Defense Media Network

Portuguese Navy Plans Modernization

Dual-use navy requires balanced fleet


Courtesy of Surface SITREP.  Republished with the permission of the Surface Navy Association (

The Portuguese navy, known as Marinha de Guerra Portuguesa or Armada Portuguesa, can trace its origins back to the 12th century, and is the oldest continuously serving navy in the world. Today, as part of the Portuguese armed forces, the Marinha is charged with the defense of Portugal, assuring sovereignty, and meeting international commitments as part of NATO, the European Union, and other organizations.

“We cannot be a specialized navy. We must stay focused on being a balanced navy.”

“In spite of Portugal being a small country, it has huge ocean and vast maritime responsibilities,” says Vice Adm. Antonio Silva Ribeiro, director general of the Maritime Authority of Portugal. “Our economic exclusive zone is 1.7 million square kilometers, the 10th largest in the world, and our search and rescue area is 5.8 million square kilometers.

Ribeiro says Portugal’s navy must be balanced between military defense of the country and non-military support to safety, environmental protection and economic development. “We cannot be a specialized navy. We must stay focused on being a balanced navy.”

Portuguese navy frigate NRP Bartolomeu Dias-(F-333)

The Portuguese navy frigate NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F-333) cruises away after recovering a visit, board, search and seizure team as the Spanish navy corvette SPS Cazadora (P-78) transits nearby during the at-sea portion of exercise Phoenix Express 2010. The class are former Royal Netherlands Navy ships, and will undergo the most extensive of Portugal’s planned modernizations of its surface fleet. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jimmy C. Pan

Portugal’s international commitments include participation in standing NATO forces and multinational coalition operations such as Ocean Shield, Active Endeavor and Atalanta. The Portuguese navy has also deployed to former colonies such as Cape Verde Islands, Guinea Bissau and East Timor.

“Our international commitments are diversified. We have to commit ships to very distant parts of the world. For example, we have a commitment in East Timor, our international commitments within NATO, of which we are a founding member, and within standing maritime forces in operations Ocean Shield, Active Endeavor, and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). We also commit ships and navy assets to the European Union Operation Atalanta, in Somalia, and Mali. In some recent engagements in the Portuguese-speaking countries – we have very strong relations with our former colonies – we have employed assets in Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and East Timor,” says Ribeiro.

“We are a dual-role navy, which basically means we act as both a navy and a coast guard,” he says. “We have different legal frameworks and authorities, but we have been both a navy and a coast guard, for 200 years. We never divided and developed a new and completely separate entity due to the fact that it’s more affordable for the country to use these ships in both military and non-military activities.”

“As a dual-use navy, we also commit assets to Frontex – the European Union’s border patrol mission – and to the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization. And we have to consider security and safety challenges,” he says.

Vasco da Gama-class

Portugal’s Vasco da Gama-class MEKO frigates will undergo a less extensive modernization, optimizing them for less demanding missions. Portuguese navy photo

Ribeiro says doctrine is based upon two main ideas. “The first one is our dual-role navy that enables Portugal to use the sea based upon its needs. With this proposal, the navy has three tasks: military defense and support to foreign policy; security, safety, and state authority; and economic, scientific and cultural development. This military defense and support to foreign policies is focused on our military action, and the other two tasks are related with non-military action. And this is the concept of framework for the dual-role navy, a navy that performs both navy and coast guard tasks.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...