In early 2014, Brazil remains the sole South American nation to field an active aircraft carrier (Argentina gave up use of their carriers decades ago). BNS Sao Paulo (A12) represents the flagship of the modern Brazilian Navy and originated in France in 1959 as a Foch (R99) Clemenceau-class carrier. Once her service in the French Fleet ended, she was purchased by the Brazilian government to become the Sao Paulo, carrying the name of the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The reconstituted vessel was formally commissioned on November 15th, 2000 and has since been modernized on several occasions to keep in step with evolving battlefield threats. Sao Paulo succeeded the decades-old Brazilian Navy carrier Minas Gerais, an ex-British Colossus-class carrier laid down in 1942 (as HMS Vengeance (R71)).
Sao Paulo showcases a typical Western aircraft carrier profile with a flat, unobstructed flight deck and starboard, amidships-set island superstructure. Her deck allows for the launching of two fixed-wing aircraft simultaneously (one at the bow and one along portside) while recovery is via a angled deck running from the starboard stern to portside. Two hangar elevators (one at the forward-starboard and the other along a deck-edge position) allow for the necessary management of aircraft from below deck to the flight deck and vice-versa. Her dimensions include an overall length of 869 feet, a beam of 104 feet and a draught of 28 feet. She displaces at 36,160 tons under load and power is by way of six boiler systems feeding four steam turbines driving twin shafts with an output of 126,000 horsepower. This allows the vessel to make headway at 32 knots and reach out to ranges nearing 7,500 nautical miles. Her complete crew complement is 1,920 personnel made up of 1,274 sailors and 64 officers. Her air arm numbers up to 582 personnel.
As with all navy carriers, the Sao Paulo is principally an offensive-minded vessel, her defense primarily derived from a collection of support ships making up her at-sea entourage. However, she sports a last-line-of-defense armament suite that includes 4 x 100mm turreted guns (France-originated), 2 x SACP "Crotale" EDIR ("Ecartometrie Differentielle InfraRouge") short-range surface-to-air missile systems (France) and 4 x twin-launcher SIMBAD ("Mistral") surface-to-air missile units. Beyond her stated armament, the carrier also relies on a slew of onboard electronics to protect her crew and track, target and engage enemy systems and forces in turn. This arrangement includes a DRBV-23B air search radar, a DRBV-15 low-altitude, air/surface search radar (formally DRBV-50 series), an NRBA-50 scanning radar, a DRBI-10 series 3-dimensional radar and DRBC-32C fire radar systems (formally DRBC-31). The installed DRBN-34 system provides navigational services.
Completing the value of the Sao Paulo is its air arm of which constitutes some 39 total fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Brazil netted itself an order of ex-Kuwaiti, American-originated Douglas A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers in 1998 (prior to procurement of the carrier itself) and 22 of these aircraft make up the onboard fixed-wing collection. Up to seventeen helicopters are carried and these are an assortment of American and French types including the Aerospatiale AS532 Cougar and Sikorsky Sh-3 Sea King models. The Sao Paulo's deck is arranged in a traditional CATOBAR ("Catapult-Assisted Take-Off, Barrier-Arrested Recovery") configuration.
Prior to becoming the Sao Paulo, the vessel (as the French Navy "Foch") was modernized during the span of 1980 to 1981 in an effort to support Dassault Super Etendard French naval fighters. In 1985, the whole Clemenceau-class (numbering two) was again refitted and granted use of the Crotale missile system which took the place of the some of the original 100mm turrets. In her early-going, the now-renamed Sao Paulo participated in several global exercises that helped the vessel and crew push the vessel through her paces. Her deck also served as a training ground for Argentine Naval aviators instructed in operating ex-French Dassault Etendard fighters as well as ex-American Grumman S-2 Tracker platforms. For the Brazilian Navy, Sao Paulo also serves as an active instructional vessel dealing in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing training.
Sao Paulo was modernized throughout the latter half of the 2000s as was some of her air arm. As it stands, the Brazilian Navy will continue to support the Sao Paulo and her air group will be further modernized with the arrival of new American Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters, considerably broadening the vessel's anti-ship/anti-submarine capabilities for the foreseeable future. The Sao Paulo remains a critical cog to Brazilian Navy operations in the region, both for stability and in power projection across Atlantic-facing South American and Latin American waters. For any modern naval power, the aircraft carrier is the heart and soul of the fleet and to the British Navy, this is no exception.
December 2017 - The Brazilian Navy has announced that the Sao Paulo will be decommissioned rather than affect expensive repairs to her design. She will be stripped of her usefulness before being scrapped - leaving the Brazilian Navy without its flagship carrier. its air wing is expected to operate from land bases for the foreseeable future.