Serbia’s new MiGs

Vladimir Trendafilovski covers the off cial handover of six former Russian MiG-29s to the Serbian Air Force

SIX MiG-29 aircraft donated to the Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo i Protivvazduhoplovna Odbrana (RV i PVO or Serbian Air Force and Air Defence) by the Russian Federation in December 2016, finally arrived in early October. The aircraft were originally scheduled to be delivered by April; the delay resulted from the political situation in Serbia. After elections held on April 2, the former Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was elected as Serbia’s new president and a new government had to be formed, a process that lasted until June 29.

Once all pre-delivery processes were finally sorted out, the six aircraft were freshly painted and received new RV i PVO markings and serial numbers. All sensitive equipment (such as Russian IFF systems) was removed and replaced with export variants.

On October 2, Volga-Dnepr Airlines An-124-100 RA-82045 departed Tretyakovo airport near Moscow (where the MiG plant at Lukhovitsy is based), arriving at Batajnica Air Base late in the afternoon with the first pair of single-seat MiG-29 aircraft on board (serial numbers 18151 and 18201). The same An-124-100 made two more trips delivering the other four aircraft (single-seat MiG- 29s 18202 and 18203 on October 3 and two-seat MiG-29UBs 18351 and 18352 on October 4).

After its off cial acceptance in Serbia, one of the new fighters, aircraft 18201, was returned to Russia for overhaul by the 121st Aviatsionnyy Remontnyy Zavod (ARZ or Aircraft Repair Plant) at Kubinka on October 5. Consequently, only five aircraft were present at the Sloboda 2017 (Freedom 2017) held at Batajnica Air Base on October 20, 2017. This was an exercise staged to demonstrate the capabilities of the Serbian Armed Forces.

Sloboda was used as the venue for the off cial presentation of the new MiG-29s when Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu ceremonially handed them over to Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic. In addition to the three original operational Serbian MiG-29s, which all flew that day, the exercise was also attended by the Russian Strizhi aerobatic team, which displayed with its six MiG-29s.

Line-up of the MiG-29s at Batajnica Air Base. From the left is MiG-29 type 9-12B 18101, one of four of the remaining original Serbian MiG-29s which is now inoperative. Note that not all of them carry the same weapons load.
MiG-29 type 9-13 18202 at Batajnica Air Base on static display for Sloboda 2017 loaded with a pair of R-27R and four R-73E air-to-air missiles.
In the article New Mounts for the Knights, AIR International July 2017, p68–73, the production dates of Serbia’s MiG-29s were listed incorrectly. Correct details are listed in the table to the left.

The former Russian MiG-29s have yet to enter service. All six aircraft (including the one that would return from overhaul later on) will undergo modernisation by the Moma Stanojlovic aircraft repair plant with the assistance of Russian specialists. The aircraft will receive the same ICAO-compatible navigation and communication equipment as used by the four current Serbian aircraft. The modernisation process should be complete by the second half of 2018 when the six former Russian aircraft will enter operational service with the 204. vazduhoplovna brigada (vbr, aviation brigade) flown by the 101. lovacka avijacijska eskadrila (lae, fighter aviation squadron) at Batajnica, the sole remaining RV i PVO fighter unit. The four Serbian MiG-29s currently in service will then enter overhaul.

Spare parts and weapons are scheduled to arrive from Russia as part of the original agreement. An as yet to be defined follow-on modernisation agreement with RSK MiG is expected to be signed, which will configure the single-seat aircraft to MiG-29SM standard.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was expected to pay an off cial visit to Belarus in November 2017 to sign an agreement on the donation of eight MiG-29s.

Tails of the five former Russian MiG-29s at Batajnica Air Base on Octber 20, 2017.
All images by Dimitrije Ostojic