Patrick Bruha

Patrick Bruha

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Brazilian Armed Forces

Patrick Bruha

Patrick Bruha

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


The Brazilian Armed Forces is the combination of three military branches that were created to safeguard Brazil’s vast territory, coastline and airspace. It comprises of the Brazilian Army, the Brazilian Navy and the Brazilian Air Force.

In this article, we will describe the Brazilian Armed Forces as a whole, a country’s army striving for a seat in the United Nation’s highest decision making organ, the Security Council.

Historical Overview

Since 1648 the Brazilian Armed Forces have been relied upon to fight in defense of the Brazilian sovereignty and to suppress civil rebellions in Brazil. The most important armed conflicts involving the Brazilian Armed Forces are as follow:

  • First Battle of Guararapes, 1648: ending the Dutch Invasion in the Northeastern region of Brazil, it is considered the creation of the Brazilian Armed Forces.
  • Farrapos War, 1835-1845: A Republican uprising that is considered the second bloodiest of the failed wars of secession that ravaged the country after the Declaration of Independence was made.
  • Paraguyan War, 1864-1870: Brazil enrolled 200.000 men in this war, and with the aid of Uruguay and Argentina, devastated Paraguay, causing over 400.000 deaths. It is considered the most serious in Brazilian history.
  • World War I, 1917-1918: Alongside the Triple Entente, Brazil concentrated mainly on the Atlantic campaign, with a small contingent sent to aid in land warfare.
  • World War II, 1942-1945: Fighting alongside the Alliance forces, Brazil sent an Expeditionary Force of about 25.000 men and women to fight in Italy. Brazil also supplied raw materials for the war effort and ceded important airbases that made it possible to invade North Africa.

The Brazilian military has also intervened militarily four times to overthrow the Brazilian government:

  • Proclamation of the Republic, 1889: End of the Brazilian Empire.
  • Revolution of 1930: Second military overthrow of government, in which President Washington Luís was replaced by Getúlio Vargas, who would then rule until 1945, the end of his Estado Novo.
  • End of Estado Novo, 1945: Dictator Getúlio Vargas is deposed by generals and later General Eurico Dutra was elected president.
  • 1964 Brazilian coup d'état: President João Goulart is removed from office, leading to a military dictatorship which lasted until 1985.

1964 Brazilian Coup D'état

The coup of 1 April 1964, is still fresh in the mind of Brazilians. The period put an end to the Democratic Republic and launched the roots of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship that ruled the country for 20 years, headed by five different generals: Humberto Castello Branco, Artur Costa e Silva, Emílio Médici, Ernesto Geisel, and João Figueiredo.

The economic growth, large international loans, inflation, left-wing guerrilla activities, cultural flowering of musicians, composers and intellectuals and the suppression of free expression are just the main characteristics and inheritances of this Brazilian historical period.

Organizational Overview

Brazilian Armed Forces are the largest in South America. The Armed Forces yearly budget is around USD 9.5 billion.

As was said before, they are divided into the Brazilian Army, the Brazilian Navy and the Brazilian Air Force. All military branches are part of the Ministry of Defence and, although the 1988 constitution preserves the external and internal roles of the armed forces, it places them under presidential authority. Thus, the President of the Republic is the actual Commander-In-Chief.

Brazilian Army

The Brazilian Army had a recorded personnel strength of 235.000 active personnel in 2012 and, in addition, there were approximately 1.8 million reserve soldiers. It is responsible for the defense of the country on the ground, and ensuring law and order and the constitutional powers.

The Military State Police, with a force of 400.000 men, alongside the Military Firefighters Corps, with a force of about 50.000 men, are described as auxiliary and reserve forces for the Army, although they remain separate entities.

The Brazilian Army had a minor role in World War II, where it helped the Final Allied Invasion in Italy, culminating in German forces surrendering. Aligned with the Western Bloc, it also had active participation in the Cold War in Latin America and Southern Africa, as well as participating in UN peacekeeping missions worldwide since the late 1950s.

The units specializing in jungle warfare are internationally renowned, and recognized as the best fighting units in this field.

The motto of the Brazilian Army is: Braço Forte, Mão Amiga, which is Portuguese for Strong arm, friendly hand.

