Out of the nine countries (Brazil, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that currently have aircraft carriers or amphibious assault vessels equipped with flight decks, only four (Brazil, France, USA, and Russia) have embarked aircraft of conventional type (CTOL), while the other five operate STOL/VTOL aircraft only.
The old French Foch was bought to replace the aged Minas Gerais at a bargain price of $12 million USD in 2000, no aircraft included. The government had already purchased a flotilla of used A-4 Skyhawk fighters from Kuwait for US$70 million. The A-4s have rockets, free fall bombs and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles as armament, but the São Paulo currently serves mainly to train pilots to fly carrier operations.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso noted during the transfer ceremony that "The transference of the Ship-Aerodrome São Paulo to the Operative Sector of the Navy adds to our naval power an important magnification in its ability of defense of the Brazilian interests at sea. A country as ours, possessing an extensive coast, with more than 7 thousand kilometers of coast, requires a naval power compatible with its stature in the international scene. Today, as before, Brazil is concerned about implementing concrete measures that offer the nation the guarantee of respect to its sovereignty. We are and we will always be a nation that fights for the peace, however, that does not mean being able to do without modern Armed Forces, enabled and endowed with adequate dissuasive potential. Few countries, even today, have the capacity to operate with efficiency in the high seas. It is important that Brazil continues to be one of them."
Since its construction, the ship has received multiple upgrades over the years, leaving it with a diverse range of technologies. In its current form, it is expected to remain effective in its role for the foreseeable future, though further modernization efforts are expected as it is converted into a combat ready vessel. Twenty-three A-4 Skyhawk have been acquired (assigned AF-1) to compose the fighter-bomber group of São Paulo, together with the existing helicopters already in the national defense inventory. Its transference consolidates the operational capacity of Brazil's deployed fixed wing force.
The aircraft carrier São Paulo was constructed in France from 1957 to 1960. It served the French Navy as Foch. Its purchase by the Brazilian government in September 2000 while still operational was an unknown process for a ship of this caliber, and it was received by the Brazilian Navy in only two months and fifteen days and incorporated on 15 November 2000. The incorporation of São Paulo and the AF-1 to the Navy of Brazil realized a long-held goal of being able to carry through the aerial defense of the naval forces with fixed wing aircraft.
In the first three years of service as São Paulo, the ship completed several missions, some in foreign waters (particularly Operations ARAEX and TEMPEREX, which is annually used to qualify and train Super Etendards and S-2T Turbo Trackers of the Argentine Navy) and is currently working to remain operational while the military faces budget cuts.
Its crew consists of approximately 1,400 sailors (90 officers and 1,320 enlisted). This number can be raised to 2000 men, given the composition of the Onboard Aerial Detachment(DAE), in accordance with the varied nature of the missions that Task Force will be used for.
It is actively used for the qualification and re-qualification of rotary and fixed-wing pilots (with about 500 catapult launches) and the first Brazilian exercises to practice carrier-based attack missions.