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Portuguese Armed Forces

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Portuguese Armed Forces

Portuguese Armed Forces
Forças Armadas
Military Standard of Portugal
Founded 1950
Current form 1982
Service branches Exército (Army)
Marinha (Navy)
Força Aérea (Air Force)
Headquarters EMGFA
Supreme Commander Aníbal Cavaco Silva[1]
Minister of National Defense José P. Aguiar-Branco[2]
Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Artur Pina Monteiro[3]
Available for
military service
2,435,042 males, age 18-49 (2005 est.),
2,405,816 females, age 18-49 (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,952,819 males, age 18-49 (2005 est.),
1,977,264 females, age 18-49 (2005 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
67,189 males (2005 est.),
60,626 females (2005 est.)
Active personnel 32.992 (2013)[4]
Reserve personnel 210,930
Budget 2.138,8 billion (2014)[5]
Percent of GDP 1.1% (2012)[6]

The Portuguese Armed Forces (Forças Armadas) are the military of the Portuguese Republic. They consist of three professional uniformed branches: the Portuguese Navy (Marinha), the Portuguese Army (Exército) and the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea).[7]

The President of the Portuguese Republic is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (Comandante Supremo das Forças Armadas)[8] while their administration and the defense policy execution is done by the Government via the Ministry of National Defense (Ministério da Defesa Nacional).[9]

The Portuguese Armed Forces are charged with protecting the Republic and its overseas territories as well as supporting international peacekeeping efforts when mandated by the United Nations and/or European Union. Recent operations include anti-piracy action in the Gulf of Aden, the conflict in Afghanistan, peacekeeping missions in East-Timor, Lebanon, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and air policing of Iceland and the Baltic States.[10] Military units are maintained throughout the country, both on the mainland and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores.



The history of the Portuguese Military itself begins in the 12th century with the creation of the Kingdom of Portugal (Reino de Portugal). The naval and the ground forces remained independent from each other for hundreds of years.

Although there were some joint military and National Defense bodies (mostly with mere political coordination responsibilities), in the early 20th century, the administration of the several forces of the Military remained in charge of separate Government departments (respectively the Ministry of Navy for the Navy, the Ministry of War for the Metropolitan Army and the Ministry of Colonies for the Colonial Forces), these forces also having operational structures totally independent of each other.

In 1930s, plans were laid for the creation of a unified Ministry of Defense. However, the Navy and the Army desired to maintain their autonomy represented by their separate ministries, thus politically opposing and preventing this reorganization for the next couple of decades.

The need to defend the Portuguese Overseas Empire against possible foreign aggressions during the World War II, led to a step being given toward the integration of the several military forces, when the Colonial Forces were also put under the dependence of the Ministry of War, which then became in charge of all Portuguese ground forces (metropolitan and colonial).


Lessons learned from World War II, the start of the Cold War and the creation of NATO, which Portugal integrated as a founding member, partially ended the objections to the creation of a unified command for the military forces. In 1950, the roles of National Defence Minister (ministro da Defesa Nacional) and of Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (Chefe do Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas or CEMGFA) are created. To the CEMGFA were given almost all the responsibilities until then assigned to the majors-generals (military heads) of the Navy and of the Army, whose roles were, at the same time, extinct. This can be considered the mark of the establishment of the Portuguese Armed Forces as a single organization.

Opposition from the Army and the Navy prevented, however, the formation of a single ministry for the Military. The political compromise solution for this was the creation of the role of National Defence Minister, but without its own ministry, instead integrating the organization of the Armed Forces General Staff (Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas or EMGFA).

In 1952, the separate aviations of the Army and of the Navy are unified, leading to the creation of the independent Portuguese Air Force and its integration in the Armed Forces as its third service branch. Unlike the Army and the Navy with their own separate ministers, the new Air Force was directly dependent from the National Defense Minister, via the Under-Secretary of State of the Aeronautics (full Secretary of State from 1961).

Still in the 1950s, the operational integration of the Armed Forces further progresses with the establishment of the roles of commanders-in-chief of the Armed Forces in each of the Portuguese overseas territories, as permanent unified commanders for the forces of the three branches stationed in each territory. Especially during the Overseas War, the commanders-in-chief will assume increasing responsibilities, until gaining full operational command of the Armed Forces in each territory, leaving territorial service branch commanders almost exclusively with logistics responsibilities.

Overseas wars

Air Force Paratroopers perform an air assault in Angola during the Colonial War.