Brazilian Navy

As of 2011, the Brazilian Navy has a reported strength of 60.000 active personnel, of which approximately 15.000 are naval infantry, the marines, and 1.150 are from the Brazilian Naval Aviation. It consists of 112 ships, including an aircraft-carrier, and 81 aircrafts.

The Navy was involved in Brazil's war of independence from Portugal as most of Portugal's naval forces and bases in South America were transferred to Brazil. The Brazilian Navy is the largest navy in Latin America, and the second largest Navy in the Americas, after the United States.

The Brazilian Navy participated in both World War I and World War II, engaging in anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic.

In addition to the roles of a traditional Navy, the Brazilian Navy also carries out the role of organizing the merchant Navy and other operational safety missions traditionally conducted by a coast guard.

Brazilian Air Force

The Brazilian Air Force, FAB, has an active strength of approximately 77.000 military personnel and operates around 740 aircrafts. It is the largest air force in the Southern hemisphere and the second in the Americas after the United States.

Formally, the Ministry of Aeronautics was founded on 20 January 1941 and so its military branch called National Air Forces, changed to Brazilian Air Force on 22 May of the same year. The Army and the Navy air branches were extinguished and all personnel, aircraft, installations and other related equipment were transferred to the newly founded Brazilian Air Force.

In the early 2000s, with renewed economic stability, the FAB underwent an extensive renewal of its inventory through several acquisition programs, specially a program that rendered air technology transfer between Sweden and Brazil effective.

The Brazilian Air Force is currently working on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti supporting the United Nations forces deployed there. The biggest, and most important, program of the Brazilian Air Force in the last few years is the SIVAM, Amazon Vigilance System. The SIVAM is a huge network of radars, sensors and personnel integrated to guard and protect the Amazon Rainforest and its resources.

The Brazilian Air Force is also in charge of air traffic control in Brazil. The air traffic control centers are known by the acronym CINDACTA, Integrated Air Traffic Control and Air Defense Center. While some approach controls and control towers may have civilian controllers, the majority of them are run by military non-commissioned officers supervised by commissioned officers.

Female participation

Women were allowed to serve in the armed forces from the beginning of the early 1980s when the Brazilian Army became the first army in South America to accept women; women serve in the Navy and the Air Force but only in Women's Reserve Corps. There are almost 17.000 women enlisted in the Brazilian Armed Forces.

Mission and Objectives

South America is a relatively peaceful continent in which wars are a rare event, as a result, Brazil hasn't had its territory invaded since 1865 during the Paraguayan War. Additionally, Brazil has no contested territorial disputes with any of its neighbours.

However, Brazil is the only country besides China and Russia that has land borders with 10 or more nations. Moreover, Brazil has 16.880 kilometers of land borders and 7.367 kilometers of coastline to be patrolled and defended.

Overall, the Armed Forces have to defend 8.5 million square kilometers of land and patrol 4.4 million square kilometers of territorial waters. In order to achieve this mission properly, significant quantities of both manpower and funding have to be made available.


According to Brazilian law, military service is mandatory for all Brazilian men, but conscientious objection is allowed. Women and clergymen are exempt from compulsory military service. In the year that they turn eighteen, men are required to register for the draft and are expected to serve when they reach nineteen.

About 75 percent of those registering receive deferments mainly due to the excessive number of conscripts. Generally, those from the upper class and upper middle class find ways to defer, and as a result, the ranks are made up primarily of lower-class and lower-middle-class recruits. A growing number of recruits are volunteers, accounting for about one-third of the total.

The conscript system is primarily a means of providing basic military training to a sizable group of young men who then return to civilian life and are retained on the reserve rolls until the age of forty-five.

Current function

With no serious external or internal threats, the Brazilian Armed Forces are searching for a new role. They are expanding their presence in the Amazon under the Northern Corridor, Calha Norte, program.

Brazilian troops joined the United Nations peacekeeping forces in a number of different countries:

  • Chad
  • Ivory Coast
  • Sudan
  • Liberia
  • Senegal
  • East Timor
  • Nepal
  • Morocco
  • Cyprus

Also, Brazilian soldiers have been in Haiti since 2004 leading the United Nations Stabilization Mission, the MINUSTAH. Nearly 2.000 Brazilian troopers were sent to Haiti. A Brazilian General also commands the peacekeeping corps in Congo.

Nowadays, the Brazilian military, especially the army, has become more involved in civic-action programs, education, health care, and constructing roads, bridges, and railroads across the nation.