From January 2006 The Armed Forces of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Armed Forces of The Republika Srpska began a unification process to establish a single national Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Elements of the Armed Forces of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Armed Forces of the Republika Srpska where merged in December 2006. Unification of the command and control system took a little longer, but in September 2007 the Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Defence Brigade of the OSBiH became operational. Since then the Air Force and Air Defence Brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina / OSBiH became operational. The OSBiH is responsible for the air defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.
Today the Air Force and anti-aircraft brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina maintains two major Airbases. One of the air bases is Mahovljani Air Base near the city of Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska.
Also known as Mahovljani Banja Luka International Airport, the base is a joint use airport that is used for both military and civil aviation. The 1st Helicopter Squadron from the OSBiH is based at Mahovljani Air Base. The squadron operates the Soko built Gazelle helicopter and also operates the Mi-8T Hip transport helicopter. During our visit 7 Gazelle helicopters where in active service with 1 Helicopter Squadron, while 5 Gazelles were kept in storage in one of the squadrons hangars. 1 Helicopter Squadron operates 3 different versions of the Gazelle helicopter: the Soko HN-45M Gama II attack version that can be equipped with different types of missiles, the Soko HO-45 liaison / utility version and one Soko HO-42 liaison version is also still in active service with 1 Helicopter Squadron. Furthermore 1 Helicopter Squadron operates 3 Mi-8T Hip transport helicopters, these 3 Mi-8Ts where returned to active service after an overhaul and life extension program with the Konotop Aviacon Aircraft repair plant in the Ukraine.
Fighter jet era of Mahovljani Air Base
Before the Yugoslavian civil war, the 82nd Aviation Brigade of the Yugoslav Air Force was based at Cerklje Air Base in Slovenia. The 82nd Aviation Brigade had three squadrons in their inventory: the 237 Fighter Bomber Squadron operating with the Jastreb attack aircraft, 238 Fighter Bomber Squadron using Orao attack aircraft and the 351 Reconnaissance Squadron operating a mixed fleet of Jastreb and Orao aircraft specially equipped for reconnaissance missions. On 27 June 1991 members of the 25 Regional Staff of the Slovene Territorial Defence attacked Cerklje Air Base with mortars. All the based aircraft of the 82nd Aviation Brigade where rapidly mobilized and relocated. That same night 65+ aircraft were flown out of Slovenia, most of the aircraft heading south to Zadar Zemunik Air Base in Croatia. Only a few days later they departed for Ortjes Air Base near the city of Mostar. Before the attack on Mostar took place the Jastreb’s and Orao’s of the 237 and 238 squadron moved to another air base again! This time they were flown to Udbina Air Base in Croatia. On August 11 1991 the majority of the aircraft relocated for one last time to there final destination: Mahovljani Airbase near the city of Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska . At Mahovljani Air Base the 474 Air Base was renumbered to the 74 Air Base and the former Yugoslav Air Force 237 Bomber Aviation Squadron and 238 Fighter Bomber Aviation Squadron were re-established on May 27 1992: the RV.I PVO. VRS ( Republika Srpska Airforce ) was officially formed. These two squadrons, which by now had undergone various changes in personnel, affecting both flying and ground crew’s, became the 27 and 28 Squadron of the RV.I PVO. VRS ( Republika Srpska Airforce ), each squadron reporting directly to the command of the Air Force and Air Defence.
In December 2006 the Air Force and Air Defence of the Republika Srpska and the Air Force of Bosnia and Herzegovina where merged in to one air force and the Air Force of the Republika Srpska was disbanded. Around the time the Air Force of the Republika Srpska was disbanded, they still had the following aircraft in their inventory: 7 x J-22 Orao single seat aircraft, 9x J-21 Jastreb aircraft in three different versions and one two seat super Galeb N-62 trainer attack aircraft. Shortly after unification of the armed forces, it was decided to take the former jet aircraft of the disbanded Republika Srpska Air Force out of active service, as it was too expensive for the armed forces to maintain a fleet of jet aircraft. This decision unfortunately meant the end of an era, as until today the Air Force and Air Defence Brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina operates a fleet consisting of only helicopters. The jet aircraft were offered for sale with some of the J-22 Oraos offered to Serbia, the only other J-22 Orao operator. But until today a serious deal with Serbia never took place.
