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During the 16th century, Habsburg Spain saw a steady growth in its military power.
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.
During the war, the Spanish Army transformed its organization and tactics, evolving from a primarily pike and halberd wielding force into the first pike and shot formation of arquebusiers and pikemen, known as the colunella.
During the 16th century this formation evolved into the tercio infantry formation.
About a third of the junior officers had been promoted from the ranks, and they did have talent, but they had few opportunities for promotion or leadership. Elite units included foreign regiments of Irishmen, Italians, Swiss, and Walloons, in addition to elite artillery and engineering units. The army lacked its own horses, oxen and mules for transportation, so these auxiliaries were operated by civilians, who might run away if conditions looked bad.
In combat, small units fought well, but their old-fashioned tactics were hardly of use against the French Grande Armée, despite repeated desperate efforts at last-minute reform.