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In a 'crash' programme carried out during the 1999 NATO air campaign against their country, engineers in the former Yugoslavia created two-stage anti-aircraft missiles (AAMs) by mating infrared (IR) guided Russian air-to-air weapons with locally developed boosters, writes Seymour Johnson. Both were deployed for combat and at least one of these improvised weapons may have been used in action against NATO aircraft.
This concept of utilising AAMs as surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) had first been explored in the mid-1990s, when the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) created a truck-mounted system in which R-3/K-13 (AA-2 'Atoll') passive IR guided missiles were mounted on a twin-rail launcher carried by a TAM-150 truck. This was a field modification, done without any formal research and development work, and seems never to have been given an official designation.
A simpler system, known as the Pracka (Slingshot), mounted an R-60 (AA-8 'Aphid') missile on an improvised launcher based on the mounting of the towed M55 20 mm anti-aircraft gun. In practice, this could have little more combat-effectiveness than a slingshot, having obvious shortcomings such as a very limited range.
JMR understands that two two-stage missile systems, designated RL-2 and RL-4, were hurriedly developed by the VTI (Vojno-Tehnicki Institut = Military Technical Institute) and VTO (Vazduhoplovno-Opitni Centar = Air Force Testing Centre) during the NATO bombing campaign in 1999.
Prototypes of both systems were built, based on the chassis of the Czechoslovak M53/59 30 mm self-propelled twin-barrelled anti-aircraft gun, more than 100 of which were in local service.
First reports of a Serb-devised SAM system based on the M53/59 mobile anti-aircraft gun appeared in late 1999. These described a system in which two R-73 missiles (without boosters) were mounted on rail launchers. One local source told JMR in late 1999 that the vehicle-mounted R-73 had proved successful. He added: "It is a great pity that we didn't convert more of them!" The more sensitive seeker head, improved search pattern and much greater range/ceiling of the R-73-based system had posed a significant threat to NATO aircraft.