Most of the jet aircraft of the disbanded Republika Srpska Air Force where still present at Mahovljani Air Base during the time of our visit several of the jets were seen. Today most of the jets can still be found parked in the hardened aircraft shelters at Mahovljani Air Base, waiting for things to come. Time will tell what the future brings for these aircraft.
The other main air base of the Air Force and Air Defence brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Raljovac Airbase . This air base is located near the city of Sarajevo and houses the 2nd Helicopter Squadron. This squadron is flying the UH-1 Huey and the Mi-8/17 Hip helicopter. The OSBiH received its UH-I Huey helicopters in the late 1990s under the “Train and Equip” program. The UH-1s were provided from used but refurbished U.S. Army surplus stocks. The crews that where selected to operate with the UH-1s were trained in Germany at the German Army Aviation training school in Bückeburg. The Huey helicopters serve in the transport, SAR , Medevac and Casevac roles and are also used for training. Three to four of the 15 delivered Huey helicopters are used in active service, while the rest of the fleet is kept in storage awaiting maintenance, while some of them are used for spare parts.
Beside the UH-1 helicopters the 2nd Helicopter Squadron also operates a small fleet of the Mi-8 / 17 Hip helicopters. During our visit the squadron had 2 Mi-8MTV-1s in active service, while the sole Mi-17 was temporarily kept in storage pending maintenance work. The Mi-17 is painted in the colors of the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is mainly used in the VIP role, while the two Mi-8MTV-1s are used for various tasks, like transport, casevac, sar and medevac missions. The squadrons third Mi-8MTV-1 helicopter was unfortunately lost due to a crash which took place in February 2012, while delivering relief supplies to the snow affected village of Bukvica. The Mi-8MTV-1 crash landed in an open field and was damaged beyond repair. Luckily none of the 11 passengers and crew on board were injured.
The rotary wing maintenance squadron based at Raljovac Airbase is responsible for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of the Mi-8/17 and UH-1H/V fleet of the OSBiH. During the time of our visit the maintenance squadron was working on a Mi-8T of the Banja Luka Mahovljani based 1 Helicopter Squadron, while the sole Mi-17 of the OSBiH was prepared for overhaul and repair work. Furthermore the squadron was providing inspections and maintenance on one of the UH-1V Helicopters of the OSBiH. While all of the maintenance and repairs of the UH-1 fleet is taking place with the rotary wing maintenance squadron at Raljovac Air Base. The major maintenance phase and upgrades on the Mi-8/17 fleet is carried out by The Aviakon Konotop Aircraft Repair plant in the Ukraine. Maintenance on the Soko Gazelle fleet of the OSBiH is done at location at the home base of the Gazelle fleet in Banja Luka Mahovljani. While the major maintenance phase, upgrades and serious repairs of the Soko Gazelle fleet are carried out by the company “Avio Servis IKAR”, which is based at Banja Luka- Zaluzani Airfield. Avio Servis IKAR is specialized in the maintenance, upgrades and repairs of the Soko Gazelle helicopter. They take care of the major maintenance and modifications of the Gazelle fleet of the OSBiH. Also other customers have their Gazelle helicopter fleet serviced by Avio Servis IKAR, the Government flight unit of the Republika Srpska and the Montenegrin Air Force also send their Gazelle helicopters to the Company for maintenance, repairs and or modifications.
For the foreseeable future the Airforce and Air Defence Brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina will focus on a fleet consisting only of helicopters. The OSBiH keeps some Gazelle and Mi-8 helicopters in storage from which it would like to take some back into active service. It will depend on whether budget can be made available to achieve this. Some years back there where also plans to purchase a medium sized transport aircraft, but these plans were never materialized because of lack of funds. Good news and a great boost for the OSBiH came in December 2019, when the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced the purchase of four US made bell UH-1H Huey II multimission helicopters. The purchase of these four helicopters must ensure that the deployability of the helicopter fleet of the OSBiH will significantly improve.
The Authors of Lowpass Aviation.com would like to thank the personnel of the Air Force and Air Defence Brigade of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Staff of the Ministry of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina for their hospitality and their time and help during our visits to the airbases of Bosnia and Herzegovina.