Between 1961 and 1974, the Armed Forces would be engaged against emerging nationalist movements in several of the Portuguese African provinces, a conflict known as the Overseas War (Guerra do Ultramar) in Portugal and as War of Liberation (Guerra de Libertação) in the former provinces. It was a decisive ideological struggle and armed conflict, in the scope of the Cold War, in African (Portuguese Africa and surrounding nations) and European (mainland Portugal) scenarios. Unlike other European nations, the Portuguese regime did not leave its African overseas provinces (províncias ultramarinas) during the 1950s and 1960s. Several armed independence movements, most prominently led by communist parties who cooperated under the CONCP umbrella and pro US groups, became active in these areas, most notably in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea.

The Portuguese Armed Forces were able to maintain a large military campaign for 13 years, in three different theaters of operations (Angola, Guinea and Mozambique), far apart thousands of kilometers between each other and from Mainland Portugal. This was done with almost no support from the outside, in contrast with the nacionalist movements which had full support from the Communist countries and even from several Western nations.

During the conflit, in each theater of operations, the operational command of the forces of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force was successively transferred from the separate territorial branch commands to joint commands, on top of which was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in the theater. Thus, the three branches of the Armed Forces were able to achieve a high level of operational integration, allowing a good cooperation between then, the optimization of their scarce assets and to fight as a single cohesive force. The logistics was not able to reach such high levels of integration, mainly because the several service branches continued to be administered by different Government departments, each with its own supply chain and separate standards.

By the nature of the conflict, the special forces achieved great importance. With the evolution of the War, these assumed almost all the mobile and offensive operations, with regular forces staying responsible essentially by the defensive actions. Each service branch created its own elite light infantry force oriented for asymmetric warfare. The Air Force had the Paratroopers (Caçadores Páraquedistas, created in 1956), the Army had first the Special Rifles (Caçadores Especiais, created in 1960) and then the Commandos (Comandos, created in 1962) and the Navy had the Marines (Fuzileiros, reactivated in 1961). The Armed Forces also counted with a number of irregular forces, including several special forces units like the Special Groups (Grupos Especiais).

The Portuguese Armed Forces were also involved in an brief conventional armed conflict with the Indian Military, when the Indian Armed Forces invaded the Portuguese India in December, 1961. Facing overwhelmingly stronger Indian Forces and after 36 hours of combat, the Commander-in-Chief of Portuguese India, General Vassalo e Silva surrendered to the Indian Army. The Portuguese Forces had 30 dead and 57 wounded, with almost 5000 personnel being taken prisoners of war, these being released six months later. The Indian Forces officially recognized to have suffered 76 casualties, during the invasion.[11]

Armed Forces Movement

On the morning of 25 April 1974, the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas) - consisting mostly of junior officers of the three service branches - launched a coup d'état, known as the Carnation Revolution, which would bring an end to the New State (Estado Novo) regime and the Overseas War.

After the Revolution and for about a year and a half, the Portuguese Military would be split into several political factions. By the summer of 1975, the tension between these was so high, that the country was on the verge of civil war. The military units connected to the extreme left-wing launched a coup d'etat on 25 November, but the Group of Nine (Grupo dos Nove) - a democratic moderate military faction - immediately initiated a counter-coup. The main episode of this confrontation was the successful assault on the barracks of the left-wing Military Police Regiment by the forces of the Commando Regiment loyal to the Group of Nine, this resulting in two commandos and one Military Police soldier killed in action. The Group of Nine emerged victorious, this preventing the establishment of a communist regime in Portugal and ending the period of political instability in the country.

The National Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa Nacional) - headed by the National Defense Minister - would be created during this period of instability. However the Minister had no power over the Armed Forces, his role was being just to act as a connection between the Military and the civil Government. It was the Revolution Council (Conselho da Revolução) - consisting only of military officers and chaired by the President of the Republic - that had control over the Armed Forces, which meant these were completely independent from the civil administration. The ministries of the Army and of the Navy and the Secretariat of State of the Aeronautics were extinct, with the service branches chiefs of staff assuming the roles of the former ministers, under the coordination of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, to whom was given a status equivalent to that of the Prime Minister of Portugal.

Portuguese made Bravia Chaimite armoured vehicles in Bosnia.


With the decolonization and the end of the Overseas War, the Portuguese Military would change from an asymmetric to a conventional force in order to defend Western Europe from a possible Soviet invasion. With the collapse of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), Portuguese military forces gradually became more expeditionary oriented, participating in several international missions mandated by the United Nations, European Union or NATO.

The Revolution Council created in 1975 would be extinct in 1982 after the first revision to the 1976 Constitution. The Armed Forces were again placed under the subordination of the civil power, for the first time starting to be fully administered by the Ministry of National Defence.

Meanwhile the 1980s would see the creation of special operations units namely the Army's Special Operations Forces (Forças de Operações Especiais) and the Navy's Special Actions Detachment (Destacamento de Ações Especiais).


Portuguese Navy' NRP Bartolomeu Dias frigate.

The Army and Navy would be professionalized in 2004 ending conscription within the Armed Forces.


