Written by Zhelesnyak; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2019 #2, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Latin America is one of the largest regions in the world, which includes 46 countries. Many of them have access to the sea, but only 11 have a relatively developed shipbuilding industry. They are Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador.
Most of the shipbuilding enterprises in the region, faced with a number of problems in their activities, were on the verge of closing due to lack of competitiveness, lack of qualified labour, low labour productivity, as well as the lack of advanced technologies. The infrastructure of many plants was worn out. There was an urgent need to repair workshops, to modernise the descent systems, to increase the berthing line and depth, to arrange the territory, etc.
The complexity of the hull structures of modern ships required a comprehensive upgrade of enterprises. In this regard, major shipbuilding centres in some of the most developed countries, which are distinguished by a high level of industrial development, have been modernised.
The shipbuilding industry in the region includes 116 major enterprises, with 120 thousand employees. Its most important centre is located in Brazil. It accounts for 42 enterprises (37%) of the civil and military shipbuilding industry, where 83 thousand people (70.4%) work. The second position is occupied by Argentina – 21 enterprises (18%), but in terms of the number of employees there, it is only the fourth after Mexico and Colombia – 6.5 thousand (5.4%). Mexico is in third place – 14 businesses (12%) and 7.5 thousand people (6.5%). In total, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico account for 77 plants (67%) and 97 thousand (82%) employed.
Most of the enterprises in this industry belong to the civil sector, while 54 (47 thousand people), work directly for the defence, which corresponds to more than 46 and about 40%, respectively.
The shipbuilding military-industrial complex of Latin America is a combination of manufacturing, repair enterprises and research organisations (R&D) working for the defence industry.
The military shipbuilding industry includes (by type) 31 shipbuilding, 20 ship repair and two engine plants, as well as a design bureau. In this connection, companies that produce diesel engines for boats and small vessels, as well as the corresponding bureau, are only available in Brazil: the plant of Scania Latin America, the Swedish company Scania, Cummins Brazil, the American corporation Cummins, and the ship project centre of EMGEPRON (Empresa Gerencial de Projetos Navais).
All manufacturing enterprises, in addition to construction work, are engaged in the repair, modernisation and maintenance of ships.
In addition, a significant number of research departments are part of the large enterprises as design offices or departments. In military technology terms, military R&D is carried out only in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, both by states themselves and with the support of foreign companies.
The basis of the modern production base of this military industry in Latin America consists of 15 shipbuilding enterprises. Among them, there are eight leading ones that can be attributed to the largest shipbuilding centres in the region, which have the capacity necessary for the construction of ships of the main classes.
They employ more than half of the workers in military production.
The main types of products of these enterprises include: submarines, surface ships, boats and auxiliary vessels for military purposes. Almost all ships are built under foreign licenses using technologies from other countries that have sufficient experience in the field of production.
This is due to the lag in the level of industrial and scientific-technical development of the region’s states from highly developed countries, and to the lack of necessary conditions, primarily financial, technological and personnel, for the creation of modern military-naval technology (MNT).
Important areas of development of the military shipbuilding industry in the region are: acquisition of technologies for establishing its own development and production of modern high-tech naval vessels, organisation of joint and licensed production, creation of enterprises with modern infrastructure, repair and modernisation of foreign-made ships in service with the Navy, at national enterprises of the shipbuilding industry.
Argentina and Brazil have the capacity to manufacture submarines, but in fact only the latter builds them.
According to the Brazilian programme for the construction of submarines (PROgrama de Desenvolvimento de SUBmarinos – PROSUB), by 2047, the Navy plans to have 15 Scorpion-type submarines and six nuclear-powered submarines in service. In this regard, an important stage in the development of the national shipbuilding industry was the modernisation of the state shipbuilding plant “Itaguai Construccos Navals”, located at the naval base in Itaguai (State of Rio de Janeiro). As part of the Brazilian-French agreement, the French side carried out a complete modernisation of its production facilities.
Currently, the plant is equipped with all the necessary industrial and special equipment for the construction and maintenance of diesel-electric submarines.
