Reform Of The Yugoslav Army In The Offing

Financial exigencies may finally do to the Yugoslav regular military what NATO seemingly failed to do this summer - substantially reduce its numbers.

Reform Of The Yugoslav Army In The Offing

Financial exigencies may finally do to the Yugoslav regular military what NATO seemingly failed to do this summer - substantially reduce its numbers.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

After the conflict with NATO, the Yugoslav generals have decided to carry out a radical transformation of the Yugoslav armed forces (VJ).

Sources close to the Yugoslav political leadership have stressed, Slobodan Milosevic has endorsed the project because the Serbian budget is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the army continues to be a significant drain on state expenditure.

"After the NATO campaign, the Yugoslav Army has had to face the real situation it finds itself in," the source at the VJ headquarters says. "A sizeable part of the 3rd Army, that is, units that are part of the Pristina Corps, now exists out-with their home territory and is currently redundant."

Our source, which wishes to remain anonymous, claimed Milosevic has preserved the units of the 3rd Army for political reasons - to demonstrate to the public that Kosovo has not been forgotten and that the VJ will return there one day.

Now, due to the increasing financial crisis, political propaganda has been put on the back burner.

According to assessments by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the VJ numbers about 120,000 people. Assessments by the military leadership currently place the real needs of the VJ at some 50,000 soldiers. Such revised numbers could radically reduce everyday the costs and expenditure Belgrade must continue to earmark for the basic needs of the armed forces.

Military analyst, Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, estimates some 10 billion U.S. dollars are needed to complete the transformation of the VJ. Such a figure means that some elements of that reform are not feasible.

This particularly refers to the most expensive part of the VJ - the air force.

"The air force (RV) and the anti-aircraft defences (PVO) have thus far spent the largest part of the army budget, but, nevertheless, proved to be the most vulnerable spot in the war with NATO," said our source at VJ headquarters.

The Yugoslav Army is hardly able to maintain the existing hardware of RV and PVO, while the purchase of new combat aircraft was ruled out long ago. The war with NATO demonstrated Yugoslavia could no longer control her sovereign airspace or field the hardware to guarantee it. Hence funds should be redirected to ground troops, the VJ source concluded.

The latest VJ military exercise in Toplice district demonstrated what the new transformed army should look like. For the first time, the Yugoslav Army carried out an exercise in which armoured units and special units, which provide infantry support, were integrated.

The air force, which Yugoslav generals had previously considered an indispensable element of co-action was not included in the exercise.

General Nebojsa Pavkovic said the exercise was performed in accordance with "the most recent combat experience from Kosovo."

His words hinted at the essential components of a new-look VJ. According to this plan, the land army will comprise the axis of the Yugoslav Army. The accent will be placed on infantry commando units and the armoured units equipped with the M-84 tanks, the best in the Yugoslav army.

A reduction in the number of ground force units is also part of the planned project. VJ military experts have concluded T-54/55 tanks would be outclassed in any conflict scenario confronting the VJ. For that reason a large number of mechanised brigades equipped with these tanks will probably be disbanded. Money intended for those units would be re-directed for the technical maintenance and modernisation of remaining armoured brigades equipped with T-72 and M-84 tanks.

Another priority for the VJ is to obtain an effective mobile air defence system which could provide adequate protection for VJ ground forces against NATO tankbuster aircraft like the A-10 and the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The Yugoslav high command believe the Russian "Tunguska" and "Tor" systems would be ideal for that task.

VJ military assessments have suggested Belgrade could procure such systems through channels in Minsk, Kiev and Moscow.

The review of the VJ also concludes that 'Special Forces' should play a much more important role in operations than they have until now.

Currently, the VJ has two commando brigades, the 72nd Special Forces brigade and the 63rd Airborne brigade. Lessons learned in Kosovo highlighted the need for more than two such brigades in the VJ. In addition to current duties, Special Forces would be used to secure state borders, take part in infantry actions and co-operate with armoured units.

One essential question linked to the reform of the Yugoslav armed forces that remains unresolved, however, is one of doctrine. Is the VJ being rebuilt with a view to performing a defensive role against NATO or as a future participant in the "Partnership for Peace", which includes all the countries in the region?

Despite the conflict with NATO, many VJ officers believe that Belgrade should link the country's future to European integration, including defence plans. A hard-line faction within the VJ, however, advocates the concept an army equipped to act as a "dam" against NATO. But such a strategy would cost astronomical amounts of money and is a science fiction by Yugoslav standards.

"Doctrine is a political question about which the generals do not decide. But, the reform of the VJ without a clear defence doctrine is like building a house without a foundation," the VJ source concluded.

Daniel Sunter is a journalist with the VIP agency in Belgrade.

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