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On 15 February, the Brazilian Navy announced the retirement of the SAO PAULO aircraft carrier (the former FOCH). Since Argentina has similarly demobilised the 25 DE MAYO, the era of aircraft carriers as capital ships in Latin America might now have come to an end.

With 37 years’ operational service at the time of its acquisition from France, the SAO PAULO has a proud history in the service of two nations, with several attempts made at enhancing its operational capacity. However, Brazilian naval authorities decided that the technical uncertainties involved in so large-scale a programme, coupled with the likely high cost and extended timescale (ten years, according to some observers), made it preferable to retire the carrier.

While a replacement programme has not been altogether ruled out, it would at best take third place in the hierarchy of naval projects, after the nuclear submarine project and the construction of the new NL-class corvettes. Both are less expensive than the putative replacement of the SAO PAULO and acquisition of a modern carrier-compatible aircraft. Even if the carrier were to be modernised, the existing fleet of F-1 (A-4M SKYHAWKs) would reach the end of their service life by the time the programme could be completed.



The Brazilian Navy’s SAO PAULO aircraft carrier off Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

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