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Spanish Armed Forces | Spanish Military

spanish armed forces

The armed forces of Spain are commanded by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, and consists of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It also includes, Navy Marines, the Royal Guard, the Spanish Legion, an Army Airmobile Force and a Civil Guard.

The Spanish Armed Forces are a modern military force whose duty it is to defend the Kingdom’s integrity and sovereignty. The Spanish Armed Forces are also active members of NATO, the Eurocorps, and the European Union Battlegroups.

The Spanish Army has existed continuously since the reign of King Fernando and Queen Isabel (late 15th century). The oldest and largest of the three services, its mission was the defense of peninsular Spain, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Melilla, Ceuta and the Spanish islands and rocks off the northern coast of Africa. The army is completing a major reorganisation. Previously it had been organised into nine regional operational commands. These were reduced to six commands in conjunction with a revised deployment of forces: Central Command, Southern Command, Levante Command, Eastern Pyrenees Command, Northwestern Command, and Western Pyrenees Command. In addition there were the two military zones of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. Ceuta and Melilla fell within the Southern Command. At the head of each regional command was an officer of three-star rank. Although his authority had been reduced, the regional commander, who held the title of captain general, was still among the most senior officers of the Spanish Armed Forces.

Under its earlier organisation, the army was grouped into two basic categories: the Immediate Intervention Forces and the Territorial Operational Defence Forces. In theory, the former, consisting of three divisions and ten brigades, had the missions of defending the Pyrenean and the Gibraltar frontiers and of fulfilling Spain’s security commitments abroad. The latter force, consisting of two mountain divisions and fourteen brigades, had the missions of maintaining security in the regional commands and of reinforcing the Civil Guard and the police against subversion and terrorism. In reality, most of the Immediate Intervention Forces were not positioned to carry out their ostensible mission of protecting the nation’s borders. Many units were stationed near major cities, this was as a matter of convenience for officers who held part-time jobs from which they also could be called upon to curb disturbances or unrest.

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In a gradual process that had not been fully completed, the division of the army into the Immediate Intervention Forces and the Territorial Operational Defence Forces was being abolished. The brigade had become the fundamental tactical unit. The total number of brigades had been reduced from twenty-four to fifteen by the dismantling of nine territorial defence brigades. Eleven of the brigades had been organised within the existing five divisions; three brigades were to be independent, and one was to be in general reserve.

The best equipped of the five was the First Division, the Brunete Armored Division, with its armored brigade in the Madrid area and its mechanized brigade farther to the southwest near Badajoz. The motorized Second Division, Guzman el Bueno Division, which had acquired a third brigade as a result of the restructuring, was the major defensive force in the south, with full capability for rapid maneuver. The mechanized Third Division, the Maestrazgo Division, under the Levante Command, consisted of two brigades considered to have a moderate degree of mobility. The two mountain divisions, the Fourth Division and the Fifth Division, each consisting of two mountain brigades, remained in the Pyrenees border area of the north. Two of the four independent brigades were armored cavalry, one was an airborne brigade, and one was a paratroop brigade.

Numerous other changes were introduced as well, including the reorganization of artillery forces not included in the major combat units. This involved the creation of a field artillery command that consisted of a restructured and consolidated former artillery brigade, the creation of a single straits coastal artillery command that replaced two former coastal artillery regiments, and the introduction of an antiaircraft artillery command that was expected to benefit from significant modernizing of its weapons inventory.

The personnel strength of the army, which previously had been maintained at about 280,000, including 170,000 conscripts, had been trimmed to 240,000 by 1987. This was achieved through lower intakes of conscripts and volunteers and through cuts in the table of organization for officers and NCOs. The government’s goal was a smaller but more capable army of 195,000 effective by 1991. Outside peninsular Spain, about 19,000 troops were stationed in Ceuta and Melilla. These included, in addition to the Spanish Legion and other specialized units, four regular regiments of North Africans. An additional 5,800 troops were assigned to the Balearic Islands, and 10,000 were in the Canary Islands.

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The Spanish Legion, founded in Morocco in 1920, has always been under the direct command of the chief of the army staff. It has had a reputation as the toughest combat unit in the service, although modelled after the French Foreign Legion, reduced in size in 1987, as a result of successive reorganizations, the legion was scheduled to undergo further cuts to an overall strength of 6,500. It had a higher number of career soldiers than other units, but it was manned mostly by conscripts who had volunteered for the legion. Recruitment of non-Spanish personnel, who had never exceeded 10 percent of the group’s manpower, ended in 1986. Foreign legionnaires already in the service were not affected.

The Spanish Legion is grouped into four tercios (sing., tercio), a unit intermediate between a regiment and a brigade, each commanded by a colonel. The first and the second tercios constituted the core of the military garrisons at Melilla and Ceuta (North Africa). Each had been reduced by a motorized battalion, leaving it with a single motorized battalion, a mechanized battalion, an antitank company, and a headquarters company. They were equipped with BMR armored personnel carriers. The Third Tercio, stationed in the Canary Islands, consisted of two motorized battalions and a headquarters company. The Fourth Tercio was being converted from a support role to a combat unit at the legion headquarters in Ronda near Malaga. Although, probably not as “glamorous” outside Spain as their French counterparts, the Spanish legion has nothing to envy in professionalism and “fiercy” to any other elite force in the world.

The Ministry of Defence was planning the creation of a rapid deployment force composed entirely of volunteers. This force, which would include the Spanish Legion, the Paratroop Brigade, the Airborne Brigade, and Marine units, would be available for use in trouble spots on twelve hours’ notice. Lack of adequate air and naval transport would, however, be a limiting factor.

In spite of new procurement programs, introduced in the mid-1980s, arms and equipment were not in sufficient supply, and they were not up to the standards of other NATO armies. The inventory of medium tanks was made up of nearly 700 American models, as well as about Franco-Spanish 300 AMX-30s manufactured in Spain between 1974 and 1983. Although the military felt that it was essential to adopt a new main battle tank for the 1990s, some considerations led to a postponement of the decision and the upgrading of the AMX-30s with new German-designed diesel engines and transmissions, reactive armor panels, and laser fire-control systems.

Armored troop carriers included about 1,200 M-113s as well as AML-60s and AML-90s and Pizarro infantry fighting vehicle. The Spanish army is in the process of being equipped with more than 1,200 BMRs, a new armored vehicle designed and manufactured in Spain. A variety of towed and self-propelled artillery was available, ranging from 105 mm to 203 mm guns and howitzers. The main antitank weapons were recoilless rifles; 88.9 mm rocket launchers; Milan, Cobra, and Dragon missiles; and a small number of TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wireguided ) and HOT (high subsonic, optically guided, tube-launched) antitank missile systems. A considerable quantity of additional antitank missiles and rocket launchers was on order. The army aircraft inventory included about 280 helicopters, about 40 of which were armed with 20 mm guns or HOT antitank missiles.
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