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Paraguay Navy

Without coastal access, rivers are the focus of Paraguay’s navy. It may seem unusual that Paraguay, a country that at no point is closer than 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles) from an ocean, has a navy larger than some maritime states. It also has a Marine Corps, a naval air arm and a coast guard. Paraguay’s river system is extremely important to the nation’s daily life and even to its survival. Maintaining significant naval forces is, therefore, a national necessity. Although largely composed of aging vessels, the Paraguayan Navy remains an efficient, compact, and well-balanced force. Its composition is quite well suited to its peculiar circumstances, which justifies its existence.

The navy’s mission includes riverine border control and port security, antismuggling operations, and assisting the army and police in internal security operations. The naval aviation squadron’s missions include river patrol, air transport, and survey operations. The navy also performs hydrographic surveys and maintains navigational aids for Parana River deployments. The navy responsibilities include surveillance and defense of the country’s river system, particularly those parts that coincide with the border frontiers, and managing the merchant marines, which is considered a reserve of the navy, to be mobilized in time of war.

The Paraguayan Navy has about 1,800 personnel as of 2007. Naval Aviation consists of about 100 personnel. The navy is a river patrol force operating what was, until a few years ago, mostly outdated vessels, in addition to a small air arm and a nucleus of old coastal artillery manning fixed river defenses. By another account, the Navy had 1,400 personnel, including 300 conscripts. Naval aviation had 100 personnel. The marines also operated as part of the navy, with a force of about 900, including 200 conscripts. The navy has bases in Asunción, Bahía Negra, and Ciudad del Este. The navy inventory included eight patrol craft as well as 20 smaller craft and five support and miscellaneous craft. Naval aviation had five planes and three helicopters.

The main base is located at Puerto Sajona, Asunción. Minor bases include the following:

  • Base Naval de Bahia Negra (BNBN) (upper Paraguay river)
  • Base Naval de Saltos del Guaira (BNSG) (upper Paraná river)
  • Base Naval de Ciudad del Este (BNCE) (Paraná river)
  • Base Naval de Encarnacion (BNE) (Paraná river)
  • Base Naval de Ita-Pirú (BNIP) (Paraná river)

Naval Headquarters are located at Puerto Sajona, Asunción; other bases include Ita-Piru, Ciudad del Este, Encarnacion, Saltos del Guaira, Pozo Hondo, and Bahia Negra. A fixed-wing naval aviation base is located at Asunción International Airport, and there is a helicopter base in Puerto Sajonia.

Paraguay's naval forces were first developed under Francia, who kept a fleet of eleven vessels. Under the presidencies of both Lopezes, the navy was expanded to include both a marine battalion and a naval artillery element. The navy played a significant role in the early part of the War of the Triple Alliance. Using the steam warship Tacuari, naval forces in early 1865 helped capture the Argentine city of Corrientes, then battied an attacking Brazilian fleet, first losing and then regaining control of the city. After finally forcing the Brazilian fleet to withdraw to Riachuelo, the Paraguayan navy attacked again in one of the world's largest riverine naval engagements. Although the battie was inconclusive, the navy's losses forced it to withdraw upriver. Thereafter, the navy fought a series of holding actions until 1868, when its forces had been almost completely destroyed.

For the fifty years following the end of the occupation by Brazilian forces in 1876, the navy remained very small. In response to tensions with Bolivia, however, it was upgraded in the late 1920s, adding a small air arm in 1929 and acquiring new vessels in 1931. The fleet's role in the Chaco War, however, was limited largely to carrying troops and supplies on the first leg of the journey into the Chaco and to supplying antiaircraft cover for the army. Some naval officers also saw service as ground force commanders. In addition, the naval air arm carried out important reconnaissance and support missions and undertook in 1934 the first night air raid in the Western Hemisphere.

After the Chaco War, the navy inventory grew slowly; the primary acquisitions were patrol boats donated by the United States in 1944. The naval aviation arm benefited from donations by the United States and Argentina in the 1950s. The fleet was augmented in the 1960s and early 1970s by three United States-manufactured minesweepers acquired from Argentina. During the same period, the United States transferred or leased to Paraguay a variety of craft, including launches, landing craft, tugs, and support vessels. These were purchased outright during the 1975-77 period. The only major acquisition during the 1980s was a Brazilian-built river gunboat commissioned in 1985.

As of 1988, naval personnel numbered some 3,150, of whom approximately one-third were conscripts. These included personnel assigned to the fleet, to naval aviation, and to a battalion of marines, as well as members of the coast guard and the harbor and port police.

The ship inventory in 1988 consisted of six river defense vessels, seven patrol craft, and three amphibious vessels, in addition to various support, transport, and cargo vessels. The bulk of the fleet was antiquated: five of the six river patrol vessels were laid down in the 1930s; the newest was of 1980s vintage. One large patrol craft had a wooden hull and first saw service in 1908. The main naval base was located in the capital at Puerto Sajonfa and included a dockyard and the naval arsenal. Secondary bases were located across the Rio Paraguay at Chaco i and at Bahfa Negra and Puerto Presidente Stroessner.

The 500-strong marine battalion included both a regular and a commando regiment. It was headquartered at Puerto Sajonia, but most personnel were stationed on the upper Paraguay at Bahfa Negra and Fuerte Olimpo.

The small naval air arm had only some fifty-five personnel assigned to it. It flew primarily utility and training aircraft as well as a few helicopters. Most equipment was located at Chaco i, although the helicopters sometimes were detached to two vessels that had helicopter platforms.

The navy was also responsible for the coast guard, which maintained navigational aids and guarded major river crossings. Some 250 naval personnel manned four batteries of coastal defense guns on the upper part of the Rio Paraguay. The harbor police, which regulated the merchant fleet, was also under the navy's control.

After training at the military academy in Asuncion, naval officers were sent to Argentina for advanced training in Argentine naval schools and on the Argentine fleet vessels. Enlisted personnel received basic and advanced naval training at Puerto Sajoma; some were also sent to Argentina to train.

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Page last modified: 29-08-2016 19:29:59 ZULU