Big Defence Spender Serbia May Become Biggest Operator of Military Drones in Balkans

Foreign Affairs

Milan: Amid rising tensions with Kosovo, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s recent order to shoot down all UAVs found in no-fly zones and near military facilities, Iranian officials suggested that Serbia made a formal bid to purchase that country’s drones.

If true, the purchase could make Belgrade the largest military drone operator in the Balkans. Over the past few years, Serbia’s UAV procurement strategy sought to strike a balance between increased diversification of foreign suppliers and further expanding its own domestic industry.

Since becoming the biggest military spender in the Balkans in 2019, the country’s drone fleet has welcomed new arrivals including Chinese-made CH-92As, delivered in June 2020. This greatly increased Serbian air-policing capabilities thanks to its 250 kilometre (155 mile) combat range.

Serbia is positioning itself as a military-neutral country, as its government aims to procure weapons and military gear for the country’s armed forces from various suppliers. Meanwhile Serbian-made Gavran loitering munition and an armed version of its Vrabac small drone shown last August and said to be able to carry up to six grenades are being developed.

Displayed at Eurosatory 2022, the Gavran is the first system of its kind to be developed locally. The Serbian technology has a maximum take-off weight of 50 kilograms, can carry payloads up to 15 kilograms while flying at a maximum speed of 120km/h for 30 minutes out to a range approximating 100 kilometres.

The original Vrabac was developed with an electro-optical turret located under its nose to carry out reconnaissance operations. While it is currently in the service of the Serbian military, it remains unclear when its armed variant will become operational. These newcomers will join Israel’s Orbiter 1 and the domestic Silac 750C already flown by Serbia (its Pegaz 011 UAV is still undergoing development).

While the country has openly stated its interest in acquiring Turkish TB2 drones multiple times in the past, these plans might be halted after unconfirmed claims were made by Iranian Major General Yahia Rahim Safavi stating that Belgrade is one of 22 countries to have filed a formal bid to buy Iranian UAVs.