsion, catapults and also its combat system which would have cost in excess of 1 billion Brazilian Reals or approximately $324 million dollars. Therefore it makes more economic sense for the Brazilian admiralty to buy the flagship of the Royal Navy for £84 million. In other words, it is more cost effective to buy a ship which is already sea worthy, which was built in the 1990s, than modernising an older ship, which would need more refitting, and cost more money.
One must also look at the history of the Brazilian aircraft carrier Sao Paulo, to bring some context to the current procurement. It is a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier originally commissioned by the French Navy in 1963 as the carrier Foch, and was subsequently transferred to the Brazilian Navy in the year 2000. It has a displacement of 32,800 tons, and is 265 meters long, with a crew of nearly 2,000 sailors. It can accommodate 39 aircraft, and its current capabilities include 22 jets and 17 helicopters. The Brazilian Navy already purchased A-4 Skyhawk Fighter planes from Kuwait for service on board the São Paulo.
During the years of 2005 – 2010 it underwent significant modernisation which included the repair of its steam turbines, refitting of its boilers, installation of water cooling units, and the refit of the aircraft catapults to name a few upgrades. However, the São Paulo was scheduled to re-join the Brazilian navy in late 2013, but suffered from a fire in 2012. From 2016 on wards it underwent repairs, and there were also reports of problems with the carrier’s catapult mechanism. Therefore on the 14th of February 2017, the Brazilian Navy announced the decision that the São Paulo would be demobilised, and decommissioned due to the uneconomical cost of repairs.