Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents



The army's personnel strength was estimated at about 33,000 as of late 1991. About 75 percent of army personnel were conscripts serving a twelve-month period of service, and 10 percent were officers of both career and conscript status. The army was organized into four military regions (North with headquarters at Porto, Central with headquarters at Coimbra, South with headquarters at Évora, and Lisbon) and two military zones (Madeira with headquarters at Funchal, and Azores with headquarters at Ponta Delgada (see fig. 11).

The size of the army had been drastically reduced since 1974, when it consisted of 211,000 soldiers of all ranks, the bulk of whom were committed to the fighting in Africa. During the colonial wars, elements of two divisions remained in metropolitan Portugal; one of these was earmarked for assignment to NATO's Central Region along the Rhine River, and the other was assigned to peninsular defense in the framework of the 1939 Iberian Pact. Both divisions were below 50 percent strength and were equipped with outmoded weapons.

Major revisions in the army structure have occurred since the withdrawal of troops from the colonies in 1974. Most of the army was organized along regimental lines. By early 1992, it included fifteen infantry regiments, six artillery regiments, three cavalry regiments, two engineering regiments, one commando regiment, a signals regiment, and a military police regiment. The infantry regiments normally consisted of a headquarters battalion, an infantry battalion, and a training battalion. New recruits were immediately assigned to one of the regiments, where they received their basic training. The infantry regiments bore the names of communities within the military region where they were located. Forces in the Azores and Madeira were designated as Home Defense Groups, each consisting of two infantry battalions, one artillery battalion with antiaircraft and coastal guns, and support units.

The army's two most important units were the Special Forces Brigade and the First Composite Brigade committed to NATO. Unlike other army formations which were subordinate to regional military commanders in the areas where they were located, these two units were directly subordinate to the army chief of staff. For purposes of logistics and administration, however, the First Composite Brigade was under the commander of the Central military region.

The Special Forces Brigade, located in the Lisbon area, was composed of 2,000 men organized into two special forces battalions, one infantry battalion, and a logistics battalion. However, some units were only earmarked for service with the brigade and were still carried within the regimental structure.

The organization of the First Composite Brigade was begun in 1976 to replace the division previously committed to NATO. The brigade was located at Santa Margarida, 120 kilometers northeast of Lisbon, and maintained at 90 percent of its authorized strength of 5,200. Designed to conduct delaying and defensive operations, the brigade would come under Allied Land Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) in periods of crisis or war. It has taken part in NATO exercises in northeastern Italy. Its constituent units were one mechanized infantry battalion with M113 armored personnel carriers, two motorized infantry battalions, one armored battalion equipped with M-48A5 tanks, a field artillery battalion equipped with 155mm self-propelled howitzers, an armored reconnaissance unit, and engineering and signal companies.

Beginning in 1987, the army acted to improve the combat potential of the First Composite Brigade, particularly in overcoming its weaknesses in antitank weaponry and low-level air defense. The First Composite Brigade faced problems of transport and supply if deployed in Italy at a distance of 2,500 kilometers from its logistics base. Most of the brigade would be airlifted to its assigned position, with the heavy equipment to follow by sealift. Portugal did not have sufficient transport aircraft available to move the unit quickly, nor were there plans to position equipment in Italy in advance of the troops.

Newly enlisted army personnel were generally assigned to a unit from their own region of the country, where they also received their basic training. After about six months of service, enlisted men who met educational and other requirements could apply to the sergeants' school for training as noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Senior NCOs could qualify for commissions after attending the Higher Military Institute.

Discharged personnel were assigned to the reserves. Conscripts were carried on the reserve rolls until the age of thirty-five. There was no annual training period, although the call-up system was tested from time to time.

Young men aspiring for an army career could, after completing high school, compete for places at the Military Academy located near Lisbon; it had an enrollment of about 500 in 1991. Subsequent training of officers was conducted in the specialized schools of the various branches of the service. Advanced officer training, corresponding to the Command and General Staff School and the Army War College of the United States Army, was carried out at the Institute for Higher Military Studies in Lisbon. The highest level of professional education, corresponding to the United States National Defense University, was the National Defense Institute. The students, senior officers of the military, high civil servants, and leading figures in the private sector, devoted half a day for one year to the program. The army also operated prestigious military academies at the high school level, primarily for the children of career officers and NCOs but open to children of civilian families on a restricted basis. Most of the students continued on to university and a civilian career after graduation.

The basic infantry weapon of the Portuguese army was the Heckler and Koch 7.62mm G-3 rifle manufactured domestically under a German license. Armored units were equipped with M-48A5 tanks and M-113 armored personnel carriers from the United States, supplemented by wheeled armored vehicles from a variety of sources. The principal antitank weapons were TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) and Milan wire-guided missiles. In addition to a few self-propelled howitzers assigned to the First Composite Brigade, the army had an inventory of towed field guns and coastal artillery. The effort to modernize the NATOearmarked First Composite Brigade had priority on resources, which meant that units with home defense missions were equipped with obsolete weapons. Any substantial improvement was dependent on assistance from the United States, which had not supplied aid on the scale needed. It was possible that additional armored equipment, modern artillery, and antitank and air defense weapons would become available after deactivation by the United States Army under the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, although Portugal faced competing demands by other NATO countries (see table 12, Appendix).

Data as of January 1993

Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents