Newly optimistic Portuguese army

In the image of Portugal which is enjoying a return to firm growth, its army is showing signs of new optimism and is beginning to invest again. The latest example was the launch on 5 June of procurements worth €75M for new air defence systems and light weapons, part of the overall budget of €250M earmarked by Lisbon to spend by 2018 for the modernisation of its armed forces.

Portuguese soldiers on exercise (Photo credit: Portuguese Ministry of Defence)

Given the nature, characteristics, and complexity” of these two programmes, they will be implemented through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). Initiated in 2010 on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Lisbon and based in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, NSPA is mandated by the 29 Alliance member states to negotiate and conclude system acquisition contracts by providing “responsive, effective and cost-efficient acquisition” according to the agency’s website.

By 2026, therefore, the Ministry of Defence intends to equip its land forces with eight new command and control centres, two close-detection radars, eight air defence missile systems mounted on light and medium armoured vehicles, and eight additional armoured tactical vehicles. At a cost of €32M, these systems will replace the MIM-72 Chaparral air defence systems which have been in operation since 1989 in the Portuguese army.

The Ministry of Defence is also considering the purchase of “11,000 rifles (5.56mm), 300 assault rifles (7.62mm), 830 light machine guns, 320 medium machine guns, 450 precision rifles, 1,700 grenade launchers, 380 shotguns, 3,400 sighting systems” for a total budget of €42.8M. These weapons will replace, amongst others, a mix of HK G3 assault rifles, HK 21 machine guns and Mossberg 590A1 shotguns that were used during the wars of independence in Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique between 1961 and 1974.

With its unemployment rate falling, a record 2% public deficit (against 3.4% for France), an estimated growth of 1.8% in 2017, Lisbon has definitely turned the corner from the 2008 financial crisis. This regained optimism in part explains why Portugal has joined the club of those European countries that have adopted an ambitious defence investment plan. The Portuguese defence budget has thus timidly increased 0.3% on the previous year to reach €2.14bn euros in 2017.