The structure of the Armed Forces of Portugal includes the Armed Forces themselves and also the bodies of State responsible for the National Defense.

The State bodies responsible for the Armed Forces are:

  1. President of the Portuguese Republic (Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces);
  2. Assembly of the Republic, Government, Supreme Council of National Defense and Superior Military Council;
  3. Minister of National Defense (political responsible for the Armed Forces);
  4. Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Chief of Staff of the Navy, Chief of Staff of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Air Force (military bodies of command);
  5. Council of the Chiefs of Staff (military bodies of advice).

The Armed Forces themselves include:

  1. General Staff of the Armed Forces (Armed Forces headquarters);
  2. Portuguese Navy, Portuguese Army and Portuguese Air Force (branches of the Armed Forces).

Besides those, there are also:

  1. Portuguese Joint Command and Staff College (IESM) and Hospital of the Armed Forces (joint bodies of the Armed Forces);
  2. Operational Command of the Azores and Operational Command of Madeira (Armed Forces joint area commands);
  3. National Republican Guard (special corps of troops that can be put under the command of the General Staff of the Armed Forces);.

Current strength

A Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter.

Currently the Portuguese military forces number is 37,400 with the majority of the manpower allocated to the Army although its Chief of Staff, General José Ramalho, has already stated that more men are needed.

Recent defence policy has assumed that most considerable operations would be undertaken under NATO, United Nations, or European Union mandates. East-Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan are all examples; the last large scale military action of the Portuguese Armed Forces entering alone was the overseas conflict (1961–1974). Nonetheless Portugal's Armed Forces have conducted peace-enforcing and humanitarian missions on their own in Guinea-Bissau (1990, 1998, and 1999) and Angola (1992).

All international missions assigned to the military have been fulfilled without limitations. A Military Programation Law (Lei de Programação Militar) was launched in 2002 to start the complete modernization of the Armed Forces; considerable reequipment of the military started in 2003, with Defense Minister Paulo Portas, who managed to acquire new helicopters (Army and Air Force), submarines, IFV (Army and Navy), frigates and naval patrol boats. Ironically one of the most important issues, the replacement of the light firearms, failed during his mandate due to the soldiers clinging onto their cheap and highly reliable Heckler & Koch G3's, made by INDEP (the Portuguese Military factory) in Portugal.

The present government also started reequipment with the purchase of new battle tanks in early 2008, the Leopard 2A6 and new Armoured personnel carriers, Pandur II.

Defense 2020

In April, 2013, the Portuguese Government approved a structural reform of the National Defense and the Armed Forces, referred as "Defense 2020". The reform has the objective of define the level of ambition of the Armed Forces, of establishing planning and guiding factors for the strategic planning circle, of reinforce the leading responsibility of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces in the execution of the approved military strategy, of resize for a sustainable functioning and of regaling the coordination between the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the branches of the Armed Forces and the central services of the Ministry of National Defense.

Defense 2020 establishes, as the level of ambition for the Armed Forces, the existence of three sets of forces:

  • Immediate Reaction Force (FRI, Força de Reação Imediata) - a high readiness force, focused in missions of evacuation of Portuguese citizens in crisis or conflict areas and of national autonomous response in complex emergency situations;
  • Permanent Forces in Sovereignty Action (FPAS, Forças Permanentes em Ação de Soberania) - set of forces focused in the continuous missions of sovereignty in the national territory or jurisdiction areas of national responsibility, including the air defense, the maritime and air patrol, surveillance and inspection, the land surveillance when required, the search and rescue, the nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological defense, public interest and disaster response;
  • Modular set of forces - set of forces focused for the response to international commitments of Portugal (national deployed forces), organized for periods of six months, capable of engaging in three simultaneous operations of small dimension or in a single operation of big dimension.


  1. ^ "Biografia do Prof. Aníbal Cavaco Silva". Presidência da República. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "Ministro da Defesa Nacional José Pedro Aguiar-Branco". Ministério da Defesa Nacional. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Chefe de Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas Artur Pina Monteiro". Estado Maior General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "32.992 Militares (Homens e Mulheres)". Estado Maior General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Despesas com a Defesa Nacional". Estado Maior General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  7. ^ "Lei Orgânica 1-A/2009 Capítulo I Artigo 7º Nº1". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "Lei 31-A/2006 Capítulo III Artigo 9º". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "Lei 31-A/2006 Capítulo IV Artigo 20º". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "Hístorico de operações". Estado Maior General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Azaredo, Carlos; Gabriel Figueiredo(translation) (8 December 2001). "Passage to India – 18th December 1961". Passage to India – 18th December 1961. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 

External links

  • Portuguese Ministry of National Defense
  • Portuguese Armed Forces Chief of Staff
  • Portuguese Army
  • Portuguese Air Force
  • Portuguese Navy
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