15 October 2020

„IAR-93” and „Pantsir S-1” – the stars of a military drill held by Serbia close to the border with Kosovo

Liviu Ioniţă

On 10.10.2020, at the “Pešter” temporary polygon, on Pešter’s plateau, in south of Serbia, the Serbia’s Armed Forces (Vojskka Srbije/VS) held the joint tactical drill “Joint Action 2020” (“Sadejstvo 2020”). There were around 2.800 military at the drill, 40 aircrafts and around 150 armament and terrestrial military technique. According to its organizers, the drill’s objectives was the presentation of the VS’s units and commands training level in solving tactical tasks and combat missions, when executing joint force operations. The drill focused on the air support given by the land and special forces, which countered an armed aggression of the “enemy” on national soil.

Image source: Profimedia

Air, land and special operations forces – reunited in a single military drill

There were two tactical fight groups gathered for this drill, from the Land Forces and the Special Operations Forces[1], and from the Air Forces almost all aviation and air defence units were used. Indeed, the success of the operation could be not reached without the logistic support.

The drill ended with a demonstrative flight, executed by two military paratroopers, who presented Serbia’s flag and the Serbian Armed Forces’ flag.

President Aleksandar Vucic (the “supreme commander” on the VS and defense ministry’s website), also present at the drill, praised the military and emphasized the great progress the VS had lately, both in terms of the complexity of the instruction and drills and the technique modernization.

New things, new “Yugoslavian” things

 The drill was announced in May 2020 by the country’s president, Aleksandar Vucic. At that time, the president seemed very enthusiastic and defined the drill as being one of Air Forces’ drills, which would present all their equipment and execute fire testing with all systems. The media attention the drill got continued in September and October, highlighting the joint character of the drill (the participation of the Land, Special Operations and Air Forces) and the fact that there will be fire testing with (almost) all the weapon systems and that the “star” of the drill will be the aviation, all participating aircrafts being equipment with weapons.

Some of the fight methods were seen for the first time flying or while being in action. Also, they used ammunition, for the first time, after almost 20 years.

Among the premieres, we can mention:

- the use of Chinese research and combat drones, CH-92A (the VS got them this summer). The drone was only used for research, not for combat purposes;

-the “Orao” aircrafts (IAR-93) used “Munja” unguided missiles and aviation bombs. In the available images from the exercise one can see that the bombs’ launches were not precise;

-the MiG-29 aircrafts launched unguided air-to-surface reactive projectiles, from some 80 mm caliber launchers;

- the use of artillery and missiles systems “Pantsir S-1”. There was also a battery at the drill. Alike in the Serbian-Russian drill (October 2019, the  joint tactical exercise “Slavic Shield 2019”), the scenario did not include the missile launch, but only shootings with air defence cannons;

-the launch by two Mi-35M helicopters gunships[2] of two radio guided antitank missiles (“Ataka”). Both missiles shot the targets;

-they tried the integration of the AA systems of the Air Forces (Kub-M and Pantsir S-1) with those of the Land Forces (“PASARS”). The general air image was provided by an AN/TPS-70 radar;

-they used systems which were in different development phases and did not enter yet in VS’s endowment: the self-propelled missiles launchers with many “Oganj Modular” and “Oganj Digital” (but also the classical multiple launch “Oganj” M77!), prototypes of the modernized M-84 tanks, M-84AS1  and M-84AS1M, modern infantry fight vehicles, M-80AB1 and M-80AB2, missile self-propelled launchers “Morava” and an armored MRAP M-20 vehicle and the universal mobile artillery computer station “UPARS”, the command and research KiV MIP-3 vehicles (with multiple “sensors”). It is interesting the re(appearace) of the “Morava” launcher, which was not that interesting lately, as the implementation of projects on “Oganj Modular” and “Oganj Digital” intensified;

-they have launched missiles from the AA “Stela-2M” missiles systems[3] (after so many years). Although not all missiles hit the targets directly, the launches were successful;

-the execution of a “fusillade” of 16 “Maliutka” guided antitank missiles, launched from four light armed helicopters “Gama” (Yugoslavian-produced). All missiles hit the targets.

The antiguerilla fight: was that drill’s unofficial objective?

