Brazil will spend $160 million by the end of next year on the development of nuclear-propelled submarine to protect the enormous oil reserves found recently off its coast, the defense minister said Friday.

The vessel — which officials hope to be complete by 2020 — would be the first nuclear submarine in Latin America.

The submarine is the highlight of the Brazil's new defense plan — to be made public on Sept. 7.

Brazil is believed to be preparing to spend $3.5 billion by the end of 2010 to upgrade its weapon systems, according to reports in the local media.

"Brazil needs a defense structure compatible with its new, prominent role on the international scene," Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told the Brazilian magazine Exame in this week's edition.

Speaking in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Jobim said the plan includes provisions for a massive technology transfer from France — essential if Brazil hopes to have a nuclear submarine.

In February, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would transfer technology to Brazil for construction of the diesel-powered Scorpene attack submarine. It will serve as a model for a nuclear sub, Brazilian officials have said.

Brazil has discussed building a nuclear submarine for decades, and began a formal program in 1979. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last year announced $540 million in new funding for the program and for existing uranium enrichment efforts.

The nation has five conventionally powered submarines.

Brazil has been ramping up its defense capabilities as worries mount that its oil reserves — which some estimate at 55 billion barrels — and the potential riches of the Amazon could prove tempting targets to other nations.