MOSCOW, (BM) – Russia’s armed forces have deployed S-400 long range surface to air missile systems to Serbia, accompanied by complementary Pantsir-S1 air defence combat vehicles, for joint exercises with the armed forces of the Eastern European country, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
The assets have been deployed to Batajnica Air Base, providing coverage of the capital Belgrade just 25km away, and will take part in the ‘Slavic Shield 2019’ joint military exercises. The deployment has significant potential implications for defence ties between the two states, and for future Russian arms sales.
The S-400 currently serves as one of Russia’s foremost long range air defence systems alongside the S-300V4, and is capable of deploying over half a dozen specialised types of missiles many at hypersonic speeds.
The platform is capable of guiding up to 160 missiles simultaneously to engage up to 80 targets, and has a maximum engagement range of 400km if equipped with the latest 40N6E hypersonic missiles.
Serbia received six MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia in October 2017 – a rare provision of military aid by Moscow intended to bolster one of its few allies in Europe amid continuing NATO expansion. Potential future arms transfers, possibly at ‘friendly’ rates comparable to those given to CIS member states such as Kazakhstan, are reportedly also under discussion. While Serbia’s defence budget remains small, it has seen a rapid increase since 2016 of around 12% per year reaching $0.9 billion in 2019.
The country’s air defence network and overall aerial warfare capabilities currently leave much to be desired however, which alongside the wartime experience of an intensive NATO bombing campaign in the 1990s has fuelled support for acquisition of new air defence systems and combat aircraft. To this end acquisition of the S-300PMU-2 or the more advanced S-400 have both been discussed at length. Serbia’s armed forces continue to receive considerable quantities of arms from Russia, including helicopters, battle tanks and armoured vehicles.
Although Serbia’s air defence network is currently considered extremely weak, relying heavily on the ageing 2K12 Kub as its most capable system as the platform enters its 50th year in operational service, a first delivery of modern Pantsir-S1 platforms is currently expected.
The Russian Pantsirs will provide the most capable air defence system in the country’s arsenal. By allowing Serbia’s armed forces to operate alongside the S-400 system and familiarise themselves with its capabilities during exercises, the possibility of a sale of either the system or its less costly predecessors may well increase. It has also been speculated that Belgrade may seek to purchase other high end systems for aerial warfare – namely MiG-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighters equipped with new R-77 missiles to operate as a more modern counterpart to the MiG-29.
The MiG-35’s very low operational costs and its ability to make use of much of the MiG-29’s maintenance infrastructure makes it a potentially attractive platform for Serbia’s needs. The Serbian Air Force currently deploy just one squadron of fighter jets – a mixed unit of MiG-29 and lighter MiG-21bis aircraft the latter which are expected to be replaced in the near future.
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Source: Military Watch