Paraguay: Small Arms in the Land of the Guaraní
By Julio Montes

The plane landed at Asuncion a few hours ahead of the Paraguayan celebrations of the bicentennial. This country has a strategic position in South America, becoming a strong ally to the U.S. in the fight against drug traffic in the region and a counterbalance to Chavez influenced Bolivia. The Iguaçu region is of particular concern to the U.S. since it is considered a no-man’s land.

Upon arrival to the hotel, two sets of Marines guarded the entrances and provided security to all the incoming dignitaries. They carried M16-style rifles, which appeared somewhat different with reshaped stock, handguard and iron sights. These were in fact T65K2 made in Taiwan, modeled to the M16, but using a short-stroke gas system based on the AR-18. The rifle is standard issue to the local forces. In December, 2010, Paraguayan Defense Minister Cecilio Pérez Bordón announced that he was looking into the acquisition of 10,000 weapons to supply the Armed Forces within the next three years. He was referring to new rifles to replace the menu of G3, FAL, CQ-M4, and T65K2 models in use today.

During the celebrations, the Army exhibited its 58 brand-new Defender-130 jeeps, acquired for G. 18,634,150,000 (some USD $4.4 million dollars), the first batch of three planned (up to 200 vehicles). Sixteen of them have been supplied as command and control variants, and the other 42 as troop transport and utility. The acquisition even included technology transfer, with partial assembly and improvements taking place in Asuncion under supervision from Land Rover. There were also numbers of new Ford 1717 and 1317 military trucks at hand. The local government has promised an auxiliary budget of USD $42 million for new equipment, and will invest 30% of the present defense budget (G. 1,054,000,000 - approx. USD $224 million) in new equipment. Soon after the great parade, details emerged of hardware, to include the U.S. transfer of Humvees, Stryker IFVs, and as many as 200 M113s.

Forces at Play

The Paraguayan Armed Forces comprises some 17,500 troops, distributed among the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and it is planned to have approx. 25,000 troops by 2013. The police, on the other hand, field 14,800 agents and the reserves list 164,000. The Army deploys in three “Corps,” comprising a Presidential Guard, with one Infantry battalion, one Armored Squadron (4 EE9 and 4 EE11), 1 MP Battalion, and one artillery battalion; the Artillery Command (HQ at Paraguarí) counts with three field artillery groups and one AAA group while the Engineer Command (at Tacumbú) has six battalions. The Communications Command (also at Tacumbú) fields one battalion. The ranks are completed with the Logistics (HQ Asuncion) and the Military Institutes Command.

Territorial troops depend on the mentioned three Corps, with the 1st one with HQ at Curuguaty (with 3rd Division from Caaguazú and Alto Paraná, 4th Division from Concepción and Amambay and 3rd Cavalry Divison from San Pedro, North of Caaguazú and Alto Paraná). The 2nd Corps deploys from San Juan Bautista (with 1st Division from Asuncion, Central, Cordillera, Paraguari and eastern Presidente Hayes, 2nd Division from Villarrica, Caazapá and Itapúa, and 2nd Cavalry Division from Neembucú and Misiones). The 3rd Corps operates from Mariscal Estigarribia (with 5th Division from Olimpo and parts of Boquerón and North of Ipané River, the 6th Division from Boquerón, and parts of Pilcomayo, Paraguay, Ipané and Verde Rivers, and 1st Cavalry Division from southeastern Boquerón and parts of Presidente Hayes).

The tactical unit of the Division is a single regiment (basically a reinforced battalion). Each division deploys Frontier Detachments, and in short, there are 9 Infantry, 3 Armored Cavalry, and three mounted Cavalry Regiments and some 20-frontier detachments (designated vigilancia estratégica operacional). Each company comprises 140 soldiers, and mobilization of the reserves would allow for an additional 14 Infantry and 4 Cavalry Regiments. Armor is somewhat deficient, and dependent on a couple of M-4A3 Sherman and M-3A1 Stuart, and some 30 refurbished and upgraded EE9 and EE11 IFVs. Argentina has supplied several half-tracks as well, and artillery relies on elderly examples of 105mm M-101, 75mm Schneider, and 88mm 25-pounder Mk2, while AAA relies on Bofors L/40 guns and some Oerlikon GAI-BOI. Fire support is provided by 85 mortars (81mm) and 24) 106mm M40A1.

The Navy provides for Naval Infantry, comprising a HQ company, and three Marine (Asuncion, Rosario and Vallemí) and one support battalion. The battalions are in reality company-size units, with a total strength for the Marine force listed as 700 strong. The naval modernization plan includes improvements to the installations at Bahía Negra and Pozo Hondo, and equipment for the riverine combat forces. An initial understanding included the purchase of up to 10 PBR LPR-40 from the Colombian Coctemar at a cost of US$ 1,300,000 each. However, reports now speak of U.S. supplied boats instead, possibly Boston Whaler types.

