Colombia Table of Contents
In 1988 the National Army was composed of 69,000 active-duty soldiers, including approximately 26,000 conscripts. The troops under the command of the National Army represented some 80 percent of Colombia's total military personnel. Approximately 500 of the army's troops were believed to be serving as military observers with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Sinai. Between 1982 and 1987, the number of troops under the army's command remained relatively constant, possibly belying the army's recovery from personnel cuts that some sources allege were imposed during the mid-1980s. But in 1988 a significant increase (12,000 personnel) occurred. In addition to regular personnel, the army reserves (made up of persons who had fulfilled their military service obligation) added another 100,000 men to the army's potential manpower. Observers believed, however, that the service had limited capability to mobilize these reserve personnel in the event of a national emergency.
The commander of the National Army in 1988 was General Nelson Mejía Henao. By 1988 plans for a major restructuring of the army had been carried out. The restructuring included the reorganization of the service into four divisions and the formation of two new infantry brigades, which brought the total of infantry brigades to twelve. The troops assigned to these infantry brigades were dispersed among the country's ten military regions.
Each of the four army divisions had territorial command over two to three of the country's military regions and was organized into three brigades. Each brigade had a minimum of two infantry battalions and one service battalion. Most of the brigades were composed of three infantry battalions, one mechanized cavalry group, and one battalion each of artillery, engineer, and service personnel. In all, the four divisions commanded thirty infantry battalions, six mechanized cavalry groups, eight artillery battalions, six engineer battalions, twelve service battalions, and two military police battalions.
A thirteenth brigade--which represented the restructuring of the Military Institutes Brigade (Brigada de Institutos Militares-- BIM)--was established as an army-level combat formation and was headquartered at Bogotá. This brigade included troops from the First Airborne Battalion (the army's sole paratroop unit); the infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineer, and combat support services applications school battalions; and personnel belonging to the Lanceros Battalion. Troops in the Lanceros Battalion received special antiguerrilla training and assignments comparable to those of the United States Army's Rangers. The Logistic Support Brigade, made up of the Supply Battalion and the Ordnance Battalion, also was an army-level formation with headquarters at Bogotá. In addition, four battalions under the direct command of the National Army's headquarters included the Presidential Guard Battalion, the Leticia Mixed Jungle Battalion, the Nueva Granada Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, and the 11th Military Police Battalion. The San Jorge Mechanized Cavalry Regiment was also under army headquarters command.
In an effort to fight what the army leadership perceived as an escalating insurgency, the army initiated an equipment acquisition program during the early 1980s to improve the service's operational capabilities. Among the new purchases approved were armored vehicles, automatic rifles, submachine guns, and rocket launchers. As part of this program, a contract was signed in 1982 with the Brazilian firm Engesa for the purchase of its EE-9 Cascavel armored cars, EE-11 Urutu armored personnel carriers, and EE-3 Jararaca scout cars. By 1985 a total of 120 EE-9s and 76 EE-11s had been delivered to the National Army. The army also purchased tubelaunched , optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) antitank weapons. By the late 1980s, TOW antitank guns had become the principal component of the army's antiarmor weaponry.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the major military equipment in service with the Colombian army in 1988 (in addition to the new acquisitions noted above) included twelve M-3A1 Stuart light tanks, twenty M-8 Greyhound armored cars, fifty M-113 tracked armored personnel carriers, and forty-five M-3A2 half-tracked vehicles. By 1984 many of the newly acquired TOW antitank guns had been mounted on the turrets of the M-8 armored cars. With the exception of the newer Brazilian purchases, nearly all of the army's armored equipment was of World War II vintage. By the late 1980s, continuing budget problems had constrained plans for additional equipment purchases.
Artillery weapons included fifty M-101 105mm howitzers that also had been manufactured in the United States during World War II. Mortars in use included between 100 and 125 M1 81mm and 148 M2 107mm models. Approximately 120 of the 120mm Brandt models also were counted in the army's inventory. According to the IISS, Colombia's air defense weapons included thirty 37mm and thirty M-1A1 40mm guns, both types manufactured in the United States. By 1987 the West German G3 assault rifle had become the standard infantry weapon--some 30,000 having been acquired in the mid-1970s- -replacing the United States-manufactured M-1. Submachine guns in use included the three Madsen models--the M46, the M50, and the M53; the Walther MP-K; and the MAC-10. The Colombian armed forces' Division of Military Industries reportedly manufactured most of the army's ammunition.
Data as of December 1988
Colombia Table of Contents