Portuguese Armed Forces

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Military flag of Portugal.svg
Portuguese Armed Forces
Forças Armadas
Fusilliers marins Portugais.jpg
Portuguese tri-service colour guard, leading a Fuzileiros detachment
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
Supreme Commander Aníbal Cavaco Silva [1]
Minister of National Defense Azeredo Lopes [2]
Chief of the General 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 44,900[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 Chief of the General 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 Forças Armadas 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 on 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 would remain independent from each other for hundreds of years.

By the 20th century some joint military and national defense bodies had been created but these had mostly mere political coordination responsibilities. 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 (Marinha), 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) while operationally the service branches were completely independent from each other.

During the 1930s plans were laid to merge all of the previously mentioned ministries under a single one named Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa). However, the service branches wished 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, did lead to a significant step being taken during this period for an increased integration of the several military services, when the Forças Coloniais were placed under the dependency of the Ministério da Guerra, 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 Chief of the General 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.[citation needed] This is widely considered the beginning of the Portuguese Armed Forces (Forças Armadas).

However, opposition from both military 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 Ministro da Defesa Nacional 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 minister had the role of coordinating the Exército and Marinha 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).

Despite all the issues, in the 1950s the operational integration of the Forças Armadas did progress, with the establishment of the roles of commander-in-chief for the military forces based in each of the colonial territories. Mainly during the Overseas War (Guerra do Ultramar), these commanders would assume increasing responsibilities, until achieving full operational command of all forces assigned to their theater of operations, leaving the territorial service branch leadership with logistical responsibilities.

The aviation of the Marinha and Exército are merged in 1952, leading to the creation of the Air Force (Força Aérea) and its integration in the Forças Armadas as its third military service branch.[14] Unlike the other services which had their own separate ministries, the Força Aérea was directly dependent on the Ministério da Defesa Nacional via the Subsecretariado de Estado da Aeronáutica. In 1961 this department would be renamed Aeronautics State Secretary (Secretaria de Estado da Aeronáutica).

In 1953, the National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Repúblicana or GNR) ceased policing the military, with the foundation of the Military Police (Polícia Militar or PM) by the Exército.[15] Later the other services would create their respective military police type forces, the Air Police (Polícia Aérea or PA) for the Força Aérea and the Naval Police (Polícia Naval or PN) for the Marinha.

Overseas conflicts[edit]

Força Aérea ground crew rearming an F-84 Thunderjet in Angola.

Between 1961 and 1974, the Forças Armadas 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. In the scope of the Cold War, it was a decisive ideological struggle and armed conflict 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 Forças Armadas 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 by communist countries and even by some western ones. The Exército suffered the majority of the casualties with 8290 soldiers killed in action while the Força Aérea lost 346 airmen and the Marinha 195 sailors.

During the conflict, in each theater of operations, the operational command of the forces of the Marinha, Exército and Força Aérea was successively transferred from each territorial service branch command to joint commands, led by the Forças Armadas 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 Força Aérea created the Parachute Rifles (Caçadores Páraquedistas) in 1956,[18] the Exército first raised the Special Rifles (Caçadores Especiais, created in 1960)[19] which were later replaced by the Commandos (Comandos)[20] in 1962 and the Marinha 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 Forças Armadas 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. 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 shortly the Guerra do Ultramar.[23] 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 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 further coup d'état 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 (Regimento de Polícia Militar) by the forces of the Commandos Regiment (Regimento de Comandos), resulting in three soldiers killed in action. The Grupo dos Nove emerged victorious, thus preventing the establishment of a communist state in Portugal and ending the period of political instability in the country.[24]

The National Defense Ministry (Ministério da Defesa Nacional or MDN) – headed by the Ministro da Defesa Nacional - would be created during this period of instability. However the minister had no power over the Forças Armadas, 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 Portugal – that had control over the Forças Armadas, which meant these were completely independent from the civilian administration. The Ministério da Guerra, Ministério da Marinha and the Secretaria de Estado da Aeronaútica were extinct, with each service branch chief of staff assuming the roles of the former ministers, under the coordination of the CEMGFA, 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 Conselho da Revolução was disbanded after the first revision to the 1976 Constitution.[25] The Forças Armadas were again placed under the subordination of the civilian administration, more specifically under the MDN.

With the decolonization and the end of the Guerra do Ultramar, 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 Forças Armadas 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, namely the Special Operations Forces (Forças de Operações Especiais or FOE)[26] and the Special Actions Detachment (Destacamento de Ações Especiais or DAE).[27] In 1990 the Força Aérea 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 Força Aérea forces deployed on international missions.[28]

Conscription for the Forças Armadas ceased in 2004.[29]


Força Nacional Destacada in Kosovo.

In April 2013, the Portuguese Government approved a structural reform of the National Defense, named "Defense 2020" (Defesa 2020).[30] It was done with the objective of defining the level of ambition of the Forças Armadas by establishing the guidance parameters for strategic planning, reinforcing the leading responsibility of the CEMGFA in the execution of the approved military strategy, reducing human resources while at the same time improving their management and enhancing the coordination between the EMGFA, the branches of the Forças Armadas and the MDN.

