Brazil decommissioning its only aircraft carrier, Sao Paulo
Brazil has decided to permanently sideline its sole aircraft carrier, the flat-top São Paulo. The Brazilian government has said the cost of updating the ship and purchasing new planes was prohibitive and will seek to replace them in the future. The decision underscores the point that aircraft carriers are a rich country’s game.
The São Paulo began life as the French aircraft carrier Foch. It served for 37 years until it was replaced by the nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle. Brazil bought the vessel from the French government in 2000. More than 860 feet long and displacing 32,000 tons fully loaded, the carrier was capable of carrying up to 39 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Once in Brazilian hands, São Paulo underwent a refurbishment program that included repairs to propulsion, electricity generation, and flight operations equipment. The Brazilian Navy also purchased a fleet of obsolete A-4 Skyhawk jets from Kuwait, and used even more obsolete aircraft on board including the S-2 Tracker and C-1 Trader. There are American designs originally flown from U.S. Navy carriers but retired decades ago. Brazil’s Navy also purchased and planned to refurbish six S-70B Seahawk helicopters.
All this sprucing up can’t change the fact that São Paulo is now more than 50 years old. According to the Brazilian Navy, it needs another ten years of work at an unknown cost to get moving again and. The service has decided it’s just not worth the effort.
Brazil has long been an aircraft carrier power. São Paulo was meant to replace the carrier Minas Gerais, which was formerly the British Navy’s HMS Vengeance and served that country from 1957 to 2001. None of Brazil’s carriers have ever seen combat. Brazil was one of the few aircraft carrier powers in the Western Hemisphere: aside the United States and Brazil, Canada maintained aircraft carriers until 1970, and Argentina until 1990.
Oddly enough, Brazil was a mentor to China’s fledgling carrier program—in 2009, Brazil agreed to train Chinese navy officers on the São Paulo. In 2013, according to the Xinhua state media service, a cadre of Brazilian Navy carrier pilots were training China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy in carrier flight operations.