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Portuguese Armed Forces
Forças Armadas Portuguesas
Military flag of Portugal.svg
Military Standard of Portugal
Founded 1128
Current form 1950 (establishment of an unified chain of command for the several service branches)
Service branches Army
Air Force
Headquarters Estado-Maior-General das Forças Armadas
Supreme commander (President of the Republic) Aníbal Cavaco Silva
Minister of National Defense José Pedro Aguiar-Branco
Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Luís Vasco Valença Pinto
Military age 18
Conscription Volunteer
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 40,000(7,500 are women) (ranked 74th)
Reserve personnel 210,930
Deployed personnel 423
Budget 2.67 billion (2009)[1]
Percent of GDP 1.6% (2009)
Domestic suppliers OGMA
Foreign suppliers United States
 United Kingdom
Related articles
History Military history of Portugal
Ranks Portuguese Armed Forces ranks and insignia

The armed forces of Portugal, commonly known as the Portuguese Armed Forces (Forças Armadas Portuguesas) encompasses a Navy (Marinha), an Army (Exército) and an Air Force (Força Aérea). The President of Portugal is the formal Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces but in practice they respond to the Portuguese Government via the Minister of National Defense.

The Portuguese Armed Forces are charged with protecting Portugal's sovereignty and interests, and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. As the armed forces of one of NATO's founding nations, Portugal's military has been an active participant since 1955.

Recent operations have included patrolling the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia (since 2009), the war in Afghanistan (since 2005), intervention in East-Timor (1999–2004), in Guinea-Bissau (1990, 1998 and 1999), Angola (1992) and ongoing peacekeeping responsibilities in the Balkans and Lebanon. Bases are maintained throughout Portugal, both on the mainland and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores.


The strutucure of the Armed Forces of Portugal includes the Armed Forces themselves and also the State bodies 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 (joint Armed Forces commands);
  3. National Republican Guard (special corps of troops that can be put under the command of the General Staff of the Armed Forces);.



The history of the Portuguese military starts with the independence of Portugal from the Kingdom of León. The leader of such revolt was the Count Afonso Henriques (later king Afonso I) which had inherited the second County of Portugal (Condado Portucalense) and gained control of it after defeating his mother, Countess Teresa. Portugal had an important role in the Reconquista defeating the Moors and giving the country the current geographic aspect, an achievement made by king Afonso III. However the borders were also defended against the political and territorial ambitions of the Kingdoms of León and Castile.

World War I

Portuguese soldiers loading a mortar in the Western Front during World War I.

More than a year after the war in Europe broke out, the government of Portugal ordered the seizure of German ships anchored in Portuguese ports following a British request, leading to a declaration of war by Germany. The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (Corpo Expedicionário Português, CEP) was formed at Tancos, made up of 30,000 soldiers, under the command of General Norton de Matos. It was decided to integrate the CEP into the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The first Portuguese soldiers arrived in France by February 1917. A Portuguese artillery Corps was also sent to man French batteries, which they started operating by March 1918.

The CEP would see major action at Battle of La Lys, as it became known in Portugal or Operation Georgette/Battle of Estaires to the British. The Portuguese 2nd Division fought against Germany's superior numbers and though the unit was almost completely lost, the Portuguese fought on. Portuguese troops also fought in Africa, due to the colonies of Angola and Mozambique bordering German territories.

The defense of Portuguese India (1961)

Units from the Portuguese Army and Navy were involved in an armed conflict with India, during the invasion of Portuguese India by an Indian force of 45,000 servicemen, 8 combat ships and 42 combat aircraft. The Portuguese deployment in Goa consisted of 3,300 Portuguese servicemen including 900 Goan militia. Portugal had no air force resources at Goa, besides two civilian aircraft which managed to evacuate civilians on the night of 18 December, coordinated by a small Portuguese female paratroop contingent flown in from Lisbon on a civilian Super-Constellation on the 17th. Of the four Portuguese Navy sloops — the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, the NRP Bartolomeu Dias, the NRP João de Lisboa and the NRP Gonçalves Zarco — which were deployed to patrol the waters off Portuguese colonies in the Far East, only one, the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, had been deployed to Portuguese India. The other sloops were deployed in Timor, Macau and in the African conflicts which had begun 8 months before the invasion. All potential naval reinforcements were positioned thousands of miles from Goa. The sloops were commissioned in 1935, being designed for long-range patrol missions, having great autonomy but slower speeds and less armament than the frigates used by Portugal in her Atlantic fleet; the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque was an obsolete combat ship used for patrol purposes. It was armed with four 120 mm guns capable of only two shots per minute, and four automatic rapid firing guns.[2] Besides outnumbering the Portuguese presence at Goa, the Indian frigates were new ships, presenting greater displacement, equipped with modern armament and greater speed. Of the five merchant ships in Goa, at least one, the Ranger, was hit by Indian fire. The patrol craft (Lancha de Fiscalização) were equipped with one machine-gun each. All were of the Anthares class having a crew of six, one was stationed at Goa (Sirius), another at Diu (Vega) and one at Damão (Anthares); the enclaves were separated by hundreds of miles.

