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The Army

The Paraguayan army has existed since independence in 1811, when it consisted of two infantry battalions backed up by a militia. It was built up under Francia to include cavalry and artillery elements and was also backed by a reserve force. The army continued to occupy an important position under the presidencies of both Lópezes, who devoted considerable resources to training, organization, and weaponry. During the 1860s, under the younger López, the army grew to be the largest in Latin America, maintaining fixed artillery positions around Asunción and in other fortresses in the country. In 1864 during the lead-up to the War of the Triple Alliance, the army was large enough to invade Argentina and Brazil, one invasion force numbering as high as 25,000. Eventually, a force estimated at 50,000 was mobilized during the war--far more than the nation was able to train or arm adequately. The army was overwhelmed by the larger and better equipped armies of its opponents, which by the war's end in 1870 had reduced the Paraguayan army to a few remnants.

The army was reestablished after the Brazilian occupation ended in 1876, but until the turn of the century it consisted mainly of small units assigned to defend the frontiers or to act as ceremonial forces in the capital. Less a professional institution than a collection of forcibly conscripted troops, the army during the late 1800s came under the shifting commands of officers allied with whatever government was currently in power.

Efforts to improve matters met with uneven results. Most of the new equipment acquired during the 1895-1904 period was lost in 1904 during the Liberal revolt (see The First Colorado Era , ch. 1). The Liberals were backed by a well-equipped armed force, the personnel and equipment of which were then incorporated into a 2,000-strong army reorganized by the new government. The army again underwent reorganization after the 1922 civil war. It grew only slightly until the late 1920s, when tensions with Bolivia prompted a mobilization, and new battalions were formed. Approximately 140,000 men saw service during the three-year Chaco War, after which the army was reduced dramatically to little more than its prewar level.

The factional split of the army during the 1947 civil war was followed by a large turnover in personnel. After operations were "regularized," the army was expanded. The greatest buildup came in the engineer arm, which began to be used extensively in civicaction work. A cavalry division was also organized.

After Stroessner became president in 1954, he enlarged the army again, the most important new element being the Presidential Escort Battalion (later expanded to a regiment). The army inventory grew more slowly. A small quantity of light and medium tanks, armored personnel carriers, and armored cars were acquired during the 1960s and 1970s, mostly from the United States and Brazil. These acquisitions barely kept pace with deletions of obsolete and broken-down equipment, however.

In 1982 the government announced a new army tactical organization that incorporated existing units into three corps. At the same time, two new infantry divisions were formed.

As of late 1988, army strength stood at 12,500, including members of the Presidential Escort Regiment; about 8,100 army personnel were conscripts (see table 9, Appendix). Army combat arms included infantry and cavalry divisions, and artillery engineer battalions. Logistics services branches included signals, transport, administration, war matériel, medical, and veterinary elements that were dispatched in support of combat units.

The army's main tactical units included eight infantry divisions and one cavalry division (see table 10, Appendix). At full strength, the infantry divisions were each designed to comprise a headquarters, three infantry regiments, and a logistics support battalion that included transport and medical units. In peacetime, however, the divisions were actually made up of a single, sometimes "skeletonized" infantry regiment. The cavalry division included mechanized elements as well as men on horseback.

The eight infantry divisions and the cavalry division were organized tactically into three army corps. The First Corps was headquartered at Campo Grande near Asunción and included the First Cavalry Division, which was located at Ñu Guazú and comprised four cavalry regiments. The First Corps also contained the First Infantry Division and the Third Infantry Division, headquartered respectively at Asunción and San Juan Bautista. The Second Corps contained the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Infantry Divisions. The Second Infantry Division, along with the Second Corps headquarters, was located at Villarrica. The Fourth Infantry Division was headquartered at Concepción, the Fifth at Curuguaty. The Third Corps also had three infantry divisions. The Sixth Infantry Division and corps headquarters were located at Mariscal Estigarribia in the Chaco. The Seventh and Eighth Infantry Divisions were headquartered at Fortín Teniente Primero Stroessner and Mayor Pablo Lagarenza, respectively.

Three other major elements also rounded out this tactical organization. The first was the Combat Support Command, which comprised an artillery garrison consisting of three artillery battalions, an engineer command composed of six engineer battalions, and a communications command made up of a signals and transport battalion. The artillery battalions were garrisoned at Paraguarí and were attached to the infantry divisions on an ad hoc basis. The engineer battalions were dispatched as needed throughout the country and assigned to military and civilian construction projects as well as other civic-action tasks. The second major support element was the Logistics Support Command, which encompassed a variety of service elements, including quartermaster, medical, veterinary, and transport services. This command also oversaw the army's ammunition depot, draft and mobilization program, and surveying and mapping unit. The army's training establishments, including the Francisco López Military College, came under the Military Institutes of Instruction Command--the third major army support element.

Major ground force arms were heterogeneous in origin. Much was obsolete United States equipment, most of which was obtained thirdhand from Argentina and Brazil. The small armor inventory consisted of twelve M-4A3 medium and twelve M-3A1 light tanks. It was unclear how many of the United States-made tanks were operable. The army also had twelve United States-made M-8 and M-3 armored cars; twenty Brazilian-made Cascavel armored vehicles; three United States-made M-2 armored personnel carriers (APCs), and ten Brazilian-made Urutu APCs. Artillery pieces included 75mm and 105mm howitzers of French, and Swedish manufacture, plus six British-made 152mm coastal guns. The army used French-made 81mm and United States-made 107mm mortars and United States-made 75mm antitank guns. Also in the army's inventory were eight light transport aircraft and three helicopters.

The army's conscripts were trained initially in the unit to which they were assigned. A variety of specialty schools, including the Armaments School, the Signals School, and the Engineer School, offered advanced training.

Data as of December 1988

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