Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Serbia Studying Multipurpose Combat Aircraft Purchase

Serbia is hoping to wrap up a study by the end of the year concerning which combat aircraft alternative will best suit its Air Force needs. The Serbian Defense Ministry is analyzing responses from producers of the world's fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, seeking to determine which multimission platform meets its Air Force requirements while also providing the most cost-effective solution. Belgrade will also broach the possibility of attaining offsets for its domestic industry from the contractor.

The Serbian Defense Ministry has reportedly reached out to Russia's MiG and Sukhoi concerns, as well as French (Dassault Rafale), Swedish (Saab Gripen) and American (Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing F-18) manufacturers. Belgrade is believed to be eyeing a purchase of one squadron (12-16 aircraft), with the cost estimate placed at roughly EUR1 billion ($1.29 billion, RSD105 billion). The Serbian Air Force currently has 21 active fighter aircraft, including five MiG-29s, 10 MiG-29bis's and six J-22 Oraos. All of these were brought into service prior to 1992, with the last outright purchase being for a squadron of MiG-29s in 1987.

As recently as September 2005, the Serbian government was contemplating whether to completely scrap its Air Force given the recognition that all of its aircraft were in poor condition and nearly obsolete. The government ultimately decided to focus on overhauling the helicopter fleet and upgrading its five MiG-29 aircraft (four single-seat MiG-29 Fulcrum As and one two-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum Bs).

Even that process was uneven, as a lack of money in the Defense Ministry coffers forced the government to draw from the 2008 National Investment Plan (NIP) budget to fund the overhaul of the four MiG-29As. Such a lack of available money may impede the Defense Ministry's plans, as its budget of roughly $1.1 billion is unlikely to grow significantly while the Serbian economy just begins to show signs of recovery from last year's recession.

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