Portuguese Army Light Aviation Unit
|Unidade de Aviação Ligeira do Exército
Army Light Aviation Unit
|Active||June 1, 2000 — current|
|Role||Tactical Air Transport, Reconnaissance, Close Air Support|
|Part of||Rapid Reaction Brigade|
|Garrison/HQ||Tancos Military Area|
The Army Light Aviation Unit (Portuguese: Unidade de Aviação Ligeira do Exército, UALE), initially known as Army Light Aviation Group (GALE), is the Portuguese Army's unit dedicated to missions of light aviation, being integrated in the Army Forces System, under the operational command of the Ground Forces Operational Command (Portuguese: Comando Operacional das Forças Terrestres).
The Portuguese Army maintained its own aviation service until 1952, when a decision was made to merge this service with the Navy's aviation service. This decision led to the creation of the Portuguese Air Force with the intent of unifying all the Portuguese military aviation assets and operations under a single command.
In the decade of the 1980s, based on the experience gained in Africa and the increasingly importance of the helicopter in NATO military operations, a work group was created by the Army's Cavalry Arm Directorate to study and plan the creation of a light aviation unit. On July 12, 1991, the National Defense Superior Council decided to add a light aviation unit to the Medium Term Forces System (Portuguese: Sistema de Forças de Médio Prazo). On June 30, 1993, the Ministry of National Defense approved the addition of the Army Light Aviation Group (Portuguese: Grupo de Aviação Ligeira do Exército, GALE) to the list of units to be created, and on August 31 the financing of the program.
A commission to prepare for the creation of the unit was then created in 1997. On June 1st, 2000, the Army Light Aviation Group was officially formed.
On July 1st, 2006, the Army Light Aviation Group (GALE) was re-designated as Army Light Aviation Unit (Portuguese: Unidade de Aviação Ligeira do Exército, UALE), as part of the Army's Base Structure and of the Rapid Reaction Brigade.
The unit was originally intended to be equipped with nine light utility helicopters and with ten medium transport helicopters.
In 1999, the Eurocopter EC635 T1 was acquired for the light utility, anti-tank and reconnaissance role. However, the EC635 program was cancelled in 2002 with the lack of a certification to fire HOT 2 anti-tank missiles and the delivery of the helicopters being cited as the official reason.
In 2004, the Portuguese government prepared to open a new competition for the acquisition of light helicopters for both the UALE and the Portuguese Air Force, to replace the Alouette III, but the competition was eventually cancelled.
In June 2012, the Portuguese government officially announced that it would cancel the order of all 10 NHI NH90 due to budget cuts, thus compromising the future of the UALE. Portugal is now the only NATO member whose army has no helicopters.
The pilots and ground crews of the UALE underwent training with the Portuguese Air Force, with pilots undergoing flight training in the PoAF's Alouette III helicopters. The Army's pilot have also received training on the Eurocopter EC 135 in the Spanish Army Airmobile Force.
Between 2007 and 2012, under an agreement with EMA — Empresa de Meios Aéreos, S. A., a company owned by the Portuguese government, Army pilots flew EMA's Kamov Ka-32 helicopters in fire-fighting and other public interest missions for the Portuguese Ministry of Internal Administration.
- Organize, train and maintain its operational forces;
- Support the Ground Forces with its organic air component;
- Operate and maintain the infrastructures of the Tancos Military Airfield, thus guaranteeing the aeronautic activity of the unit;
- Fulfil other missions that are committed to it according to the current legislation.
- "Portuguese Military Aviation in brief". October 20, 2009. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
- Boletim de Informação e Divulgação 1, pp. 8–9
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- "Nine EC 635 Helicopters for the Portuguese Army, start-up Customer.". helis.com. October 22, 1999. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
- "Nine EC 635 Helicopters for the Portuguese Army, start-up Customer.". Airbus Helicopters. October 22, 1999. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
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- Barreira, Victor (July 3, 2012). "Portugal ducks out of NH90 programme". Jane's: Defense & Security Intelligence & Analysis.
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- "Pilotos dos helicópteros vão para Espanha e Itália". Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese).
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- "Celebração de protocolo entre o Exército e a Empresa de Meios Aéreos - EMA, S.A.". Portuguese Army (in Portuguese). June 15, 2012.
- Boletim de Informação e Divulgação [Information and Divulgation Bulletin] (in Portuguese) (1). Tancos: Unidade de Aviação Ligeira do Exército. May 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
- Unidade de Aviação Ligeira do Exército, official website