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The Spanish navy (Armada) was relatively large, ranking second in total tonnage, after the British navy, among European NATO nations. Its ship inventory, although aging, was being upgraded through a construction and modernization program. As part of its personnel reorganization, its strength had been reduced by 10,000 to 47,300 personnel, including marines, as of 1987. Of this number, about 34,000 were conscripts.

Subordinate to the commander in chief of the fleet, with his headquarters in Madrid, were four zonal commands: the Cantabrian Maritime Zone with its headquarters at El Ferrol del Caudillo (Ferrol) on the Atlantic coast; the Straits Maritime Zone with its headquarters at San Fernando near Cadiz; the Mediterranean Maritime Zone with its headquarters at Cartagena; and the Canary Islands Maritime Zone with its headquarters at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Operational naval units were classified by mission, and they were assigned to the combat forces, the protective forces, or the auxiliary forces. The combat forces were given the tasks of conducting offensive and defensive operations against potential enemies and of assuring maritime communications. Their principal vessels included a carrier group, naval aircraft, transports and landing vessels, submarines, and missile-armed fast attack craft. The protective forces had the mission of protecting maritime communications over both ocean and coastal routes and the approaches to ports and to maritime terminals. Their principal components were destroyers or frigates, corvettes, and minesweepers as well as marine units for the defense of naval installations. The auxiliary forces, responsible for transport and for provisioning at sea, also had such diverse tasks as coast guard operations, scientific work, and maintenance of training vessels. In addition to supply ships and a tanker, the force included older destroyers and a considerable number of patrol craft.

The largest vessel of the navy was the 15,000-ton aircraft carrier, Principe de Asturias, which had entered service in 1988 after completing sea trials. Built in Spain with extensive United States engineering assistance and financing, it was designed with a "ski-jump" takeoff deck. Its complement would be six to eight Harrier vertical (or short) takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft and as many as sixteen helicopters designed for antisubmarine warfare and support of marine landings.

The new carrier was to have as its escort group four frigates of the United States FFG-7 class, built in Spain and armed with Harpoon and Standard missiles. The first three were commissioned between 1986 and 1988; construction on the fourth was begun in 1987. Also in the inventory were five frigates, commissioned between 1973 and 1976 and built in Spain with United States assistance. Six slightly smaller vessels of Portuguese design, classified as corvettes, were constructed in Spain between 1978 and 1982 (see table 17, Appendix).

The fleet of eight submarines was built, based on French designs, with extensive French assistance. Four submarines of the Agosta class were constructed in Spain between 1983 and 1985. They were equipped with the submarine-launched version of the Exocet antiship missile. Four submarines of the Daphne class had been completed between 1973 and 1975. A number of United States destroyers of the Gearing and the Fletcher classes, constructed at the close of World War II, were also in the 1988 inventory, although the three remaining Fletcher class vessels were scheduled to be retired by 1990.

The marines, numbering 11,500 troops, were divided into base defense forces and landing forces. One of the three base defense battalions was stationed at each of the headquarters at Ferrol, Cartagena, and San Fernando. "Groups" (midway between battalions and regiments) were stationed at Madrid and at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The fleet tercio (equal to a regiment), available for immediate embarkation, was based at San Fernando. Its principal arms included light tanks, armored personnel vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and TOW and Dragon antitank missiles.

Data as of December 1988

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Spain Table of Contents