Portuguese Armed Forces

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Portuguese Armed Forces
Forças Armadas
Fusilliers marins Portugais.jpg
Portuguese military standard with Marine Corps honor guard
Founded 1950
Current form 1982
Service branches Portuguese Army HeraldyMini.png Exército
Portuguese Navy Heraldry Mini.png Marinha
Portuguese Air Force Heraldry.png Força Aérea
Headquarters EMGFA
Commander-in-Chief Aníbal Cavaco Silva[1]
Defense Minister José P. Aguiar-Branco[2]
Chief of Staff Artur Pina Monteiro[3]
Available for
military service
2,566,264 males, age 18-35 (2010[5]),
2,458,297 females, age 18-35 (2010[5])
Fit for
military service
2,103,080 males, age 18-35 (2010[5]),
2,018,004 females, age 18-35 (2010[5])
Reaching military
age annually
62,208 males (2010[5]),
54,786 females (2010[5])
Active personnel 32.992[4]
Budget 2.138,8 billion (2014)[6]
Percent of GDP 1.1% (2014)[7]

The Portuguese Armed Forces (Portuguese: Forças Armadas) are the military of the Republic of Portugal (República de Portugal). They consist of three professional uniformed branches: the Portuguese Navy (Marinha), the Portuguese Army (Exército) and the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea).[8]

The President of the Portuguese Republic (Presidente da República) is the Armed Forces Commander-In-Chief (Comandante Supremo das Forças Armadas)[9] while their administration and the defense policy execution is done by the government via the National Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa Nacional or MDN).[10] The highest ranking officer is the Armed Forces General Chief of Staff (Chefe do Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas or CEMGFA), which has complete control over the military when a state of war exists and operational control during peace time.

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 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 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.[11] Military units are maintained throughout the country, both on the mainland and the archipelagos of Madeira and 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 ground forces remained independent from each other for hundreds of years.

However by the 20th century there were some joint military and national defense bodies (mostly with mere political coordination responsibilities) but the administration of the several forces of the military remained in charge of separate government departments, respectively the Navy Ministry (Ministério da Marinha) for the Navy, the War Ministry (Ministério da Guerra) for the Metropolitan Army (Exército Metropolitano) and the Colonies Ministry (Ministério das Colónias) for the Colonial Forces (Forças Coloniais). Operationally the service branches were completely independent from each other.

In the 1930s plans were laid to merge all of the previously mentioned ministries under a Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa). However, the Army and Navy desired to maintain their autonomy represented by their separate government departments, thus politically opposing and preventing this reorganization for the next couple of decades.

Nevertheless, the need to defend the Overseas Empire (Império Colonial) against possible foreign aggression during World War II, led to a significant step being taken towards the integration of the several military services under the same command, when the Colonial Forces were placed under the dependency of the War Ministry, which then became in charge of all Portuguese ground forces (metropolitan and colonial).

Post World War II[edit]

Lessons learned from World War II, the start of the Cold War and the creation of NATO, which Portugal integrated as a founding member,[12] partially ended the objections for the creation of a unified command for the military forces. In 1950, the roles of National Defense Minister (Ministro da Defesa Nacional) and Armed Forces General Chief of Staff (Chefe do Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas or CEMGFA)[13] are created. To the CEMGFA were given almost all the responsibilities until then assigned to the commanders of the service branches, whose roles were at the same time extinct. This is widely considered the beginning of the Portuguese Armed Forces.

However, opposition from the service branches prevented the formation of a single ministry for the military. The political solution for this was the creation of the role of National Defense Minister (Ministro da Defesa Nacional), but without its own ministry, instead integrating the government's Council of Ministers (Presidência de Conselho de Ministros). The National Defense Minister directed an umbrella organization, named the National Defense Department (Departamento da Defesa Nacional) which included the CEMGFA, the National Defense General Secretariat (Secretariado-Geral da Defesa Nacional or SGDN) and the Aeronautics Under Secretariat (Subsecretariado de Estado da Aeronáutica). Besides this, the National Defense Minister had the role of coordinating the Army and Navy ministries. Only in 1974, would the SGDN be transformed into a full military staff organization and renamed Armed Forces General Staff (Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas or EMGFA).

The aviation of the Army and Navy are merged in 1952, leading to the creation of the Portuguese Air Force and its integration in the Armed Forces as its third military branch.[14] Unlike the other services which had their own separate ministries, the Air Force was directly dependent of the National Defense Minister, via the Aeronautics Under Secretariat. Later in 1961 this department was renamed Aeronautics State Secretary (Secretaria de Estado da Aeronáutica).

