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Serbia-Montenegro to Modernize MiG-29s

23 Feb 2006

On February 9th, The Chief of The General Staff of Serbian and Montenegrin Armed Forces, General Ljubisha Jokich, announced that the his country will definitely overhaul and modernize its five MiG-29 fighters (four single-seat MiG-29 Fulcrum-A and one two-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum-B) in Russia. He revealed that the project for overhaul and modernization of Serbian-Montenegrin MiG-29s is planned to be performed in two phases. The initial phase, that is expected to begin soon, will include sending two MiG-29 jets to Russia, which will return to Serbia and Montenegro in about eight months. Following the completing of overhaul and modernization on the initial two aircraft, the second batch of aircraft, comprising the remaining three MiG-29s and one An-26 Curl transport plane, are going to be sent to Russia. According to General Jokich, the work on the second batch will be completed in six months.

Speaking about his country's plans about MiG-29 fighters, General Ljubisha Jokich said that the level of modernization of the best Serbian-Montenegrin fighters is still part of the negotiations with the Russians. However, he was quite precise in claiming that around 40 percent of the work will be performed by Serbian-Montenegrin Air Force Institute Moma Stanojlovic. On January 19, Serbia and Montenegro Minister of Defence, Zoran Stankovic, revealed that his Ministry has secured 10 million Euros for the planned overhaul and modernization of Serbian-Montenegrin fleet of five MiG-29 fighters, as well as for overhaul of one An-26 Curl transport plane. He did not explain what kind of modernization is planned for the MiG-29 fighters but it is believed that it will be very limited, equipping the planes with NATO/ICAO-compatible communication, navigation and identification equipment, required for participation on NATO/Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercises.

A number of Serbian media agencies have recently announced that the overhaul of Serbian and Montenegrin Air Force MiG-29 fighters is one of the highest priorities of Serbian-Montenegrin Ministry of Defence and is scheduled to begin during 2006. The reports suggest that all five MiG-29s have been recently inspected by Russian specialists at their home base at Batajnica. The RSK-MiG specialists have completed in-depth analyses of the Fulcrums that have survived the NATO-intervention in 1999 and now Serbia and Montenegro Ministry of Defence is waiting for the official Russian proposal on the cost of returning these jets into service. The proposal should be based on the provision of most of the MiG-29s overhaul work to be carried out at Serbia-Montenegro's Air Force Institute Moma Stanojlovic located at Batajnica air base, some 20 km north-west of Belgrade. The Government in Belgrade believes that the MiG-29 overhaul could be a good chance for restoring the once very prospective Air Force Institute and keeping it alive until Serbia and Montenegro joins NATO and EU when this facility could become increasingly more interesting for US and European aviation industry.

According to well-informed Serbian sources, apart from the overhaul issue, the Serbia and Montenegro Ministry of Defence will also receive offers from RSK MiG for supplying the Serbian-Montenegrin Air Force with additional second-hand MiG-29 fighters, as well as for upgrading the current Serbian-Montenegrin MiG-29s to a more advanced standard, thought it is hard to believe that the Ministry of Defence could afford money for such investments because of its poor budget. Instead, it is more realistic to expect that Serbia will only opt for overhaul and return into service of its five MiG-29 that have officially ceased flying on April 1, 2004. In the future it may be possible that additional MiG-29s will be purchased or received as donation from a friendly country. The idea is again to put into full-strength the Serbian-Montenegrin Air Force's only MiG-29 unit, the 127th Lovacka Avijacijska Eskadrila Vitezovi (127th Fighter Aviation Squadron Knights) of the 204. Lovacko Avijacijski Puk (204th Fighter Aviation Regiment) operating within the Korpus Protiv-Vazdusne Odbrane (Air Defence Corps).

The Knights have lost 11 MiG-29s (ten single-seat MiG-29 Fulcrum-A and one two-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum-B) in the air and on the ground during 1999 when, because of the crisis in the south Serbian province of Kosovo, Yugoslavia came under NATO attack during Operation Allied Force. However, Serbia and Montenegro is now seriously considering to increase the number of operational MiG-29s in line with its intentions to provide its own air defence as well as to fulfill overall international obligation to participate in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercises as a step forward to future full-member status within NATO. \"Slovenia pays Italy 60 million Euro a year to guard its sky, and its territory is several times smaller than ours. So you should multiply this sum by three or four to see how much it would cost us to have our skies defended by someone else?s air force\", 204th Fighter Aviation Regiment Commander, Colonel Nebojsa Dzukanovic said. He believes it would cost about 20 million Euro to overhaul the five available MiG-29 fighter planes, in order to, at least for a time, enable efficient control of the country's airspace, in line with the overall international obligation. Colonel Djukanovic also reveals that due to the lack of airworthy aircraft and jet fuel, fighter pilots log less than 10 hours of flying per year, which may create problems to Serbia and Montenegro and prevents it from participating in the PfP and NATO programs requiring at least 150 hours per year.

In line with expected-to-begin Russian overhaul of Serbian-Montenegrin MiG-29s, that all have been bought by former Yugoslavia back in 1987, Serbian media recently revealed that a contract has been signed in 1997 with unidentified Belarusian company for overhaul of two MiG-29s. Reportedly, the realization of this contract failed due to political reasons. Also, it has been now confirmed that in 2003 Russia has offered Serbia and Montenegro overhaul of its MiG-29s to be paid by compensating the Russian debt to Belgrade. At that time, this option was considered unnecessary investment by Belgrade and was promptly rejected. Now, the MiG-29 overhaul is again on the table, thought this time Belgrade could be asked to pay for it.

Most experts in Belgrade believe that keeping the MiG-29s in service is far better solution than investing in the old and less-effective MiG-21 fighters. Moreover, they are convinced that MiG-29 days are anyway counted and in the foreseeable future Serbia and Montenegro will need to initiate process of replacement of Soviet-era fighters with some more-advanced multi-role Western-built aircraft.

Report by Igor Bozinovski


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