In my previous post I discussed the June 1948 break in ties between communist Yugoslavia and the Stalinist Soviet Union, who were trying to exert more control in the defence affairs of Yugoslavia. As a result the Yugoslav Air Force (JRV) needed to look to NATO countries, especially the United States for the supply of combat aircraft. Note: In 1959 the JRV merged with the Yugoslav Army air defence units and was renamed the Yugoslav Air Force and Air Defence (Jugoslavensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo i Protivvazdushna Odbrana – JRViPVO).
In the early 1960’s Yugoslavia under the leadership of Tito began to resume relations on more friendly terms with the Soviet Union which experienced a change from the old Stalinist ways under Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was the Soviet leader from February 8th, 1955 to October 14th, 1964 and granted re-entry for Yugoslavia into the International Association of Socialist States which was a significant herald back into the fold.
This improved diplomatic situation with the Soviet Union lead to a major return to them for the supply of military equipment and particularly modern combat aircraft (Yugoslavia still maintained a non-aligned international status though). Military purchases from the United States soon dwindled away and from 1962 the Yugoslav Air Force entered the supersonic jet age when it started to re-equip with the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed fighter aircraft supplied by the Soviet Union.
The change of policy back into the Soviet sphere in the early 1960’s, at the height of the Cold War meant that by the 1970’s Yugoslavia could no longer necessarily look to the West for aircraft and spares and most US supplied aircraft were retired by 1974. Soviet aircraft were not always suitable to fill this void, so the home-grown aviation industry was boosted to develop and supply a fascinating mix of effective training and attack jet aircraft to supplement the new Soviet supplied aircraft. This venture proved highly successful and produced a number of aircraft that saw service with the JRViPVO and a small number of foreign nations.
A strong domestic arms industry was also important to ensure that a total dependency on the Soviet Union for weapons and equipment was not established. This was especially so in light of the Soviet / Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 when that communist nation started to have some rumblings of political liberalisation reforms and was crushed for doing so!
Aeronautical Technical Institute and Soko
The Aeronautical Technical Institute (VTI Žarkovo – Vazduhoplovnotehnički institut Žarkovo) was established near Belgrade, Serbia in 1946 to design and develop military aircraft for Yugoslavia. The organisation was in operation until 1992 when Yugoslavia dissolved, it then became part of the Military Technical Institute Belgrade (VTI – Vojnotehnički Institut Beograd). The Aeronautical Technical Institute developed a number of successful piston engined trainers and jet aircraft used for training and combat purposes.
The combat aircraft and trainers were manufactured by the Mostar based aviation company Soko (Falcon) which was established in 1950 following the relocation of the Ikarus aviation manufacturing division (Ikarus developed the first Yugoslav designed and built jet aircraft in 1952, the Ikarus S-451M Mlazni or “Jet” but the prototype never went into production – more on the S-451 experimental aircraft and other Ikarus developments will feature in a future post). General aviation aircraft were manufactured by Utva Aviation Industry in Pančevo, Serbia.
Combat capable aircraft produced by Soko in the 1960’s and 1970’s included:
G-2A (N-60) Galeb
The Soko G-2A (N-60) Galeb (Seagull) two-seat trainer and light attack aircraft introduced in July 1965, was the first jet aircraft designed and built in Yugoslavia to go into production (the experimental Ikarus S-451M developed in 1952 was the first Yugoslav designed jet to fly but it never went into production – more on this in a future post). Fitted with a licence built Rolls Royce/Bristol Siddeley Viper turbojet engine, the G-2A was designed to replace the Lockheed T-33 and is said to have been a very good training aircraft and was known as “Old Galeb” to its pilots. Unlike many of its contemporaries from other nations the G-2A had a fixed armament of 2 x 12.7 mm (.50 in) nose mounted machine guns and could also carry a weapons payload up to 300 kg (660 lb) on 4 underwing hard points.
Soko G-2A (N-60) Galeb production continued until 1981 and they manufactured 132 examples for the Yugoslav Air Force primarily for cadet combat training at the VVA (Military Air Force Academy) units but the type also saw combat during the Bosnian War (1992-1995), with the 105th Fighter-Bomber Regiment of the Yugoslav Air Force which became a component of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) defence force. Most were retired by 1999 the last was still in service with Serbia until 2002 (a number of former Yugoslav examples were also operated by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia but are all now retired). Libya was the biggest export customer of the G-2A, with 116 aircraft (production was extended from until mid 1983 for Libya) and a small number were also delivered to Indonesia, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Zambia.
P-2 (J-20) Kraguj
The Soko P-2 (J-20) Kraguj (Sparrow Hawk) single seat close support, counter insurgency (COIN) propeller driven aircraft was introduced in March 1967. This aircraft was conceived as a “partisan aircraft” capable of short landings and take-off’s from rough fields, roads etc. particularly in the many mountains of Yugoslavia with no special preparation (this was especially handy in the advent that an aggressor took out the runways of the main airbases). Primarily it was intended to be used in low-altitude day and night COIN and anti-helicopter missions with an armament of 2 x wing mounted 7.7 mm Colt–Browning Mk-II machine guns with 650 rounds each and a variety of under wing weapons including rockets and bombs. They were also used for day and night pilot training.