The company has powerful high-performance presses for processing steel hull structures, as well as modern equipment that allows welding sections and blocks of the submarine hull. On the plant premises, new workshops and a boathouse with an area of 55 thousand m2 were put in operation.
The cost of the project amounted to 12.5 billion dollars. On the eve of the start of construction, a large group of Brazilian specialists were trained in France, receiving the right to manage the plant for 20 years, after which it will again become the property of the Ministry of Defence of the country.
During the implementation of the submarine construction programme, Brazil hoped to develop modern technologies in order to get rid of foreign dependence in this sector of shipbuilding and get closer to the leading countries of the world.
Argentina, which had the necessary production capacity to build submarines, has lost its leading position in the region.
The difficult economic situation and lack of budgetary resources have forced its leadership to abandon large-scale projects for the completion of submarines and focus on major repairs and extending the life cycle of ships in service with the national Navy. The probability that the country’s economic situation will improve in the near future is extremely low.
Surface ships (frigates, corvettes, patrol ships, and landing cargo transports) are being built at the leading shipyards in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Chile.
The main enterprise for the construction of surface ships in Brazil is the Arsenal de Marin plant, which is managed by the MOD. It has the capacity to design and build frigates and corvettes, and is the main service centre for maintenance of both Brazilian and foreign ships. Here with the help of British experts, frigates of the “Niteroi” type were built, and the German corvettes of the “Inhauma” and “Barroso” types. The capacity of this enterprise makes it possible to repair and upgrade the only aircraft carrier in the national navy, the São Paulo.
Modern frigates, patrol ocean-going ships, fast boats and supply vessels are built in the shipyards of Mexico. As part of the national fleet development plan, the country’s military-political leadership consistently implements the “programme of planned replacement of ships of the Mexican Navy” (Programa Permanente de sustucion de buques de la Armade de Mexico). Three shipbuilding companies – Astimar No. 1 (Tampico), Astimar No. 3 (Coatzacoalcos) and Astimar No. 20 (Salina Cruz) – are engaged in this work, their main purpose is to build and repair ships for the national navy.
The equipment and infrastructure allow the manufacture of all the hull components of the ship, install the necessary equipment, launch it, conduct sea trials and then transfer it to the customer. The qualified engineering staff and technical equipment of the plants make it possible to build ships with a displacement of up to 2,500 tons.
Under foreign licenses, Mexican specialists built corvettes of the “Holsinger”, “Sierra” and “Durango” types, as well as the “Stan 4207” fast boats.
Modern patrol ships and combat boats of the Oaxaca, Polaris-2 and Democrata types were developed by Mexican designers. The national fleet is in urgent need of new frigates due to the complete obsolescence and wear of existing surface ships of the main classes. Currently, work is underway at the national shipyard “Astimar No. 20” to implement a programme for the construction of a new type of frigate using low-visibility technology. A ship with a standard displacement of 2,300 tons was chosen as the main option by the Dutch shipbuilding group “Damen Shipyards”.
The military-political leadership of the Republic of Chile pays great attention to the construction and modernisation of ships. Priority is given to national projects, in particular those implemented at the production facilities of ASMAR’s Talcaguano shipyard, which is one of the largest and most modern in Latin America.
The company has two dry and five floating docks (two of them are covered), a slipway, berths (more than 1,100 m) and various workshops (mechanical, electrical, etc.), where the construction, repair, upgrade and maintenance of ships and vessels are carried out. The Chilean government has planned to further increase the area of the plant, but due to economic difficulties, funding for the construction of a third dry dock has been temporarily suspended.
The most important projects implemented at Talcaguano’s production facilities are: construction of patrol ships, modernisation of frigates of the national squadron, maintenance and repair of submarines, as well as the construction of auxiliary vessels, in particular a new icebreaker.
In 2017, the fourth patrol ship of the OPV-80 series (Offshore Patrol Vessel) built at ASMAR’s Talcaguano plant, was built and transferred to the Chilean Navy.
It also carries out maintenance and repairs of foreign ships and vessels, in particular the repair of two German-made diesel-electric submarines (Project 209) owned by Ecuador.
