After a turbulent period in the 1990s, wracked by conflict, internal strife, and sanctions, Serbia has undergone a halting yet persistent reintegration into the global economy. The state of Serbia in the years 2021 has managed to be largely reborn from the aforementioned crisis, that is primarily because of the country’s active contribution to security and stability in the region. Nowadays, pronouncing on the fact that cooperation on fostering security is of particular importance in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Balkan region, Serbia's defence industry, in co-operation with foreign state-owned and private companies, has developed a wide range of programs, ranging from modernizing existing systems to creating unmanned aerial vehicles with electronic warfare capabilities. The Serbian government sees its defence industry as a strategic national asset that it wishes to sustain and grow. Increasing defence exports helps to sustain the defence industry and presents a means of attracting Foreign Direct Investment.

Milestones of the Serbian defence industry development

The emergence of the Principality of Serbia and its de facto recognition as a political entity from the end of the 1820s, was followed by the establishment of the small army. One of the best indicators of the level of its autonomy and the fading of Ottoman power was the launch of production at the Kragujevac Cannon Foundry in 1853, considered to be the legacy organisation of Zastava Arms, currently one of the most important defence industrial enterprises in Serbia (4 Pounds LA IT Guns and 10.15 Ammunition from 1884).

Furthermore, the territorial settlements at the end of the First World War imposed a new reality on the Balkans, where the new country Kingdom of SCS/Yugoslavia saw its strategic position as more than just a Balkan state. Simultaneously, the national defence industry was rebuilt accordingly with its spectrum gradually expanding to include the construction of small naval vessels and investment into aircraft and related industries, through the establishment of companies such as Ikarus in Novi Sad, Vojvodina, which was established in 1923 (the company still exists today as a bus manufacturer). It later expanded into aircraft manufacture, designing and building its own indigenous fighter aircraft (Ikarus Hydroplane SM and IO (1924), Reconnaissance Bregeut 19 Potez 25 Bombers (1927), 7, 9mm M1 924 Rifle and domestic aircraft engines (1928), IK 3 Fighter Aircraft from 1938).

The new Yugoslav Army which had been established in March 1945 was a tri-service organisation covering ground, air and naval forces. One of the first tasks for the Tito government was to rebuild a shattered country and its industrial infrastructure. It was obvious and especially after the split with the USSR, that if the SFRY was to follow an independent strategic direction, it would need to meet as many of its defence requirements as possible from indigenous resources. This led to the development of an industrial base to support the extremely diverse selection of equipment present in the country. Reflection of this can still be seen in the eclectic range of small arms ammunition currently offered by Prvi Partizan in Uzice, Serbia, from the pre-1914 standard rifle rounds of Austria-Hungary and France, to the 6.5mm Grendel and 338 Lapua Magnum of today. In addition, the aforementioned break in relations caused Yugoslavia’s turn to the UK and US military assistance. Illustrating the importance of Yugoslavia at that time, it is important to note that the US equipment supplied to Yugoslavia in the 1950s was essentially the same as that supplied to allied states in NATO.

Another important development was the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement. Established in September 1961 at a conference in Belgrade, with Yugoslavia as a prime mover, the Movement allowed it to continue to navigate between the two superpowers, but also provided the country with an export marketplace for its defence industry. Ground systems were a particularly strong area for the Yugoslavian industry. Apart from 152mm M84 Nora Howitzer (from 1980) it is worth mentioning the sale of the M-84 tank, which was a licensed produced version of the Soviet T-72 with significant improvements to firepower, protection and mobility characteristics to meet JNA requirements. Artillery and mortar systems were successfully exported. These included the M56/M56A1 105mm howitzer and 128mm M77OGANJ and PLAMEN multiple rocket systems. Moreover, worthwhile mentioning are 262mm M87 Orkan Multi Rocket Launcher and Self Propelled Weaponry Systems Nora B (1990).

After the collapse of Yugoslavia and emergence of an independent Serbia, the new country found itself in a rather difficult economic and strategic position. When one considers a brutal conflict amongst the former components of the country, along with the NATO bombing of Serbia, striking military as well as infrastructure and industrial targets, the necessity for Serbia to recover and rebuild was more than obvious. As a part of this recovery process, Serbia sought to develop a military structure in the conviction that having a competent defence industrial base was more significant than just meeting Serbia’s defence equipment needs. While demand for Serbian small arms and ammunition, plus grenade launchers and 60/80/82mm mortars has been highly lucrative for the industry, the sale of higher value and more complex equipment should not be ignored either. In April 2019, the Serbian government announced that Serbian defence exports for 2018 amounted to US$897M.

