Yugoslav air defences

YUGOSLAVIA’S CAPACITY to sustain and counter NATO’s attacks on its territory should not be under-estimated. The country still has a large, well-equipped army and a highly-trained air force, which also includes an extensive air defence system of aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). Whilst its aircraft could quickly prove to be vulnerable to NATO attacks, the combination of uniquely rugged geography, SAM and AAA mobility will make it very difficult to render the skies of Yugoslavia safe for Allied air operations in the short term. The air defence fighter force is entirely Russian-equipped, with around 14 MiG-29 Fulcrums and 70+ late model MiG-21 Fishbeds. At least three Fulcrums had been lost in air combat at close of press, plus two on the ground, but Fishbed involvement is unknown.

Clearly, this small force is incapable of successfully challenging NATO’s air assets over the long term, but a greater threat is posed by its AAA assets. There are approximately 60 dispersed SA-6 Gainful units, plus large numbers of wheeled SA-9 Gaskin and tracked SA-13 Gopher surface-to-air missile systems for airfield or point defence, backed up by older man-portable SA-7 Grail and SA-14 Gremlin which could be used at target ingress points. These have recently been augmented by deliveries of more lethal SA-16 Igla man-portable SAMs with jam-defiant dual seeker heads. If available in sufficient numbers this missile could be especially damaging to low and medium altitude packages. Yugoslavia’s innumerable conventional static and mobile anti-aircraft assets which include twin 20mm M-55s and triple 20mm BOV-3 SPAAGs, Czech-built twin 30mm M53/70 SPAAGs and indigenous twin 30mm B0V-30s, as well as 57mm ZSU-57-2, supported by ammunition reserves counted in the hundreds of thousands of rounds, will be difficult to neutralise in the desired timeframe of the current action.

The eventual use of older, but upgraded SA-2 Guidelines and SA-3 Goas, if still intact, as well as SA-N-4s on the Navy’s frigates, would also be an air defence option for Yugoslavia depending upon its strategic plan against NATO attacks.

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