A total of six Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Y-20 airlifters landed at the Nikola Tesla Airport in Serbia on April 9, reportedly delivering the FK-3 surface-to-air missile defense system to Serbia.
While it is not yet officially confirmed that Serbia received the export variant of China’s medium range HQ-22 system, Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić told reporters that “new weapon systems, which will be the pride of our armed forces,” would be unveiled next week.
Speaking to reporters on April 9 after attending the large-scale exercise Fire Shield 2022, which took place at the Pasuljanske livade range, Vučić refused to confirm the FK-3 was delivered with the Y-20 flights, which would make Serbia the first known European operator of the system.
FK-3 is a slightly downgraded variant of the HQ-22, which entered service in the People’s Liberation Army in 2017. HQ-22 missiles can engage targets at altitudes of up to 27 km and have a stated range of up to 170 km. Guided by semi-active radar, the missiles are designed to ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.
Coinciding with the peculiar arrival of six Y-20s in Serbia, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi told his Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic in a phone conversation that China would “firmly support Serbia in safeguarding sovereignty, territorial integrity and national dignity and in pursuing an independent foreign policy.”
“China firmly supports Serbia in making judgments & decisions based on the fundamental interests of the country and the nation. We oppose external forces exerting political pressure on sovereign countries, and oppose coercing other countries into taking sides.”
Serbia’s FK-3 order was first revealed in 2019 in the annual report of Serbia’s state-run arms company Jugoimport SDPR. In addition to the missile defense system, purchases from China included armed CH-92A drones, which Serbia received from China in June 2020.
Serbia eyeing French Rafale, Turkish Bayraktar UAV purchases
Serbian president Vučić further said on April 9 he was in talks with France for the purchase of 12 new Rafale fighter aircraft, as well as with another country for the purchase of 12 used Rafales. He also floated a third option for a fighter aircraft solution.
Vučić also told reporters that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured him Serbia would be able to buy Bayraktar TB2 armed drones.
Update: A day after the first deliveries, another group of six PLAAF Y-20s was observed heading for Serbia on Sunday, April 10. While the official confirmation is yet to come, these likely included more components of the FK-3 SAM.