Marinha Portuguesa / Navy of Portugal
Portugal is – as described by Miguel Torga – a "whiff of land trimmed by the sea", a terrestrial territory relatively modest, but with a huge maritime area, which is important to protect and exploit. Our history is filled with the most glorious moments in which the Portuguese if overcame. In all of them there is a common element: the sea, and two indispensable action vectors: ships and sailors. Everything leads me to believe that, in future too, so it will be. Portugal has a strong maritime tradition dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when explorers inspired by Prince Henry the Navigator reached Madeira, the Azores, and the west coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and sailed on to establish the sea route to India.
Seas and oceans are a crucial means of communication and transport within our increasingly globalized world, as well as a source of food and medicine, energy and geological and genetic resources. In addition to the direct and indirect employment associated with these activities, the ocean and the coastal zones play an essential role in the societies' well-being as well as in its quality of life either through sports and leisure activities or through the main services they offer such as the climate regulation, the carbon dioxide retention, the oxygen production and the pollutants' storage and recycling.
However, there are serious problems threatening the ocean such as pollution, resource over-exploitation, habitat destruction, environmental degradation, biodiversity depletion and introduction of exotic species. As a consequence, it is central to define and coordinate policies which contribute to the sustainable development objectives of Portugal.
Portugal is committed to promote innovative forms to make the best use of seas and oceans resources in a sustainable way, contributing to the development of the maritime economy and industries, investing in ocean sciences and technologies, creating jobs, fostering sea-associated education and sports, solving conflicts and encouraging synergies through the implementation of maritime spatial planning of the activities. Simultaneously, it is necessary to guarantee that the valuable natural and cultural underwater heritage is protected and preserved.
The importance of sea for the globalised world is recognized by all. Also recognized is the increasing need to ensure their safety in the face of threats and risks, the function played by the Navy over many centuries and that, today, is even more essential to the full enjoyment of all the possibilities that the maritime dimension offers us. To do this, the country needs a strong and ready Navy. Although traditionally the service with the greatest prestige, the navy declined during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For a period in the 1950s, this trend was reversed when modern frigates, corvettes, minesweepers, and patrol vessels were acquired through military assistance from the United States. After the Revolution of 1974, the number of operational fighting vessels declined by more than half, from forty to seventeen.
During the colonial wars, the navy was active in efforts to interdict guerrilla movements on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters of Africa. After the withdrawal of the armed forces from Africa, the navy's emphasis shifted to home waters, where its missions have been defined as protecting the sea lanes between the mainland and the islands of the Azores and Madeira, cooperating with the other services in the defense of Portuguese territory, patrolling the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Portugal's coast, and meeting Portugal's NATO responsibilities in the Iberian Atlantic Command (IBERLANT) zone of operations.
The chief of the naval staff (an admiral) was supported by the vice chief of naval staff (a vice admiral), the continental naval commander (also a vice admiral), the Azores naval commander (a rear admiral), the Madeira naval commander (a captain), and the Marine Corps commandant (a captain). The main naval base was at Alfeite near Lisbon, as was the Naval Academy. The continental naval command was at Portimão on the south coast. The commanders in the Azores and Madeira exercised the concurrent role of NATO island commander.
Between the end of the colonial wars in 1974 and 1992, the navy's personnel strength decreased from 19,400 to 15,300. As of early 1992, about 5,000 of the navy's personnel were conscripts serving for sixteen months. Standards of performance and motivation of career NCO personnel were reported to have been affected by the decline. Many NCOs, trained at considerable expense by the navy, had departed for private sector employment. Lack of advancement, wage levels not commensurate with the skills involved, and the diminishing prestige of naval careers were said to be contributing factors. As a result of the flight of technicians, previous training and fitness standards could not be maintained.
One major challenge facing the Portuguese Navy is a lack of personnel, Vice Adm Mendes Calado said in 2017. "Recruitment and retention of the armed forces and of the navy in particular is becoming very, very challenging. This is giving us an incentive to try and change our approach to how we try to attract people to the navy and also retain them." As of late 2016 personnel strength totalled 7,944 (including 1,116 marines), of which 6,928 were professional and 1,016 were on short-term contract. This number was about 600 personnel short of what the navy required.
By 1992 the principal combat vessels of the Portuguese navy were four frigates and three submarines of French construction and ten small frigates (sometimes classified as corvettes) built in Spain and Germany. The French frigates and submarines were commissioned in the late 1960s, and the corvettes were commissioned between 1970 and 1975, although they were later modernized by the addition of new communications and electronics gear. The navy also operated a number of coastal patrol and auxiliary vessels. Three modern MEKO-200 frigates were commissioned in 1991. These ships, built in Germany and financed with the help of seven NATO members, were, at 3,200 tons, much larger than any other vessels in the existing fleet. They were to be armed with torpedoes, Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles, the Sea Sparrow SAM, and advanced sonar and fire-control systems. They would also accommodate two helicopters for antisubmarine operations.
Even with the addition of the MEKO frigates, Portugal had only a limited capability to carry out its IBERLANT responsibilities. The main potential threats were submarines that might interdict the Atlantic sea lanes and mines that could force the closure of ports. The navy's antisubmarine warfare capability, although improving, was still deemed deficient, particularly in view of the lack of air reconnaissance. The lack of minesweepers to operate in the Portugal-Madeira-Azores triangle was a further shortcoming in view of the strategic importance of this zone for European shipping. The navy had plans to replace its submarines and to purchase ocean-going patrol vessels and minesweepers, but by the early 1990s it was not clear how they would be financed.
One of the growing threats to the mainland was the increase in drug trafficking and illegal immigration along the littoral between Faro and the Rio Guadiana on the Spanish border. To combat this threat the Portuguese considered a mix of medium-lift hovercraft and small, fast assault craft but plans had not progressed since first mooted in 1997.
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