The paramilitary police are particularly strong and actually used as a military reserve. It counts with its own aviation unit based at Asuncion, and its Specialized Group is tasked with crowd control, fielding an anti-riot, infantry and K9 companies. The elite Police Special Operations Force (FOPE) traces its lineage to the “Shooting Division” established in 1976; under resolution Nº 4, March 5, 1987, it became the Fuerza de Operaciones Especiales de Arma y Tiro (FOEAT), fielding the Special Operations Battalion. Eventually, under Resolution Nº 65, 1998, it became the Fuerza de Operaciones Policiales Especiales (FOPE), and now part of the Tactical Support Division.

The Secretaría Nacional Antidroga (SENAD), responds directly to the Presidency, and was established under Nº 108 National Law on December 7, 1991. The SENAD intervention unit (Fuerzas Especiales Antidrogas) was initially established with 4 police and military officers and 15 NCOs. Between 1991 and 1992 this outfit operated from Tacumbú, and then moved its HQ to installations at Asuncion. The Anti-drug Operations Directorate (DOA) was established in July 2002 under the SENAD to oversee this outfit, which now sums some 35 operators. These are trained and maintain close ties with counterparts from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Germany, and the UK. USSF and SEALs frequently train alongside these commandos. The Grupo Fénix, from the Anti-Hijacking Department, has been mentioned among the Paraguayan elites, but little is known of the unit or the Department.

Most prominent are the operators of the Destacamento Conjunto de Empleo Inmediato (DECEI – Joint Detachment of Immediate Deployment), the Paraguayan version of Delta Force, operating under the Special Troops Command (CTE), with HQ at Cerrito. The CTE comprises a Special Forces Battalion and the DECEI. In January 2011, the local High Command publicly denied that the CTE had been disbanded. This after the ABC-color newspaper published a report indicating that the officers and NCO had been dispersed to other outfits. The government notice indicated that in fact, the CTE had added a new Special Forces Company to its Orbat. Our hosts in Paraguay assured us that the U.S. supplies, trains and equips the Paraguayan Special Forces with M16A2, M16A4, M4A1 rifles and Carbines, but it is also known that over 200 CQ-M4s were acquired for this purpose. The CQ-M4 is a copy of the Colt M4, with a 368 mm barrel in 5.56×45mm caliber, manufactured by North China Industries Corp (NORINCO), from China.

The Navy contributes with its Amphibian Commandos (COMANFI - Comandos Anfibios), trained by the SEALs. The Paraguayan elite forces are complemented with elements of the Air Force’s Silvio Pettirossi Parachute (battalion-size) Brigade, trained to U.S. Ranger standards and mainly tasked with the defense of military airfields and airborne operations. The Paraguayan Special Forces are trained at CIMOE (Centro de Instrucción Militar de Operaciones Especiales), subordinated to the CTE, and a component of the Army Special Troops (TEE - Tropas Especiales del Ejército).

Small Arms

The Paraguayan Security forces are equipped right now with a few F2000 (some 64 acquired for special service), Galil AR, SG540-1, AUG A1 (Special Forces), M21 (5.56x45mm AK variants – made by Zastava Arms in Serbia), and AR-M1F (AKS-47 made in Bulgaria). In the 1980s, the military standard issue rifle became the FAL-50-00, which replaced some of the 30,749 Garand M1, and thousands of Mausers used at the time. After the FALs, the government acquired over 6,500 G3A3 and A4 models. It is interesting that the military was looking into a new rifle in 2011, given that the T65K2 is basically new, with several thousands distributed among the troops in the mid-1990s.

The light support weapons and machines guns in use include the FALO-50-42, MAG-60-20, and MAG-60-40 (coaxial equipment on the IFVs). There are HK21E and M2HB serving alongside Browning M1917A1 and Browning M1919A4. There are several Type S Mod-1938 Oerlikon cannons that came on M9 halftrack armored personnel carriers supplied by Argentina.

As part of the 2011-2013 Reequipping and Modernization Plan, several border outposts will be rebuilt, and engineers have already been dispatched to Infante Rivarola border outpost, and reinforcements to the Gral. Eugenio A. Garay Military Detachment, and its Sargento Rodríguez and Tte. Infante Rivarola outposts. Work will continue to the outposts at Lagerenza and Agua Dulce, and a new outpost will be build at Pilcomayo River, and others. The large number of M113s that are said to have been offered by the U.S. seems high, giving the size of the armed forces, and the increase in operational costs and logistics. However, it would assist in mechanizing all troops deployed along the harsh Chaco region. Ideally, the M113s would be part of an assistance package that could benefit the U.S. industry, taking advantage to upgrade them to A3 standards.

The reference to the Stryker FS with 105mm gun turret for Paraguay is rather surprising giving its cost. In 2010, the Army announced its plans to acquire between 20 and 40 tanks to replace its M4 and M3A1, and to provide balance with the Bolivian forces. It is known that the Army wanted additional EE9 IFVs but Brazil had none available for transfer; however, and honestly, the Strykers are unlikely candidates to be supplied to Paraguay. On the other hand, M1151, M1152 and M1167 Humvees would be ideal and more realistic. The M1152A1 pickup variant in particular would be a great addition if acquired in substantial quantities since it can be used as basic protected troop transport to replace the elderly half-tracks. This model can be equipped with BAE kit, which includes five gunner stations, compartment protection made of ceramic composite armor with capacity up to NATO and STANAG 4569 multi-hit criteria and designed to defeat 7.62mm AP and 20mm FSP rounds. The kit does not require vehicle modification and installation and removal can be performed in less than 20 minutes.

