Croatian Air Force / Hrvatske Zračne Snage
By Marijn van der Burgt
History Croatia's declaration of independence in June 1991 was followed by attacks from the Yugoslav forces in September. The well-equipped Yugoslav Forces were trying to hold the Yugoslav Federation from falling further apart. At the beginning of the hostilities, the JRV (Yugoslav Air Force) evacuated all its units and combat aircraft from Croatia. All aircraft and equipment that could not be taken was destroyed or sabotaged.
At first the Croatian Armed Forces could do nothing about Yugoslav Air Force aircraft over Croatian territory because of total lack of anti-aircraft weapons. After the surrender of some Yugoslav units, Croatia became owner of these weapons, including Strela portable anti-aircraft missiles. Until then the only flying aircraft were few Police helicopters, which carried out transport and evacuation missions.>/p>
On 3 September an order was issued to call up all aircraft in Croatia that could be used for military use. A lot of An-2, UTVA-75 and other light sports and agriculture aircraft were selected for military service. Even an Agusta-Bell 47 from the Zagreb Technical Museum was restored to flying condition and equipped with rockets. A same attempt was made on a P-47D from the same museum, but this did not commence. The aircraft were incorporated with Independent Aircraft Units (Samostalni zrakoplovni vod/odred) and divided to all the Croatian Army's operating zones. The SZV Osijek, SZV of 4th Brigade in Split, SZO of Bjelovar and Multi Function Team (Eskadrile lake aviacije višestruke namjene) at Cakovec. In every zone the aircraft operated in support of the ground troops under command of the Croatian Army (HZ) or National Guard (Zbor Narodne Garde-ZNG). Croatia's first combat aircraft was acquired when a Yugoslav AF Mi-8 helicopter was shot down, captured and repaired. In the next years several more helicopters arrived from covert sources, including Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-24 gunships.
Also a small number of Hughes 500 helicopters were acquired from the civil market for pilot training and observation duties. On 4 January 1992 a Yugoslav AF MiG-21bis fro Bihac deflected to Croatia, and the MiG-21 became the first fighter aircraft of Croatia. In May two more MiG-21 machines followed. From April 1992 the Croat forces gave logistic and air support to the Bosnian-Croat Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina were also the civil war had started. Additional MiG-21 fighters arrived from unknown origin (Ukraine?) and the MiG-21s were divided between Pleso and Pula Air Bases, with detachments to Split-Divulje with its cave shelter, where Yugoslav Mi-14, Ka-25 and Ka-28 used to be based. In 1995 Croat forces overran the Serb Krajina region, and managed to capture several Serb aircraft, including Jastrebs, Galebs and Kraguj aircraft. Some of the aircraft were incorporated into the Croat Air Force, but have since been retired from use.
The Croatian Air Force today
With the Dayton Peace Agreement of November 1995, leading to the end of the war in Bosnia, the arms embargo was lifted. Some 10 Bell 206 helicopters and 20 Pilatus PC-9 aircraft were bought mainly for training purposes. The UTVA75s were stripped from their camouflage colours and repainted in a white scheme, and are nowadays used for basic training at the flight training school at Zadar. The UTVA75 is used for basic training, navigation and group training. The PC9 takes care of the advanced training. At Zadar air base is also the fire fighting squadron (855 PPE) of the Croatian Air Force. The airplanes (CL-215 and AT-802) used to be part of the Ministry of Interior, but were transferred to the Air Force. Also four new CL-415 were added to the inventory. The fire fighting squadron operates next to some of the water bucket equipped Mi-8MTV's, and are detached to various locations in the country, including summertime detachments to Pula (Mi-8MTV) and Dubrovnik (CL-415 and AT-802).
In 2003 Croatia received the first of the upgraded MiG-21 fighters from Aerostar in Rumania. In total four MiG-21UM and eight MiG-21bis were upgraded and the old MiG-21s were mothballed. Since the end of 2004 all of the upgraded MiG-21s have been transferred to Pula airbase. Pula also houses the 25 Mixed Elint Squadron with a small number of PC-9 aircraft that are borrowed from the flight training school at Zadar.
Pleso airbase housed the former Mi-24 Hind squadron, but all of the Mi-24s have been taken out of service. The Air ABse at Pleso still commands the helicopter squadron at Zagreb-Lucko that flies the Mi-8MTV, including some VIP capable Hips. In 2002 six Mi-8MTV’s were upgraded, with two of them further upgraded for UN work. The older Mi-8T helicopters have been put into storage. The Mi-8MTV’s are also equipping the Maritime Operations Squadron at Split-Divulje airbase. Both squadrons with the Mi-8MTV contribute to the fire fighting detachments in the country.
The transportation task is carried out by the fixed wing aircraft of the 27 Transport Aviation Squadron at Pleso airbase. Most powerful are the twin-engine An-32 transport aircraft. Both underwent a major overhaul in Ukraine in 2004 and will last for some more years. The two An-32 have gained a grey colour scheme after their overhaul in Ukraine. Later additions to the transport squadron are the Ce T210 and the Piper PA-31T.
In September 2007 the first two out of five new ordered Zlin 242Ls were delivered from the factory in Czech Republic. The new Zlins will take over the training role from the old UTVA 75s, which will subsequently be withdrawn from use. In 2006 Croatia made a deal to acquire 10 new Mi-171 attack-cargo helicopters as a compensation for the Russian debt to Yugoslavia which Croatia partly inherited. The contract is worth 65 million USD. First two helicopters arrived in December 2007 and the final batch was delivered in 2008.
Croatian Government decided in 2007 that new firefighting aircraft are to be bought due to an unexpected money surplus in the country's budget (over 1 billion USD). As promised, 2 new CL-415s were ordered in November 2007. Furthermore, 3 new Air AT-802s were also ordered.
On 1 April 2009 Croatia joined the NATO alliance as a full member. Future procurements after 2011 may include new fighter aircraft (possible candidates are F-16 or JAS39 Gripen?) and a small number of transport aircraft (C-130 or C-27?). The final decisions on these still have to be made.