SAO PAULO, April 27 (UPI) -- Brazil is on course to have a standing army of half a million men and women as part of its military regeneration program that includes commissioning a nuclear-powered submarine.
Plans for increasing the country's voluntary force from about 300,000 at present to 500,000 are being pursued as part of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's vision of Brazil asserting its presence as an influential regional power.
Lula has set sights on implementing the program before he hands over power to a new head of state, possibly his hand-picked candidate Dilma Rousseff, after the Oct. 3 general election.
Lula's plans are backed by the country's intelligentsia who are already behind the president's National Defense Strategy, unveiled in 2008.
The newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo said Brazil's defense spending rose 44.5 percent in real terms over the past five years. Further budget increases are likely as the country revives its defense manufacturing industries, which were almost abandoned with the 1980s' switch to democracy from military rule.
The government has also embarked on an active overseas arms buying program, complex military technology transfer deals and long-term defense procurement strategies that are likely to be carried into the next presidency.
"The defense budget tends to keep growing," Marcio Scalercio, international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro's Catholic University told the newspaper.
He cited Brazil's plans to expand its air force and navy with the purchase of new hardware and vessels, including a nuclear-powered submarine supplied by France and another to be built with French collaboration.
The government says naval expansion is required to protect Brazil's newly found offshore oil fields that are being developed under a multibillion-dollar program.
Brazil's pre-salt underwater oil fields contain as much as 100 billion barrels of oil, said Marcio Mello, head of Brazil's Petroleum Geologists Association. That would put their value at well more than $8 trillion at current crude oil prices.
The military modernization is part of a $300 billion plan to build and secure a vast infrastructure comprising drills and rigs, ships and logistics offshore and overland.
Scalercio rejected suggestions that Brazil's military spending would lead to an arms race in the region. He was backed by other research academics interviewed by the newspaper.
"Brazil needs defense resources, it must re-equip and this does not mean an arms race with other countries of the region," Thomas Heye, a professor from the Fluminense Federal University told the newspaper.
Brazil's defense expenditure as percentage of gross domestic product already topped 2.6 percent in 2006, the latest available data, but has seen a further dramatic rise since 2009.