Serbia on Saturday showed off its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West. Serbia is striving to balance its partnership with NATO and aspirations to join the European Union with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia. Members of the public and the media were invited to the display at the Batajnica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles were lined up beside Airbus (AIR.PA) helicopters, Chinese-armed drones, and Russian MIG-29 jets. Serbia is currently the only European country to operate the Chinese missile system and CH-92A combat drones.
The Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defence system, similar to Russia’s S-300 or the U.S. Patriot system, was purchased by Belgrade in 2019 and delivered earlier this month. The delivery of the FK-3 missile system prompted several Western countries, including Germany, to warn Belgrade it expected the Balkan country to align its foreign policy with the EU if it wanted to become a member. Belgrade has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it. Serbia’s military is loosely based on ex-Soviet technology and Russia is one of its main suppliers. Belgrade is also dependant on natural gas and oil supplies from Russia.
China has delivered FK-3 medium-range surface-to-air missile systems to Serbia as part of a contract the European nation signed with China that also included drones. Serbia had signed for the missiles in 2020 under a contract that also included the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation-made CH-92 armed drone. The Chinese used an air bridge to transport the FK-3 missiles, and presumably other support equipment, to the Serbians, using the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’ 13th Transport Division, 37th Air Regiment Xi’an Y-20 heavy airlifters flying between China and Serbia over two days.
The FK-3 is an export version of the HQ-22 surface-to-air missile system, and it retains the domestic version’s top speed of Mach 6, although its maximum range has been reduced from 170 kilometers to 150 kilometers. A typical HQ-22/FK-3 system consists of a radar vehicle and three launch vehicles equipped with four missiles each. Each battery can supposedly engage six air targets simultaneously. The HQ-22 entered service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 2017. The missiles are guided by semi-active radar guidance with a secondary command guidance capability. It can reportedly engage ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs.