Serbia is close to finalising a deal with Russia for the purchase of military equipment including six RAC MiG-29M/M2 multirole fighters and two Mil Mi-17 helicopters, according to local media reports quoting deputy prime minister and defence minister Aleksandar Vucic and chief of staff Gen Ljubisa Dikovic.

 MiG-29 pair - Igor Salinger

Igor Salinger

New MiG-29s were demonstrated at the Batajnica air show in 2012

"The armed forces, air force and air defence in particular are to receive new and modern equipment very soon," the officials say.

Belgrade daily newspaper Blic says a deal is expected to be finalised during a meeting between Vucic and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu on 23 May.

Previous reports had suggested that Serbia's requirement was for 12 new combat aircraft, most likely comprising eight single-seat fighters and four two-seat trainers. While this appears to have been halved due to budget restrictions, the nation's air force has an urgent need to acquire some new capability.

The Serbian air force has three early series MiG-29s and one UB-model trainer, which were overhauled and received a modest upgrade in 2007, extending their service lives by up to another 700 flight hours, or 10 years.

Pilot training and serviceability issues mean the MiG-29s have yet to assume the air policing role that is still performed using a handful of MiG-21bis fighters, the youngest of which has been in use for 30 years. Unofficial reports suggest that use of the latter type has been extended beyond its planned limit, in co-operation with the manufacturer.

Belgrade started an acquisition process for new combat aircraft several years ago, with a formal request for proposals having drawn responses from Boeing, Chengdu, Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin, RAC MiG and Sukhoi, all pursuing a potentially $1 billion deal.

The potential Mi-17 deal would represent a follow-on buy, with the air force having received an initial two examples two years ago, to join its older Mi-8s. Rival manufacturers including Eurocopter had also been pursuing the new requirement.

Meanwhile, the air force is also in process of selecting a contractor for an avionics upgrade to up to 15 of its Soko G-4MD Super Galeb advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft. EADS Cassidian and Thales are among the contenders for the work, which should see the type remain in service until at least 2030.

 Serbian jets - Igor Salinger

Igor Salinger

J-22 Oraos and G-4 Super Galebs got together at Ladjevi air base 

Twenty-one of the air force's aircraft took part in a display above the town of Krusevac as part of Serbia's armed forces day celebrations on 20 April. Participants included five Super Galebs, five Soko J-22 Orao fighter/bombers, one Antonov An-26 transport, nine Aerospatiale/Soko SA341/342 Gazelle helicopters and one Mi-8. Its Utva Lasta basic trainers remain grounded, following a fatal accident involving the type in September 2012.

Source: Flight International