Serbia Breaks Tradition and Signs Contract for French Missile

In a surprising move, Serbia has signed a contract with MBDA for the provision of French-built Mistral 3 MANPADS. What makes this so interesting is that this is the first time Serbia has purchased a Western missile system. Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Serbia maintained close ties with Russia and almost exclusively used ex-Soviet/Russian equipment. Serbia is Russia’s only European ally besides Belarus (which is basically a puppet state) so the move away from Russian equipment is a significant blow. Perhaps signaling desperation, Russia has gone as far as donating equipment free of charge to Serbia notably 6 MiG-29s (which Serbia only paid for repairs and munitions) and more recently 30 upgraded T-72s and 30 BRDM-2MSs.

BRDM-2MS having been presented to the Serbian Army after being flown in. Note crude up-armoring yet the inclusion of 360 cameras and an independent viewer behind the turret. Photo: Serbian MoD

Even in donating equipment Russia has run into difficulties, with Romania (a close US ally and host of missile defense systems) blocking the transfer of the tanks and armored cars by the Danube river. Russia was forced to instead fly the first 10 BRDM-2MSs into Serbia, arriving late July of this year.

Mistral firing in tests. Photo: MBDA

With all the politics aside, Mistral 3 does offer a capability increase over Serbia’s current Soviet-era MANPADS inventory. The most capable of these, Igla, entered service with the USSR back in 1983 and has since been replaced by Igla-S and Verba in Russian service. Compared to Igla, Mistral 3 is a larger missile with twice the warhead weight and a significantly more advanced seeker that is less susceptible to IR countermeasures. However, the added weight means that Mistral can’t be fired from the shoulder and instead needs a firing post.

The contract also includes technical and material assistance in integrating Mistral 3 onto Serbia’s indigenous anti-air vehicle, PASARS 16. Currently, PASARS 16 is equipped with a 40mm Bofors gun and RLN-1C, a locally-produced copy of the Soviet R-13M missile with an upgraded seeker. R-13M itself is a copy of the US AIM-9. Mistral 3 offers an improvement over RLN-1C both in being lighter (allowing more rounds on the vehicle) and hosting a better sensor.

PASARS 16 at a Serbian parade. Note the missile’s visual similarity to AIM-9. Photo: Srđan Popović