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Forca Aerea Portuguesa / Air Force of Portugal

Although the Portuguese air force did not become an independent service branch until 1952, it has existed since 1912. Portuguese pilots flew missions in World War I and Portuguese aircraft were involved in the Spanish Civil War. The air force played a major role in the colonial wars, attacking guerrilla raiding parties, supporting ground troops, and performing reconnaissance, transport, and medical evacuation missions.

During this period, its strength increased from about 12,500 in 1962 to a peak of 21,000 in 1973. After the Revolution of 1974 and the withdrawal from Africa, air force strength shrank as low as 8,000, but it was at a level of 13,400 in 1991. This total included 4,900 conscripts whose service obligation was sixteen months, as well as 2,300 airborne troops who were scheduled to be shifted to army command. The air force's sixteen squadrons operated from seven principal bases, including six in continental Portugal and Lajes in the Azores. One battalion of the airborne brigade was at the Monsanto Air Base, one battalion was at Aveiro, and the unit's training center was at Tancos.

The air force had a reputation as a well-trained, dynamically led, and disciplined service. Its aircraft maintenance and overhaul facilities at Alverca were considered to be excellent. Nevertheless, it has not had a clearly-defined mission since the end of the African wars, and its capabilities were limited by the lack of up-to-date combat aircraft. With the exception of ten Alpha Jets obtained from France and Germany in the early 1990s, the air force was largely dependent on the transfer of obsolete aircraft from surplus stocks of other NATO members.

The FAP has a plan for the future behind the year 2020....

  • Replacement of the C-130? Most likely the EMBRAER C-390?
  • Replacement of the ageing fleet of Alpha Jets (and likely the TB.30 Epsilon)
  • Possible start of looking to a replacement of the F-16 MLU fleet (around 2025?)

The backbone of the air forces by the end of the Cold War was two squadrons of A-7P Corsairs received under the United States military assistance program between 1982 and 1985. The air force had previously been dependent on Fiat G91s in the attack role. Deliveries of these aircraft from the German air force had begun in 1965-66 as partial reimbursement for German use of the Beja Air Base for training purposes. Portugal had no planes designed primarily for air defense, but both the A-7Ps and the Fiat G-91s were equipped with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, providing them with the means to perform a secondary air defense role.

A result of the 1989 review of the Lajes Air Base agreement was the delivery of seventeen F-16A fighters and three F-16Bs (training versions) from the United States beginning in 1994. Although these were earlier models of the highly regarded F-16 series, the introduction of these aircraft would represent a significant upgrading of the Portuguese air defense capabilities. The F-16s would operate from Monte Real Air Base and from two forward bases in Madeira and the Azores. As part of the same agreement, Portugal was scheduled to receive a battery of Hawk SAMs and associated radar to boost its air defenses.

In 1988 the air force acquired six Lockheed P-3B Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft that had previously been in service in the Australian air force. After modernization in Portugal by the addition of newer radar and navigation systems, acoustic sensors, and armaments, the aircraft entered service in 1990. Operating from Montijo Air Base, the aircraft provided the air force with a patrol capability against submarines within the sea space linking Portugal with the Azores and Madeira. For reasons of economy, however, few patrol missions were being flown.

The air force also had in its inventory C-130H Hercules transport aircraft intended to provide partial airlift for the First Composite Brigade earmarked for NATO, as well as Spanishbuilt CASA C-212 Aviocar light transports, some of which were fitted for additional maritime surveillance, weather reconnaissance, and survey missions. Two of the C-130s were scheduled to be stretched to increase their load capacities, and an additional stretched C-130 was to be acquired. No combat helicopters were included in the air force inventory of aging French-built Alouettes and Pumas, the survivors of a considerable fleet of helicopters used during the wars in Africa. Under the 1989 Azores review, the United States was committed to supply fifty-seven combat, antisubmarine, and transport helicopters.

A major component of the air force modernization plan was the introduction of an air command and control system for the planning, tasking, and execution of air operations, including coordination with ground and naval forces. The system would be linked to the Spanish, French, and NATO air defense systems. Although NATO had approved a large share of the funding, in the early 1990s a reassessment was underway in light of the dramatic changes in the European security situation.

The Air Force Academy, a four-year institution, was located at Sintra near Lisbon. Elementary pilot training for cadets was conducted on Aerospatiale Epsilons, eighteen of which were acquired from France in 1989 for assembly in Portugal. Jet basic training followed on Cessna T-37Cs, and advanced training on Alpha Jets or Northrup T-38A Talons. Additional officer training, carried out at the Air College, consisted of a basic command course for lieutenants, a command and staff course for captains, and the air war course for colonels.

The air force faced major problems in the 1990s arising from career dissatisfaction among its highly trained personnel. Pilots were requesting permission for transfer to the reserves, indefinite leave, or permanent discharge. As of the early 1990s, the pilot shortfall was estimated at about 30 percent. The principal reasons were economic. Even with flight pay, officers earned much less than commercial pilots. Air force pilots also complained that they did not have sufficient opportunity to develop and hone their skills. Annual flying times for pilots and crews were reportedly well below the NATO-recommended minima owing to budgetary and fuel restrictions and the shortage of serviceable aircraft.