Defense 2020 establishes the existence of three force sets:

  • Immediate Reaction Force (Força de Reação Imediata or FRI) - a high readiness force, focused in missions such as the evacuation of Portuguese citizens in crisis or conflict areas and response in national complex emergency situations;
  • Sovereignty Action Permanent Forces (Forças Permanentes em Ação de Soberania or FPAS) - forces focused in the continuous missions of national sovereignty or jurisdiction areas of national responsibility, including the air defense, the maritime and aerial patrolling, surveillance and inspection, land surveillance when required, search and rescue and finally the nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological defense, public interest and disaster response;
  • Modular Forces Set (Conjunto Modular de Forças or CMF) - forces assigned to Portuguese international commitments deployed for periods of six months, capable of engaging in three simultaneous minor operations or in a single major operation. These forces are known as National Detached Forces (Forças Nacionais Destacadas or FND).


The Forças Armadas consist of the headquarters (EMGFA), three service branches (Exército, Marinha and Força Aérea) and four military command bodies (CEMGFA, CEME, CEMA and CEMFA).


The Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas (located in Lisbon (Lisboa) and commonly known as EMGFA) is the superior military body and supreme headquarters of the Forças Armadas. It is responsible for planning, directing and controlling the usage of the three service branches in their fulfillment of assigned missions and tasks.[31] It also has the responsibility of guaranteeing the operation of the Superior Military Studies Institute (Instituto de Estudos Superiores Militares) and the Armed Forces Hospital (Hospital das Forças Armadas).[32]

The EMGFA comprehends the Joint Staff (Estado-Maior Conjunto), the Joint Operational Command (Comando Operacional Conjunto), the Azores Joint Operational Command (Comando Operacional Conjunto dos Açores or COA), the Madeira Joint Operational Command (Comando Operacional Conjunto da Madeira or COM), the Military Information and Security Center (Centro de Informações e Segurança Militares), the general support bodies and the commanders-in-chief that may be placed under the EMGFA when a state of war exists.[33]

It is headed by the Chefe de Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas (CEMGFA), a general or admiral from one of the services nominated by the President under the government's proposal.[34]

Its current designation was given in 1974, when the EMGFA was turned into a full military staff organization. Until then it was known as Secretariado-Geral da Defesa Nacional.


Main article: Portuguese Army
Pandur II armored personnel carrier.

The Exército is the service branch responsible for land warfare and is one of the oldest armies in the world, formed in the 12th century during the conflicts that would eventually lead to the creation of the Kingdom of Portugal. It is commanded by the Army Chief of Staff (Chefe do Estado-Maior do Exército or CEME)[35] and consists on the Army Staff (Estado-Maior do Exército or EME), the Administration and Direction Central Bodies (Órgãos Centrais de Administração e Direcção), the Land Forces Command (Comando de Forças Terrestres or CFT), the Council Bodies (Orgãos de Conselho), the Army General Inspection (Inspecção-Geral do Exército), the Base Bodies (Orgãos de Base) and the Forces System Operational Component elements (Componente Operacional do Sistema de Forças or COSF).[36]

The COSF is the most important formation of the Exército and includes the Quick Reaction Brigade (Brigada de Reacção Rápida or BRR), the Mechanized Brigade (Brigada Mecanizada or BrigMec), the Intervention Brigade (Brigada de Intervenção or BrigInt), the Azores Military Zone (Zona Militar dos Açores or ZMA), the Madeira Military Zone (Zona Militar da Madeira or ZMM) and the General Support Force (Força Geral de Apoio). However the ZMA and the ZMM are only administratively part of this force, since operationally they are subordinate to the COA and to the COM which in turn are directly dependent on the EMGFA.

The Army includes several arms and services, the most important of these are the Infantry (Infantaria), Cavalry (Cavalaria), Artillery (Artilharia), Engineer (Engenharia), Transmissions (Transmissões), Health (Saúde), Military Administration (Administração Militar) and Material (Material). In addition, a special Light Infantry (Infantaria Ligeira) arm exists, which includes the Parachute Troops (Tropas Páraquedistas), the Commandos (Comandos) and the Special Operations (Operações Especiais).


Main article: Portuguese Navy

Responsible for naval operations, the Marinha is also one of the oldest military forces in the world, with its first known military engagement happening in 1180. It is commanded by the Armada Chief of Staff (Chefe de Estado Maior da Armada or CEMA) and consists on the Armada Staff (Estado-Maior da Armada), the administration and direction central bodies (órgãos centrais de administração e direcção), Naval Command (Naval Command), the council bodies (órgãos de conselho), the Navy General Inspection (Inspecção Geral da Marinha), the base bodies (orgãos de base), the Forces System Operational Component elements (elementos da Componente Operacional do Sistema de Forças) as well as other bodies that help the Marinha achieve its mission.[37]

The main force of the Marinha is the Flotilla (Flotilha) which consists of the Oceanic Escorts Squadron (Esquadrilha de Escoltas Oceânicas), the Patrol Vessels Squadron (Esquadrilha de Navios Patrulhas), the Submarine Squadron (Esquadrilha de Submarinos) and the Helicopter Squadron (Esquadrilha de Helicópteros). Naval infantry is provided by the Marine Corps (Corpo de Fuzileiros).

Arms and services of the Marinha includes Electromechanic (Electromecânica), Administration (Administração), Operations (Operações), Weaponry (Armamento), Communications (Comunicações), Maneuvers (Manobras) and Services (Serviços). Its special arm are the Marines (Fuzileiros).

Air Force[edit]

Main article: Portuguese Air Force

The Portuguese Air Force is the air branch of the Portuguese military. As an independent branch, it was created in 1952, through the merger of the former Army's Military Aeronautics and the Navy's Naval Aviation. It is headed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

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.


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External links[edit]