In 1953 the National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Repúblicana or GNR) ceased policing the Armed Forces, with the formation of the Military Police (Polícia Militar or PM) by the Army.[15] Later the other service branches would create their respective military police type forces, the Air Police (Polícia Aérea or PA) by the Air Force and the Naval Police (Polícia Naval or PN) by the Navy.

Nevertheless during the 1950s the operational integration of the Armed Forces did progress, with the establishment of the roles of commander-in-chief for the military forces deployed in each of the colonial territories. Mainly during the Overseas War, these commanders would assume increasing responsibilities, until achieving full operational command of the forces deployed in each theater of operations, leaving the territorial service branch leadership with logistical responsibilities.

Overseas conflicts[edit]

Air Force crew reloads an F-84 Thunderjet in Angola.

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 Liberation War (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.[16] 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 (especially in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea).[17]

The Armed Forces were able to maintain a large military campaign for 13 years, in these three different theaters of operations, thousands of kilometers apart from each other and from the mainland. This was achieved with almost no external support, in contrast with the nationalist movements which were backed mainly by communist countries but also by some western ones. The Army suffered the majority of the casualties with 8290 soldiers killed in action while the Air Force lost 346 airmen and the Navy 195 sailors.

During the conflict, in each theater of operations, the operational command of the forces of the Navy, Army and Air Force was successively transferred from each territorial service branch command to joint commands, led by the Armed Forces commander for that specific theater. Thus the three branches of the military were able to achieve a high level of operational integration, allowing for an effective cooperation between them, the optimization of their scarce assets and the ability to fight as a single cohesive force. The logistics side was not able to reach such high levels of integration, mainly because each service branch continued to be administered by its own government department with its own supply chain and standards.

Due to the nature of the conflict, commando type forces achieved great importance. With the war's evolution, these assumed almost all of the mobile and offensive operations, with the more conventional forces remaining responsible for the defensive assignments. By 1961, each service branch had created its own light infantry force oriented for asymmetric warfare. The Air Force created the Parachute Rifles (Caçadores Páraquedistas) in 1956,[18] the Army first raised the Special Rifles (Caçadores Especiais, created in 1960)[19] which were later replaced by the Commandos (Comandos)[20] in 1962 and the Navy deployed the Marines (Fuzileiros), a force reactivated in 1961.[21] The Portuguese military also counted with a number of paramilitary forces, including the Special Groups (Grupos Especiais) and the Arrows (Flechas).

The Portuguese Armed Forces were also involved in a brief conventional armed conflict with the Indian military, when the latter invaded the Portuguese India in December, 1961. Facing overwhelmingly superior forces and after 36 hours of combat, the Portuguese India Commander-in-Chief, General Vassalo e Silva surrendered to the Indian Army. The Portuguese forces suffered 30 dead and 57 wounded, with almost 5000 personnel being taken as prisoners of war, these being released six months later. The Indian Armed Forces officially recognized to have suffered 76 casualties during the invasion.[22]

Democratic Republic[edit]

Monument in memory of Army captain Salgueiro Maia in Santarém.

On the morning of 25 April 1974, the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas or MFA) - consisting mostly of junior officers of the three service branches - launched a coup d'état, known as the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos), which would bring an end to the New State (Estado Novo) regime and the Overseas War. While the revolt included several military units located on the mainland, the forces that departed the Cavalry School (Escola Prática de Cavalaria located in Santarém) led by Army captain Salgueiro Maia were the ones that managed to capture dictator Marcelo Caetano after a stand-off at the GNR's headquarters (Comando-Geral da Guarda Nacional Repúblicana located in Lisbon).

However, 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 forces connected to the extreme left-wing launched a coup d'etat on 25 November but the Group of Nine (Grupo dos Nove) - a 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 Commandos Regiment, resulting in three soldiers killed in action. The Group of Nine emerged victorious, thus 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 or MDN) - 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 simply to act as a connection between the military and the government. It was the Revolution Council (Conselho da Revolução, created in 1975) - 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 civilian administration. The War Ministry, Navy Ministry and the Aeronautic State Secretary were extinct, with each service branch chief of staff assuming the roles of the former ministers, under the coordination of the Armed Forces General Chief of Staff, to whom was given a status equivalent to that of the Prime Minister of Portugal. This organization would remain in place until 1982, when the Revolution Council was disbanded after the first revision to the 1976 Constitution.[23] The Armed Forces were again placed under the subordination of the civilian administration, specifically under the MDN.

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. However the collapse of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) would trigger another transformation, since the Armed Forces gradually became more expeditionary oriented, participating in several independent international missions or under the mandate of the United Nations, European Union or NATO.

