Portuguese Armed Forces

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Portuguese Armed Forces
Forças Armadas
Military flag of Portugal.svg
Military Standard of Portugal
Founded 1950
Current form 1982
Service branches Portuguese Army Heraldry.gif Exército Português
Naval Jack of Portugal.svg Marinha Portuguesa
Portuguese Air Force roundel.svg Força Aérea Portuguesa
Headquarters EMGFA
Commander-In-Chief Aníbal Cavaco Silva[1]
Minister of National Defense José P. Aguiar-Branco[2]
Armed Forces General Chief of Staff 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 Portuguesa), the Portuguese Army (Exército Português) and the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa).[7]

The President of the Portuguese Republic is the Commander-In-Chief 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 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.[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 land forces remained independent from each other for hundreds of years, but in 1930 plans were laid for the creation of a unified command and a ministry for the national defense. However, the Army and Navy desired to remain under the War Ministry (Ministério da Guerra) and the Navy Ministry (Ministério da Marinha) respectively, thus opposing and preventing this reorganization for the next couple of decades.


Lessons learned from World War II 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 National Defence Minister (Ministro da Defesa Nacional) and Armed Forces General Chief of Staff (Chefe do Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas) roles are created but continued opposition by the Army and Navy prevented the formation of a single ministry for the military.

The result was a National Defence Minister without its own ministry, instead integrating the Council of Ministers (Presidência de Conselho de Ministros), directing the Armed Forces General Chief of Staff, the National Defence General-Office (Secretariado-Geral da Defesa Nacional), the Aeronautical State Office (Subsecretariado de Estado da Aeronaútica) and coordinating the Army and Navy Ministries.

In 1952 the Air Force is created and integrated in the Armed Forces as an independent service branch, uniting the aviation of both the Army and Navy. Another significant change was the transformation of the National Defense Office into the Armed Forces General Staff (Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas) in 1969.

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 Portuguese African colonies, a conflict known as the Overseas War (Guerra do Ultramar) in Portugal and as War of Liberation (Guerra de Libertação) in the former colonies. It was a decisive ideological struggle and armed conflict 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 colonies nor the 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. It was during this conflict that the Army created the Commandos (Comandos), which meant that each service branch now had its own contemporary light infantry force oriented for asymmetric warfare (the Navy with its Marines (Fuzileiros) and the Air Force with its Paratroopers (Tropas Páraquedistas)).

Portuguese land and naval forces were also involved in an armed conflict with the Indian military, during the invasion of Portuguese India but after 36 hours of low-intensity combat, the Portuguese Governor, General Manuel António Vassalo e Silva surrendered to the Indian Army. Almost 5000 Armed Forces personnel were taken prisoners of war but these were released six months later.[11]


On the morning of 25 April 1974, the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas) launched a coup d'etat, known as the Carnation Revolution, which would bring an end to the New State (Estado Novo) regime and the Overseas War. 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 left-wing launched a coup d'etat on 25 November but the Group of Nine (Grupo dos Nove) faction immediately initiated a counter-coup. The result of this confrontation were two KIA for the Commandos Regiment (Regimento de Comandos) and one for the Military Police Regiment (Regimento da Polícia Militar) with the Group of Nine emerging victorious thus preventing the establishment of a communist government in Portugal.

The National Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa Nacional), directed by the National Defense Minister, would be created during this period of instability for Portugal. However the Minister had no power over the Armed Forces, his role was to be a connection between the military and the government. It was the Revolution Council (Conselho da Revolução), chaired by the President of the Republic, that had control over the Armed Forces, which meant these were completely independent from the civilian administration.

Portuguese made Bravia Chaimite armoured vehicles in Bosnia.

With the decolonization and the end of the Overseas War, the 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. 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 Acções 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. Military Higher Studies Institute 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[edit]

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[edit]

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". 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. ^ "32.992 Militares (Homens e Mulheres)". emgfa.pt. Estado Maior General das Forças Armadas. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  5. ^ http://www.ionline.pt/artigos/portugal-orcamento-estado-2014/oe-2014-defesa-nacional-aumenta-despesa-total-68-face-2013
  6. ^ "Despesas com a Defesa Nacional". emgfa.pt. 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". emgfa.pt. 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. http://www.goancauses.com. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 

External links[edit]