After 36 hours of low-intensity conflict, the Portuguese Governor, General Manuel António Vassalo e Silva surrendered to the Indian Army. 31 Portuguese soldiers were killed in action. 4668 Portuguese armed forces personnel were taken prisoners of war, and released six months later.[3]

Only the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque in Goa and the patrol craft Vega in Diu saw action against the Indian Navy, the patrol craft Sirius was rendered unusable, and the Anthares escaped from Damão to Karachi. The Afonso de Albuquerque was severely damaged during combat, yet it inflicted damage on two of the four Indian frigates that were firing on it. The battle ended after the sloop was beached and ran out of munitions, having fired over 400 rounds at the invading fleet. 5 Portuguese personnel were killed and 13, including the ship's captain, were wounded in the action.[4] In the defence of Diu, the Vega with a crew of 6, confronted the INS New Delhi, a battle cruiser with over 1200 crew, plus various attacks from Indian Air Force Canberra jet bombers using its sole machine-gun for defence. The captain and a sailor were killed after various strikes from the Indian Canberras.

The Overseas War (1961-1974)

Portuguese paratroopers being launched from an Air Force helicopter in Angola during the Colonial War.

The Portuguese Colonial War (Guerra Colonial), also known as Overseas War (Guerra do Ultramar) in Portugal or in the former colonies as War of liberation (Guerra de Libertação), was fought between Portugal's military and the emerging nationalist movements in Portugal's African colonies between 1961 and 1974. 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 or the overseas provinces (províncias ultramarinas), during the 1950s and 1960s. It was during this period that various 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 war would end when Portuguese junior military officers established a revolutionary organization, the MFA-Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement), which overthrew the regime in a bloodless coup. This later led to the independence of all Portuguese colonies and the restoration of democracy, as well as a wide range of political freedoms and civil rights.

Portuguese armed forces were stationed in Macau until 1974, although Macau remained under Portuguese administration until 1999.

Recent History

Portuguese made Bravia Chaimite armoured vehicles in Bosnia.

Portuguese Navy' NRP Bartolomeu Dias frigate.

After the conturbed transition period between 1974 and 1975, Portugal became a democratic state. Reforms on the military structure would then start to ensure it would meet the requirements for a possible Cold War conflict.

Between 1975 and 2007 several major changes were made. A Defense Ministry was created which would be in charge of the three military branches although officially the President of Portugal would be the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Many units were disbanded with the end of the colonial war (mainly Infantry) since high manpower was no longer needed and the counter-guerrilla doctrine would change to a more conventional one. The conscription for the Army and for the Navy ended in 2004 while the Air Force was professionalized a while before.

Paratroopers (Tropas Páraquedistas) would be transferred from the Air Force to the Army in 1994 and the Commandos (Comandos) would be disbanded only to be recreated in 2002. However four years later these two special units would be joined under the same Brigade along with the Special Operations Forces (Operações Especiais).

Military Police would be renamed as Army Police (Policia do Exercito) and the other two branches would receive equivalent units, the Air Police(Policia Aérea) and the Naval Police (Policia Naval), in the Air Force and Navy respectively. In 1992 a Naval Aviation (Aviação Naval) unit was created to give the Fleet more efficiency in coastal surveillance and maritime patrols.

Current strength

A Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter.

Country financial problems and persistent lack of political will by the Portuguese governments and Defense Ministers has led to an incapacitated Armed Forces. Its professionalization led to an overall reduction of 30,000 men on all three branches; the Portuguese military holds the 46th position in the international comparison in terms of manpower.

Currently the Portuguese military forces number 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.


  1. Defence Expenditures of NATO Countries (1985-2009)
  3. Azaredo, Carlos; Gabriel Figueiredo(translation) (8 December 2001). "Passage to India – 18th December 1961". Passage to India – 18th December 1961. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  4. A queda da Índia portuguesa» Carlos Alexandre de Morais, Editorial Estampa [1]

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