85 P-2 (J-20) were manufactured but all were retired by the Yugoslav Air Force in 1989 and handed over to the republic’s Territorial Defence Headquarters and later used by State Security. In addition to the JRViPVO both Croatia and the Republika Srpska Air Force previously operated the type following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. No doubt a number of them saw some combat duties during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990’s.
J-1 (J-21) Jastreb
The Soko J-1 (J-21) Jastreb (Hawk) single seat ground attack aircraft, introduced in 1969, was a development of the two-seat G-2A Galeb trainer as a replacement for the Republic F-84 Thunderjet in the Yugoslav Air Force. Armament consisted of 3 x 12.7 mm (0.5 in) nose mounted machine guns and 8 underwing weapons pylons capable of carrying bombs, rockets and napalm tanks. Powered by a licence built Rolls-Royce Viper Mk.531 turbojet, the J-21 had a top speed of 820 km/h (510 mph) and could take off from rough and short fields with the assistance of JATO rockets.
The Yugoslav Air Force operated 103 J-21’s, with Serbia retiring the type in 1996 (many examples sit in the yard next to the Belgrade Aeronautical Museum in the Serbian Air Force “boneyard” – more on this in a future post). The Republika Srpska Air Force operated J-21’s allocated from the JRViPVO during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and lost around 6 J-21’s after violating the NATO no-fly-zone, 4 more were retired before being merged into the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2006, who continue to operate around 12 J-21’s today for training and ground attack purposes (the Republika Srpska Air Force was originally formed to protect the Serbian population in Bosnia-Herzegovina). The Free Libyan Air Force possibly operate some examples from the 34 aircraft originally delivered to Libya. Examples operated by Croatia and Zambia (13 were delivered) are retired.
Soko also manufactured a single seat tactical reconnaissance variant of the J-1 Jastreb which was designated the Soko RJ-1 (IJ-21) Jastreb. It was equipped with cameras in fuselage and wing tip tanks. This variant was introduced into Yugoslav service in 1969 and 38 were manufactured with the last retired by 1996.
In 1975 the Soko TJ-1 (NJ-21) Jastreb two-seat advanced trainer and light attack aircraft was introduced with only 14 manufactured (NJ = Nastavni Jurisnik i.e. Attack Trainer). The last example was retired in 1996.
IJ-22 Orao 1
The Soko J-22 Orao 1 (Eagle 1) twin-engine (non afterburning licence-built Rolls Royce Viper Mk 622-41R turbojet engines) subsonic attack and reconnaissance aircraft, capable of operating from unprepared or damaged airfields was developed in the early 1970’s as a joint Yugoslavian (Soko) / Romanian (IAR) project (to reduce development expenses). The first Yugoslav prototype flew on October 31st, 1974 and the Orao soon became the pride of Yugoslav aviation designers. Initially there was the single seat IJ-22 reconnaissance variant then the J-22 attack variant.
Although the MiG-21 Fishbed can conduct air to surface operations, its munitions payload is rather limited in regards to the number and types of bombs, rockets and missiles it can carry. The Orao 1 was developed to supplement this ground attack capability void and was initially armed with 4 x 30 mm NR-30 cannons, then 2 x twin barrelled 23mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 cannons with four underwing and one centreline hard points with the ability to drop laser guided bombs and fire air to surface missiles such as the Soviet designed/Yugoslav modified Zvezda Kh-23 Grom and US designed AGM-65 Maverick missiles. Orao 1 aircraft saw combat service in the Yugoslav Wars (1991-1995) and over Kosovo in 1999.
27 Soko IJ-22/J-22 Orao 1 single seat aircraft were introduced into Yugoslav service in 1978. The first were delivered to the 351st AIE Reconnaissance Aviation Squadron at Cerklje and the 353rd IAE Reconnaissance Aviation Squadron at Mostar. The single seat Orao 1 variant was retired in 1997 (2 were prototypes and 8 were converted to the J-22M Orao 2 variant).
8 Soko INJ-22 Orao 1 two-seat trainer aircraft were introduced in 1978 (first flew November 1976) but during its operational service with the Yugoslav Air Force they were actually used for tactical reconnaissance, carrying a centerline pod fitted with optical and/or Infra Red sensors. This variant was retired in 1997 (6 were also converted to the NJ-22 Orao 2D variant).
Modernisation of the Yugoslav Air Force
In the 1980’s with an ageing air fleet the Yugoslav Air Force and Air Defence (JRViPVO) looked once again to the Soviet Union and their own aviation industry to modernise their combat capability. The Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum multi-role fighter was a key component of this modernisation. More on the introduction of the MiG-29 Fulcrum and other aircraft such at the Super Galeb plus a fourth generation multi-role fighter project will be discussed in my next post.