101 Trainer SquadronRoncosEpsilon
103 Trainer SquadronCaracisAlpha Jet
201 Multi purpose SquadronFalces F-16A/B
301 Multi purpose SquadronJaguares F-16AM/BM
401 Squadron C-212
501 Transport SquadronBisontes C-130
502 Squadron ElefantesC-212, FTB-337
504 Transport SquadronLinces Falcon 20/50)
552 Connection SquadronZangesAlouette III
601 Maritime Recon SquadronLobosP-3C
711 Transport Squadron C-212
751 SAR SquadronPumasEH-101
802 Training Squadron guiasChipmunk
Some funny accounting occurred with patrol helicopters, a critical necessity for Portugal's two Atlantic archipelagoes. The European-made EH-101 was ruled cheaper than US competition, but only because spare parts and service were not included in the European proposal. Weeks after entering service, the EH-101s were grounded for lack of spare parts. The lack of a maintenance contract for the EH-101 - purchased by the Government of Antnio Guterres - created problems of support and forced the FAP to recover old Cougars. The 20-year old Pumas the EH-101s were supposed to replace were forced back into service.

Defense Minister Luis Amado said 01 June 2006 that Portugal expected to earn 110 million euros ($140 million) by 2011 from the sale of 28 helicopters [10 Pumas and 18 Alouette III] and two frigates.

By 2009 the FAP was unable to start the renewal of the C-212 aircraft with new aircraft, but the process of renovation of F-16 continued slowly.

The A400M began 1982 as the Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA) program. Requirements were originally stated as 9 aircraft for Portugal. Protugal backed out of the A400M program before the defence ministers of the European states participating in the project signed a memorandum of understanding, at the Aviation Exhibition in Bourget (near Paris), on 19 June 2001, for the purchase of 196 aircraft. The option to replace the C-130H by the A-400M was forgotten, but there was no alternative. After they withdrew from the Airbus Military A400M program, the Portuguese Air Force was left with only two options: either to modernise the present fleet or acquire new models and in this case it would have to be the C130J, due to the long and strong presence of Lockheed Martin company in Portugal.

In August 1990, the Portuguese Air Force signed a letter of agreement for 20 F-16A/B Block 15 aircraft in the Peace Atlantis Foreign Military Sales program. These aircraft were fitted with restored F100-PW-220E engines. In a ceremony in February 1994, the first two aircraft were accepted. Those two aircraft and two additional aircraft were delivered to Portugal in July 1994. Portugal became the fifth European Participating Air Force (EPAF) as it joined the United States and original four EPAFs in the F-16 Multinational Fighter Program. In November 1998, Portugal signed a letter of agreement for 25 Excess Defense Article F-16A/B Block 15s. Twenty were upgraded with the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update in Portugal, and the rest wereg used to generate spares. In July 2000, Portugal announced its intention to upgrade its first 20 F-16s to the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update following the first batch of 20.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the ministers of defense from Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands participated in the the Multi-National Fighter Program signing June 9, 2000. The program upgrades each countrys F-16 fighter fleet. It has been in effect since 1975. The group had participated in the early phases of the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program, helping to come up with specifications for the aircraft.

Portugal expected to earn 180 million euros ($230 million) by 2011 from the sale of 12 used F-16 fighter jets, Defense Minister Luis Amado said 01 June 2006. Of the total, 20 Portuguese F-16 had been through MLU, which left 25 which could be divested. Romania, which had been mentioned as a customer, could then pay to put those airframes through MLU. But divesting all the F-16s would leave Portugal with the Alpha Jet as their only form of fast air. They would no longer be able to maintain QRA over their airspace. It would put Portugal out of the jet fighter business, the same as when New Zealand retired their Skyhawks.

On October 18, 2013 Romanian defense minister Mircea Dusa signed the contract for a 600 million ($817 million) deal to acquire 12 Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM fighters from Portugal. An initial installment was paid at the same time. The first aircraft was scheduled for delivery in 2015/16, with all 12 to be handed over by 2017 to equip a single squadron. Romania has stated its intention to buy another batch of F-16s from Portugal to equip a second unit.

Portugal was identified by Lockheed Martin officials as one of the possible buyers for the F-35 in presentations to the industry in 2007. Also in a document produced for the Dutch Parliament (Basis Document, 2001) a possible requirement of an unknown number of Portugese planes to replace the A-7 Corsairs had been mentioned.

The main part of the current F-16 fleet was delivered in 1994-1995 and may be operational until 2018-2025. In that time-frame in a fighter competition the F-35 may play a role. However, not without competition, as other European companies have mentioned Portugal as an option in their sales analysis.

Like Eire, Portugal has to police and protect its zone of commercial intrest at first, like forbidden fishing f.e. and to do some SAR work and prevent smuggling. All that observation work has to be done by aircraft with some endurance.

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Page last modified: 04-11-2015 19:07:40 ZULU