Purchasing two new submarines is viewed as vitally important
The chief of staff of Portugal’s Navy, Henrique Gouveia e Melo, will suggest the purchase of two new submarines to the country’s next government.
The man who became a household name for leading Portugal’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign will also pitch modernising two frigates within the next three years and acquiring two refuelling ships.
In an interview with Lusa marking the second anniversary since he took up his post, the admiral previewed the priorities that the navy will present to the next government in 2024, a year in which the organisation of the armed forces is once again to be debated.
The purchase of two more submarines “in six years’ time” is among the plans that Gouveia e Melo would like to see approved, arguing that the country’s geographical area “demands” this.
“Submarines also allow us to observe the environment without messing with it, because nobody knows they’re there, and this is a very useful function for the state, which wants to control its sea discreetly and discover activities that it can’t discover otherwise because it doesn’t have the surface capacity to really occupy such a large space,” explained Gouveia e Melo, himself a submariner.
These two new submarines, which the chief of staff wants to be smaller than the current ones, would join the Tridente and the Arpão (pictured in this article); these are the only two submarines the navy currently has, which poses difficulties when one of them needs repairs.
As for the frigates, Gouveia e Melo noted that the current Military Programming Law already provides funds for their renewal and said that he intends to modernise “two more within three years.”
A contract will soon be signed for the acquisition of two refuelling ships, which are also to be “logistical transport ships” – an arrangement that “saves investment but gives more capacity” to the navy, he added.
Gouveia e Melo also highlighted the acquisition of the six Ocean Patrol Vessels (NPO), the signing of the contract for which has now been scheduled for December 29.
He said that he expects to have these in service by 2030, 2031″ as ships that will have an anti-submarine warfare capability that the four that are already built lack.
“We are in a crucial area for logistical movements between the Americas and Europe and this is crucial for NATO’s logistical movement,” he argued. “If we Portuguese, who have the Azores, don’t take an active part in protecting these maritime lines of communication, be they for data, cargo transport or people, we are somehow diminishing our strategic value within the coalition itself.”
The first of the six patrol ships, which will arrive in 2026, was initially scheduled to be delivered this year, but the process was delayed after the Court of Auditors twice rejected the approval of the contract that the Ministry of Defence wanted to sign with IdD Portugal Defence – the state holding company that manages public shareholdings in the sector.
Also at the beginning of 2024, Gouveia e Melo said, the navy will begin “the project for medium-sized patrol boats” that will replace older patrol boats and have “a very specific design” conceived by the navy.
The admiral argued that these patrols “can certainly be sold in the Gulf of Guinea and in other regions that need that type of ship to start building a Navy” as well as being an “export product” and thus added value for Portugal.
When asked about the current political crisis and what consequences it might have for the Navy’s investments, the admiral replied that “instability always affects us in some way, but it’s short-lived” and that “what’s important is the conception of a country that is maritime.
“I’m convinced that all governments, more to the left or more to the right, with small nuances, realise this need, so I’m very convinced that in the long term the strategy will not be affected,” he said.
Gouveio e Melo “not focused” on potential presidency bid
The Navy chief’s name has been floated as a potential presidential candidate for months now. However, he continues to dismiss the idea, saying all his attention is focused on his current job.
“It seems like someone wants to take out a life insurance policy by asking the question a thousand times,” Gouveia e Melo said.
As Lusa points out, polls of voter intentions consistently place him as among the favourites in any race for president. This has not made him any more eager to discuss the subject, however.
“I’m focused on my military objective, which is to transform the navy into a truly useful, significant, comprehensive and technologically advanced instrument at the service of the Portuguese state,” he told Lusa. “This is a huge job. It takes up one hundred and ten per cent of my brain. And so I’m not worried about other things.”
At the age of 63 and after two years at the top of the naval hierarchy, Gouveia e Melo acknowledged that he may have won over people with the role he played in coordinating Portugal’s very successful drive to vaccine the public against Covid-19, but said that this does not oblige him to make any move to embark on a political career.
“People may like me, but that doesn’t mean I have to do anything because people like me, because there was a historical period; I had a role, it wasn’t me alone, it was me and others,” he said. “There’s that historical record, now I’m concerned with doing and fulfilling my role well.”