Greek DEFEA 2021

Defence Exhibition Athens is a high-level international exhibition, in which leading Greek and international companies presented defence systems of land, sea, air, national security and cybersecurity represented a unique chance for Serbian companies to show their latest developments. The Exhibition was organized under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defence-General Directorate of Defence Equipment and Investments, the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy and the Support of the Hellenic Aerospace Association and Hellenic Space Technology & Applications Industries Association, taking place at an exceptional time for the repositioning of Greece on the map of international defence exhibitions and the development of the Greek defence industry and emphasizing the importance of its geopolitical position. The goal of the organizers is for DEFEA to become the reference point for the defence exhibitions in the region of SE Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. It should be noted that DEFEA had 315 defence industries and other companies in the sector from 22 countries. This was the first time that Cyprus participates in a specialized defence and security exhibition. The heavy exhibits, located indoors at the exhibition centre, included: a Leopard 2Hel battle tank of the Greek Army, a self-propelled gun Zouzana (Equipped with the Cypriot National Guard) from the Czech Republic, numerous boats and, among American entries, two helicopters. In addition, Apache helicopters, a Navy S70 Aegean Hawk, an NH 70 transport vehicle, a light attack Kiowa, airliners and other flying vehicles were in static exposure at the airport.

The Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce organizes the American Pavilion at the DEFEA 2021 Exhibition, ensuring a strong presence of American companies in the Exhibition with the aim of strengthening the Greek-American cooperation in the issues of defence. Elbit Systems presence at DEFAE 2021, as one of an international high-tech company dealing with a wide range of defence, internal security and commercial programs worldwide, covered aircraft electronics, self-defence platform, precision-guided ammunition, smart surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance technologies, and communications and electronic troop systems. Moreover, the French defense industry in order to meet the strategic needs of Greece organized the French pavilion, including 21 companies that highlight French know-how in the fields of defense and security. Following the recent success of Dassault Aviation's export of Rafale to the Hellenic Air Force, DEFEA was an opportunity for presentations related to other major armaments programs.

New Serbian defense industry base

The defense industry of Serbia is the largest in the Western Balkans. It consists of around 200 companies working in many different fields but usually joined on larger projects under Yugoimport SDPR or Military Technical Institute Belgrade. However, domestic companies engaged in the production and development of weapons and aircraft systems, EDePro and Green Power Turbine Systems, were the only companies from Serbia that participated in this year's largest arms and military equipment fair in Southeast Europe "DEFEA 2021" held in Athens. The joint performance of the two companies showed the latest achievements in the field of rocketry, missile guidance and control, as well as turbojet propulsion. In a joint appearance at the show, the two companies displayed the latest advances in rocket technology, missile guidance and steering, as well as turbojet propulsion. Green Power Systems exhibited its range of turbo engines as the only manufacturer of such engines in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The TJE-200 turbojet engine, which is in series production, attracted particular attention. Nevertheless, Greece and Serbia have already started their cooperation. Let us not forget, too, that for four days, from Monday 17 to Friday 21 May, the RM-70s of the Greek Army fired continuously, testing the new type of rockets, which dramatically increase the strength and which are now supplied by the Greek Armed Forces.

“We are pleased to confirm that the Greek Army is a new user of our G2000 missile after its successful testing - Lazar Igrutinovic, director of marketing and sales of the two companies said expressing the satisfaction that Greece, one of the countries with the largest military budget in this part of Europe, has decided on a Serbian manufacturer. The G2000 and G2000/52 missiles were shown to the world public for the first time at the IDEX arms fair in Abu Dhabi in 2017. The rocket upgrade consists of a new engine and compared to the Russian original, which had a range of 20 kilometers, the range has now been increased to 40 kilometers. The missiles are compatible and can be launched from the same system as the BM-21 or the Slovak RM-70.

The Company EDePro (Engine Development and Production) has a long tradition in the development, design, and production of turbojet and rocket engines. The foundations of the Company were laid thirty years ago when the Laboratory for Jet Propulsion was founded at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University in Belgrade. Nowadays EDePro has grown into a successful, internationally renowned company engaged in the research, development, production, and trade of the new and modernization of the existing munitions and defense equipment, as well as in the application of high‐tech solutions in hailstorm defense and other civilian applications. The company’s main effort is to permanently rely on the top-notch experts in the topical areas and to pursue the philosophy of its own, original development, which results in a high level of efficiency in work and the quality of realized projects.

The Company production program includes the following projects: rocket motor for 122 mm artillery rockets, GM and G‐2000, intended for use on multiple rocket launcher systems BM‐21 “GRAD”, gyro‐stabilized artillery rocket R‐107 of 107mm caliber for multi‐barreled rocket launchers with the maximum range of 11 kilometers, gas generators for artillery ammunition, with calibers ranging from 76mm to 155 mm, composite solid propellant sustainer rocket motor for air defense system Neva/Pechora. Different types of INS/IMU units and board autopilot sets for different flying platforms. The large part of EDePro’s production and development program is based on the original design and production of low-to-medium-power gas turbine systems. EDePro activities are focused on three product lines: turbojet engines for missiles, target drones and unmanned aircraft, auxiliary power units and starting systems. The development programs include current research projects such as small TMM‐ 040 Mongoose turbojet engine of the 400 N thrust, multi‐purpose ALAS guided missile system, tip jet rotor helicopter system, hybrid artillery ammunition of 155 mm caliber RA/BB with rocket motor and gas generator unit.

As to the future of the Serbian defense industry, in spite of some estimates that choice of future strategic direction will inevitably have an impact on the county’s defense industry developments, it could be supported that it is on the path of ascent and success. In the meantime, whether it is about the revival of the old defense industry giants or the emergence of new military know-how, the defense industry of Serbia will continue to be a valuable economic asset for Serbia.