From the very start, it is worth mentioning the place where the drills was held, the Pešter plateau, which is in the Raska/Sandzak region, that is mostly inhabited by Aerbians, at the administrative border between Serbia and the Kosovo province. Coincidence or not, before the drill, the VS had a series of “civilian-military cooperation” activities (CIMIC). Most likely, the VS experts thought it was necessary these actions to calm down the critics of some Bosnian politicians, who support the Serbia’s territory demilitarization of the “Sandzak” region.

The organization of the exercise lasted more than three weeks, when they executed instruction and shooting activities in several polygons (the aviation, most likely, in the “Centa” temporary polygon, in Vojvodina, and the Special Operations Forces, in the joint polygon “Pasuljanske livade”, cloes to Cuprija).

This time, the cooperation was only developed between two VS forces categories, without the participation of people or technique from Serbia’s Home Affairs Ministry.

Almost all the important combat systems of the Land Forces and Special Operations Forces’ endowment were used: M-84 tanks, BVP M-80A infantry fight vehicles, "Lazar-3" armored personnel carriers, POLO M-83 anti-tank vehicles, BRDM-2 and BRDM-2MS research vehicles[4], NORA B-52 M15 self-propelled howitzers, 2S1 "Gvozdika" self-propelled guns, BOV KIV armored command and research vehicles, M77 "Oganj" multi-pipe missile launchers, "Miloš" unmanned armored ground platforms, 120 mm caliber launchers, automatic grenade launchers cal. 30 mm, "Glock" guns, SCAR-L, M19 automatic rifles, G36 automatic rifles, M07 and M12 sniper rifles, "Minimi" submachine guns, optical-electronic equipment (night binoculars, laser rangefinders, thermo-vision systems) .

The two airdrop actions from the last stage of the exercise were also effective: the parachuting of 30 soldiers from an Antonov An-26 aircraft, from 3.000 meters, and the landing from the helicopter of some Special Operations Forces soldiers . It is also worth noting that it is becoming a normality for the 72th Brigade to use of the unmanned armored land platform “Miloš” (also known as “Little Miloš”), which participated in securing the landing area on the ground. The exercise also confirmed the hypothesis of increasing the mobility of some components of VS, with the renewal of the "helicopter fleet": the SOF detached from four 17V-5 helicopters, two Mi-8Ts, three H145Ms and two Mi-35Ms.

During the exercise, there were used mostly unguided weapons and ammunition: aviation bombs, PRNs (of various calibers), AA cannons, aircraft or helicopter cannons, infantry weapons of various calibers, etc. Experts question their effectiveness in a modern conflict, but most likely the effectiveness would be high when fighting a guerrilla or confronting an opponent who does not have weapons and sophisticated technology.


The “Joint Action 2020” military drill was the biggest demonstrative activity for the mass-media in the last decades given the number of people, aircrafts and combat technique in a single place.

For most of the people, the aviation’s actions were the most attractive, but the long distance the aircrafts had to execute actions from did not allow the observation of weapons’ details or the missile launches.

The “Great absent” from the drill was the Serbian Land Forces’ maritime component, the Military River Flotilla, but this has a simple explanation which is drill’s location. The MRF participated, however, at the tactical drills in the 2018 autumn, reunited under the code “Winners’ century, 1918-2018”and developed in various areas in Central Serbia and Vojvodina.

Ultimately, the exercise was held without incident and its main effect is the media, both as a "show" that the people like and as promotion of the current legislators.

It was a promotion that neglected only one aspect. None of the dignitaries (president, prime minister, home affairs minister, defense minister, chief of staff, etc.) wore a mask, given that the COVID-19 epidemic in Serbia is far from over and daily they record one hundred new SARS-CoV-2 virus infections.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] Brigade 72 F.Op.Spc. Pančevo and the 63rd Niš Parachute Brigade, both directly subordinated to General Staff of the Army.

[2] New, entered into the endowment of Serbian Air Forces in 2019. Four such devices were purchased.

[3] Under an agreement with the United States, in 2004, Belgrade launched an action to destroy 1.200 "Strela-2M" portable systems, funded by Washington ($ 800,000).

[4] Ten BRDM-2MS vehicles were received in 2019, as part of the donation of 30 such vehicles, donated to Serbia by Russia, in December 2016.