As a weapon platform, the M1152A1 could be fitted with the M55 quad turret as antipersonnel and point defense. It is noted that Venezuela has already mounted the similar TCM-20 turret on their version of the Humvee (the Tiuna HMMWV), but this matching requires jacks to deploy into firing position to deal with the recoil forces. The M1152A1 could also carry the M40A1, but the M1167, modified to carry the M40A1, could be a better choice for this purpose. The weight of the complete M40A1 weapons system is approximately 485 pounds, and it has an overall length of 11.2 feet. The M1167 Gunners Protection Kit (GPK) turret is already optimized to deflect the back blast from the TOW missile, and provides for 360 degrees arc of fire.

The Army has a requirement for 148 anti-tank missiles (locally denominated as the FGM-148), but, as mentioned, the M40A1 remains as the main AT and direct support weapon. The M40A1 can fire high explosive, anti-tank (HEAT), high explosive, plastic (HEP), anti-personnel (APERS), and inert ammunition. The HEAT round penetrates up to 450mm rolled homogenous armor at 90 degrees. European countries developed improved ammunition that could defeat up to 700mm of armor, and Israel went further, developing the LAHAT missile, to be used with the 105mm tube of the M40A1, and reaching a target up to 8km away. The M40A1 maximum range is rated at 8,420 yards.

There are two problems with the M40A1. The back blast from the breech extends some 75 yards deep and 150 yards wide, making the position of the firing unit evident to the enemy after the first shot. The other problem remains with the weapon sighting systems, depending on the .50 caliber spotting-rifle M8C, a rather elderly, limited and unreliable system. Other countries have developed improved optical, IR, thermal, and laser sights, to replace the spotting rifle, and to assure maximum effective range, and accuracy with first shot, in addition to making it a true cost-effective, all weather, day and night support weapon. This modernization could also be implemented in Paraguay with U.S. assistance as a cost saving measure.

Giving its awesome and fearsome firepower and long range, the M40A1 is still a favorite as a direct-fire weapon for motorised and airborne infantry anti-tank platoons. When the M40A1 was in use by U.S. forces, it was mounted on a Mule or other light vehicle for emplacement. Austria, Australia, Sweden and other countries found it useful to mount their M40A1 on a light two-wheeled carriage to facilitate emplacement and mobility by Infantry and Parachute forces, as well as allowing towing.

More Weapons

In January 2010, the government purchased 450 Galils along with 233,000 rounds from the Colombian INDUMIL for G. 2,600 million, followed by another 130 assault rifles (probably M16 types) from the U.S. An additional 160 Galils, and 249,200 rounds of 5.56mm were expedited to the Police (for a reported contract of USD $345,000) in recent months. These came along with 10 grenade launchers, 10 MGL, and 222,000 rounds of 9mm, 66 grenades (40mm HE), 50 practice 40mm, and 3,000 12-guage rounds.

The pistols available to the military include Five-seveN acquired for Special Detail personnel, Models 92FS (M9), Browning HP, FN-Browning Mle 1903, Jericho 941, HK P9S and M1911A1. The list of submachine guns in existence in Paraguay is similarly large, including Carl Gustaf M/45B, Madsen M/46 - M/50 and M/53, Uzi and its variants and MP5s. Elements of the Presidential Guard sport MP5A3s and it is known that 48 P90 PDW have been acquired for special detail along with several UMP, and VP70.

It is reported that the Paraguayan Army still uses the M3A1, but this is likely a reference to the Argentinean PAM1 SMG. We had the opportunity to examine the PAM1 and PAM2 Halcon at a private small arms museum – one of the largest if not the largest private collection in the world found here in Asuncion. The Argentinean M3 copy sports a modified muzzle break with iron sights. The two examined models sat next to rows of P-38 pistols, and a couple of FMK PAM-3, Sten, Star and others.

Before we left Paraguay it was indicated that the 10,000 rifles being sought a few months earlier were going to be supplied by the U.S. and the M4/M4A1 would replace all the rifles in the hands of first line troops starting in late 2011.

As troops paraded in Asuncion, it was interesting to witness the crowds joining the soldiers in calling military cadences. It was more than obvious the support that civilians give to their military here, where the inhabitants proudly trace its roots to the Guaraní – a group of culturally related indigenous peoples. Parading troops came with new and elderly small arms in their hands. The parade included thousands of reservists in full military uniforms, along with troops from Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina. More surprising – and a proud moment – was the U.S. flag paraded by a section of U.S. Marines while many in the crowd greeted and sang in Guaraní language instead of Spanish. The visit to Paraguay had certainly been an interesting and long lasting one.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (June 2012)
and was posted online on April 27, 2012


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