In Colombia, the main production capacity of the shipbuilding industry belongs to the state corporation COTECMAR, which has one of the largest plants of this type in Latin America. Work is carried out in three areas: research and development of their own ship projects, the introduction of foreign innovative technologies into production, as well as staff training and deepening knowledge in the field of shipbuilding.
The corporation is directly involved in the implementation of national naval development plans. The pace of development of this industry gives grounds to consider it modern and highly efficient.
At the Cartagena corporate shipyard (Mamonal Industrial Zone) patrol ships and fast boast are built, as well as auxiliary vessels. Its infrastructure makes it possible to conduct research, develop new types of ships, upgrade, repair and maintain existing ones. The company has all the necessary technical equipment. Here, for example, there is a modern lift that lifts vessels up to 3,600 tons (up to 117 m long and 22 m wide), as well as eight dry docks.
The management of the corporation is active in training scientific and technical personnel, training of Colombian professionals abroad, particularly in the American school “Naval Postgraduate” (California), the Brazilian university (São Paulo), the Spanish Polytechnic University (Madrid), etc. Foreign technologies are being successfully introduced. So, together with South Korean specialists, Colombian engineers took part in the development of CPV-46 patrol ships, and the third ship of this series was built at the Cotecmar-Mamonal shipyard on their own.
At the same time, the project developed its own – CPV Colombia – already has the right to sell to Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
The plant has facilities for the construction of landing cargo transport of the BDA (Buque de Desembarco Anfibio) and modern OPV-80 patrol ships.
The largest Peruvian plant of the company SIMA (Callao) is the main shipbuilding centre of the country, which has the capacity to build destroyers, frigates and corvettes, as well as large vessels with a displacement of up to 50 thousand tons. It is equipped with modern equipment necessary for ship repairs, dry and floating docks, mechanical, welding and electrical workshops.
Frigates of the Carvajal type, patrol ships, and auxiliary vessels were built under the license of the Italian company Fincantieri. Currently, there are no orders for the construction of new MNTs. Thus, the plant’s capacity is used for the repair and modernisation of equipment that is in the combat structure of the Peruvian Navy, as well as for the construction of civilian vessels.
The remaining seven assembly plants in this industry, owned by Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and Uruguay are currently being used for the construction of patrol ships and boats, as well as auxiliary and small-displacement civilian vessels, due to a lack of orders.
Venezuela’s shipbuilding industry is in a difficult situation due to the economic crisis. The DIANS shipyard (Puerto Cabello) has the capacity only to build small-displacement ships and is not able to provide construction of other ships for the national navy.
The remaining shipbuilding plants in the military sector of the country are low-power – they can only build patrol ships.
Among the repair companies in Latin America, there are three major ones – Coserena (Puerto Deseado, Argentina), Astimar No. 18 (Acapulco, Mexico) and “Astilleros del Caribe (Las Palmas, Cuba).
They are used for maintenance and repair of the MNTs, as well as for the construction of auxiliary vessels of small displacement.
Other plants of this profile are low-power and perform only minor repairs of boats.
The territorial location of shipbuilding and ship repair enterprises of the military industry is extremely heterogeneous – they are largely concentrated around large metropolitan areas. The leading ones are located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the largest shipbuilding centre of Argentina is the province of Buenos Aires, and Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.
In almost all Latin American countries, the shipbuilding industry in controlled by the state through management bodies within the Ministry of Defence.
Thus, only the “big four” Latin American countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Chile, consider as a priority the development of their own military shipbuilding industry based on state orders. So, in Brazil, a factory for the construction of submarines was converted, in Mexico, frigates, in Colombia and Chile, patrol ships.
National shipbuilding enterprises, in close cooperation with leading foreign companies, develop their own projects for warships, in particular submarines, frigates and patrol ships.
The military-political leadership of the leading Latin American countries is striving to increase the role of their naval forces by increasing the construction of ships at national capacities. The prospects for the development and utilisation of the latter will largely depend on the financial and economic situation of the states of the region.
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