Aviation History

The ‘Novi Avion:’ The Yugoslav Air Force domestic supersonic multirole fighter-bomber that never was (conceptually designed with help Dassault-Breguet and British Aerospace)

The battles for Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina

During the late 1980s, the former Socialist Federal Republic of Jugoslavia (SFRJ) – a country dominating the Balkans – experienced a period of major crisis. Led by the Communist Party, the nation’s leadership failed to understand the depth of political changes all over Eastern Europe, and then split along ethnic lines.

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As told by Aleksander Radic in the book The Yugoslav Air Force in the battles for Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina 1991-1992 Volume 1, in 1988-1989, ethnic Albanians in the autonomous province of Kosovo began demanding independence: the authorities of the SFRJ reacted by suppressing the resulting demonstrations. In the Federal Republic of Serbia, public opinion slid into nationalism, which the local communist leadership exploited to maintain itself in power. By 1990, nationalistic leaders rose to power in Slovenia and Croatia, and publicly announced their intention to secede these federal republics.

Under the heavy shadow of growing war-mongering, politicians from all three sides met to reach settlements on the division of their and their emerging nation’s interests. The last few influential supporters of the preservation of a federal state were quickly pushed aside, and the powerful military of the SRFJ – the Yugoslav Popular Army (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, JNA) – became an instrument of political games.

The Slovenian and Croatian proclamations of independence, in June 1991, proved to be the drop that over spilled the barrel. Already split by deep rifts within their top political and military leaders, the federal authorities launched a rather confused attempt to recover control over the external borders of the SRFJ. The nascent Slovenian military resisted, causing a series of bloody clashes with the JNA.

The New Aircraft: The Yugoslav Air Force supersonic multirole fighter-bomber that never was

Tasked with the transport and protection of federal employees, the Yugoslav Air Force and Air Defence (JRV I PVO or RV i PVO) found itself in the thick of combat from day one of this conflict.

From the early 1960s, the fighter element of the JRV i PVO was dominated by Soviet-made MiG-21s.

The 1987 and 1988 acquisition of 16 MiG-29 jets from the USSR opened the beginning of the process of modernisation of the fighter aviation, which until then only had various versions of MiG-21.

Moreover, before the war, the RV i PVO had expected, with great hope, a decision to be made by the Federal authorities on the initiation of a project for the development of a domestic supersonic multirole fighter-bomber, colloquially known as the New Aircraft (‘Novi Avion’, NA, code-named Sloboda, or ‘freedom’).

The presidency of the SFRJ had accepted a related proposal in November 1984, and a decision was taken to pursue its further development with technological support from developed countries – also in order to share resulting costs. However, no suitable partner was ever found, and the decision was taken to continue with the project independently.

Conceptual design

The next step was to let the VTI (Vazduhoplovnotehnički institute, Aeronautic Technical Institute) develop a conceptual design with help from Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation (AMD-BA) in France, and British Aerospace (BAe, nowadays BAE Systems) in Great Britain. Progress was slow, nevertheless, and prompted the acquisition of MiG-29s to cover the gap until the NA would become available during the second half of the 1990s. Ultimately, the RV i PVO planned to acquire about 150 of the new fighters, which were to replace about 60 early MiG-21s, which were due to reach the end of their useful lives in 1994-1998.

Although the requirement was thus clearly defined, and the VTI and various other institutes and commercial enterprises were working on research and development of different related systems, assemblies and sub-assemblies, the NA was never formally launched before the outbreak of the war.

The Yugoslav Air Force in the battles for Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina 1991-1992 Volume 1 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

Due to the war, the ambition of the RV i PVO to introduce a new domestic fighter in the mid-1990s, for which
models were made but no name was chosen, was not to be realised. (Zdenko Molnar)

Photo credit: Zdenko Molnar via Helion & Company

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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