RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Brazil is modernizing its navy with new acquisitions to continue expansion of the naval forces' responsibilities in regular patrolling of lakes and rivers, a role normally played by the coast guard and other security arms of national defense.
Brazil is also building up its submarine construction program with French help and will build at least one nuclear-powered submarine under present plans and likely extend the conventional naval craft building into new areas, including export, industry sources said.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and aides have repeatedly outlined plans for Brazil taking on the mantle of the lead regional supplier of defense equipment to neighboring countries while pursuing exports further afield.
Shipbuilder Base Naval de Val-de-Caes recently delivered a single Lancha de Acao Rapida-Especial to the Brazilian navy. The LAR-E is a light fast attack craft, which will be deployed on the Itaipu Lake and rivers on the country's border with Argentina and Paraguay.
Officials said the LAE-E will be operated by the Foz do Iguacu port authority that looks after the Itaipu Lake, part of the giant Itaipu hydro-electric dam, which feeds electricity into the power grids of the three countries.
The 3-ton vessel can cruise at a speed of 40 knots and its superstructure is fitted with firing ports and ballistic armor installed by the Centigon Blindagens do Brasil, part of the Carat Security Group.
The vessel includes observation, communication and navigation systems. The boat includes a weapon mount for installation of 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
The Brazilian navy has embarked on expansion in response to a stepped up defense and security development program begun under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The navy already has about 60,000 personnel and has its numerical strength constantly under review.
To an existing 98 ships and 89 aircraft will be added more patrol craft, naval aviation units and other craft for deployment on lakes and rivers and the along the country's Atlantic coast. Already, the Brazilian navy is the largest in Latin America with an inventory of international origin, including the 32,800-ton aircraft carrier, the NAe Sao Paulo, bought from the French navy, British-built frigates, locally manufactured corvettes, coastal diesel-electric submarines and many other river and coastal patrol craft.
Unlike other navies the Brazilian navy has been increasingly involved with the merchant navy, a role that is seen likely to increase with the development of offshore oil and natural gas fields.
BNVC didn't say if more of the LAR-E vessels would be forthcoming in the new year.