Meanwhile the 1980s would see the creation of special operations units namely the Army's Special Operations Forces (Forças de Operações Especiais or FOE)[24] and the Navy's Special Actions Detachment (Destacamento de Ações Especiais or DAE).[25] In 1990 the Air Force would create Combat Rescue teams (Resgate em Combate or RESCOM) for CSAR operations but in 2006 these were extinct and replaced by the Force Protection Unit (Unidade de Protecção da Força or UPF) whose mission is to provide security for Air Force units deployed on international missions.[26]

Conscription for the Armed Forces ceased in 2004.[27]


Army commandos in Afghanistan.

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.


The Portuguese Armed Forces Commander-In-Chief is the President of Portugal while the Ministry of National Defense is responsible for their administration and execution of the defense policy. They consist of the EMGFA (headquarters) headed by the Armed Forces General Chief of Staff and three service branches. Under specific circumstances, the country's constitution allows for the National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Republicana or GNR) to be placed under the MDN, creating a fourth service branch.


Headquarters of the Armed Forces, located in Lisbon and commonly known as EMGFA.


Main article: Portuguese Army
Portuguese Army Pandur II wheeled armored vehicles.

The branch responsible for land warfare, its existence can be traced back to the Middle Ages.


Main article: Portuguese Navy
Portuguese Navy NRP Tridente U-209PN submarine docked at Alfeite's Naval Base.

Responsible for naval warfare, it was also created during the Middle Ages.

Air Force[edit]

Main article: Portuguese Air Force
A Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter.

The aerial branch of the Portuguese military created in 1952.

Current strength[edit]

Currently the Portuguese military forces number is 32,992 with the majority of the manpower allocated to the Army.

Recent defense 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 re-equipment 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 re-equipment with the purchase of new battle tanks in early 2008, the Leopard 2A6 and new Armoured personnel carriers, Pandur II.


  1. ^ "Biografia do Prof. Aníbal Cavaco Silva". presidencia.pt. Presidência da República. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "Ministro da Defesa Nacional José Pedro Aguiar-Branco". portugal.gov.pt. Ministério da Defesa Nacional. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Chefe de Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas Artur Pina Monteiro". emgfa.pt. Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "Organização - As Forças Armadas". emgfa.pt. Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "The World Factbook". cia.gov. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "OE 2014. Defesa Nacional aumenta despesa total em 6,8% face a 2013". ionline.pt. Jornal i. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  7. ^ "Despesas com a Defesa Nacional". emgfa.pt. Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Lei Orgânica 1-A/2009 Capítulo I Artigo 7º Nº1". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "Lei 31-A/2006 Capítulo III Artigo 9º". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "Lei 31-A/2006 Capítulo IV Artigo 20º". Diário da República. XVII Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  11. ^ "Hístorico de operações". emgfa.pt. Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  12. ^ "MILESTONES: 1945–1952". history.state.gov. United States Department of State. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  13. ^ "Historial - O pós guerra". exercito.pt. Exército Português. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  14. ^ "Missão e Organização". emfa.pt. Força Aérea Portuguesa. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  15. ^ "Regimento de Lanceiros Nº2 - Historial". exercito.pt. Exército Português. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  16. ^ "PORTUGAL E OS VENTOS DA HISTÓRIA". guerracolonial.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "MAPA DA GUERRA". guerracolonial.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
  18. ^ "PÁRA-QUEDISTAS". guerracolonial.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  19. ^ "CAÇADORES". guerracolonial.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "COMANDOS". guerracolonial.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "FUZILEIROS". guerracolonia.org. Guerra Colonial :: 1961 - 1974. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  22. ^ Azaredo, Carlos; Gabriel Figueiredo(translation) (8 December 2001). "Passage to India – 18th December 1961". Passage to India – 18th December 1961. http://www.goancauses.com. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  23. ^ "Lei n.º 1/82, de 30 de Setembro". pgdlisboa.pt. Procuradoria-Geral Distrital de Lisboa. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  24. ^ "Centro de Tropas de Operações Especiais - Historial". exercito.pt. Exército Português. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  25. ^ "O DESTACAMENTO DE ACÇÕES ESPECIAIS - Zebros e Skua". operacional.pt. Operacional - defesa, forças armadas e de segurança. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  26. ^ "AFEGANISTÃO: UNIDADE DE PROTECÇÃO DA FORÇA EM OPERAÇÕES". operacional.pt. Operacional - defesa, forças armadas e de segurança. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  27. ^ "Decreto-Lei n.º 118/2004 de 21 Maio". dgap.gov.pt. XV Governo Constitucional de Portugal. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 

External links[edit]