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kako nas drugi vide...

ili ovaj...

Eric Nicholson

Is it true that Yugoslavia had the 5th most powerful army in the world at its peek?

This is a very broad and hard question to answer. What would be criteria for ranking? It is hard (since Yugoslavia collapsed) to answer on this question. Based on its numbers, equipment, military doctrine and potential, JNA was definitely a serious and capable arm force. This was the case before tragic 90s, in the 70s and 80s (the golden age of JNA).

The way how JNA was projected and build during a period between 1945 and late 80s, gives you a really helpful insight on how wise and capable Yugoslav foreign diplomacy was. Yugoslavia was the only or one of few countries who had, both Western and Eastern military equipment.

I am not sure about the numbers because I never saw official statistics but I remember that I read an estimation somewhere, that by the end of the 80s, JNA had over 220.000 active personnels. Of course, this is for ground forces. During a war, by mobilization, this number would grow up to over million and a half. Enough for a first wave. According to this estimation, JNA also had: over 2000 tanks, 150 APC, 100 war and patrol ships, over 500 planes and helicopters, over 1000 howitzer and so on. This equipment was American, Soviet and Yugoslav origin.

Picture 1: A military pared held in 1975, in Belgrade.[1]

Yugoslavia had a huge stockpile of munitions and military equipment. Evidence for these you can find in wars which broke after the dissolution. From one army, six has formed with enough resources, even more than they need.

Thanks for owning Navy, Yugoslavia was one of only ten countries in the world then, who was able to build independent, modernized own navy. Concerning military aviation, Yugoslavia produced own planes like G - 2 Galeb, J - 21 Jastreb, G - 4 Supergaleb and J - 22 Orao. Beside weapons and equipment, probably the biggest power behind JNA was soldiers. They could resistance to every enemy due to high moral, motivation and being well - prepared.

There is an interesting fact, just before dissolution of Yugoslavia. US air force was interesting in Supergaleb. They wanted to have an airplane which could be used as a school fighter plane for the purpose of basic training. American even seriously given a thought of buying a 900 plane of this type. Beside this, army cadets from Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Indonesia, Burma, Tanzania were enrolled in military schools.

Picture 2: Supergaleb with Yugoslav Air Force markers.[2]

JNA even help with organization a whole army abroad. It was a Sudanese army. The former Chief of Staff and State Secretary of People defence, Admiral Branko Mamula, the first year of the 1970s, spend some time in Sudan. He played huge role in founding a new army.

In its nature, JNA was defensive military with only one goal: protect Yugoslavia against foreign aggression. The main motto was: Tuđe nećemo - svoje nedamo! Or Theirs we don’t want, ours we don’t give. The main accent was given on fight against first neighbours. They always were some kind of territorial disputes with: Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. In the case of war with Soviets or Americans, you could always ask for help from the other side.

The main straight of JNA was as follows

Mandatory service

Arms service was mandatory. That meant that every adult male (18 years old) had to serve for a year (number of years changed during history). It was possible to delay service until you are 27 (due to college studies). This would give a proper time to organize eventual defence, and you would already have a soldier who knows how to operate with the weapons. In the middle school, kids were taught how to handle and maintenance weapons.

Reservists and Teritorijalna odbrana (TO)

After you end your service, you would put in reserves and return to your normal life. Reservists were organized according to Republic’s TO (Teritorijalna odbrana). During a war, you would be mobilized, and you knew exactly where you was going to be and will you do. This system saves time. Also, during a peace, from to time, you had to take an active part on military exercise. In companies, there were a list what type of equipment would be lend to JNA and TO.

Republics would come to resources more faster and more easily in the case of war. Those weapons which JNA decided not to use would lent to TO. Later, during the wars, TO were the basic units which led to organizing new armies. TO was under direct control of officers who spend time in JNA.

Industry capabilities and economic possibilities.

Beside military, JNA also had an economic value. Thanks to the Non Aligned Movement, Yugoslavia was involved in the series of military - economic cooperation with the member states.

Country looked to spend money carefully. Jobs with abroad was created only there wasn’t any other solution. Even then, it looked to work on big, international projects. The main idea behind this was to be better than others.

By building factories, just in Yugoslavia, the basic economic - industrial network was created. For example, over 120 factories across the whole country were involved in building a domestic tank called M - 84. Some factories were organized on the principle to work after the dropping an atomic attack. One of these factories still works (Igman - Konjic).

Picture 3: Number of tanks in 1990.[3]

Remont Navy Institute Sava Kovačević (Arsenal) in Tivat (Montenegro), used to make yearly profits over 80 million US Dollars. They mainly worked for Yugoslavia and Soviet navy and Libya. They produced everything, from panton bridges to patrol ships. But this is not all, thanks to great relationship with the countries of the Third War, by the end of the 80s, Yugoslavia exported equipment in a value of 800 million US dollars. I heard stories that Tivat residens used to rent flats to Libyan officers for huge amounts of money.

For the purpose of lab research, Army set up over 72 labs across Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia even had a decent amount of biochemical toxics. A long time ago, I heard a story that was a plan in the late 80s to produce a first Yugoslav atomic bomb in Nuclear Institute Vinča near Belgrade. How much true behind this story is, I don’t know.

How military and country was strong, you can best see in Project called Objekat 505. It was an underground military airport Željava (Klek), near Bihać. Today, it is on the border between Croatia and Bosnia. It was build from 1956 to 1968, and it cost over 4 million dollars. It was designed to accommodate 58 planes.

Picture 4: Aerodrom Željeva or Objekat 505.[4]

Yugoslavia started to build and develop its own air industry. If you look closer these planes, you will notice that they were never designed for air superiority. They were smaller, fighter - bombers, with the main goal to hit and run. They were design in such ways that they could land on the other places not just on the airstrip.

Just before collapse, JNA planed to build a whole line of new equipment. It was planned to construct a new tank called Vihor, 152 mm howitzer, the M - 87 Orkan (self-propelled multiple rocket launchers), a new submarine called B - 73 with rockets and torpedoes, UAVs and so on. The most expensive project would be Novi avion. The goal was to create a new fighter jet of the 4th Generation. In Yugoslavia, it was known as YU supersonic.


JNA had very capable intelligence. It was one for leading in the world back then. As we all know, information is very important asset and then, Yugoslavia was one of those who had it and trade it. A long time ago, I heard a story about Mamula and his visit to the United States. The story goes like this. In the early 80s, Mamula went to work trip to the States. There, hosts decided to show him (then it was a secret.), a new plane E - 3 or AWACS. Eventually, he entered the plane and his hosts started to explain to him how the plane operated and what is what. Then, he told them to leave him alone because he already knows what is what. Of course, nobody trusted him until he started to explain.

Resonance planes, without marks, would often fly across Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece while submarines would do the same. They would enter the territorial waters of Italy and Albania. On the seafloor, they would record the sounds of passing ships.


As a said, the main reason for JNA existence was to protect its territory. According to a military doctrine, JNA would stop the first wave. By doing this, it would buy precious time for setting up defenses. Then, it would move into central Yugoslavia (Bosnia) and convert to partisan warfare.

To make things more easily to understand. Basically, the main strategy was how to survive in Yugoslavia. Imagine having foreign troops who had to pass some in Bosnia, for example. Until they organize logistics and everything else that comes with that, smaller organized mobile Yugoslav groups could give huge losses to attacker. You see the point. Using a ground in your favor as well.


I personally believe that any attacker would have a hard time attacking Yugoslavia in the 70s and 80s. That doesn’t mean that JNA was the most powerful army in the world.

Thanks to the law in which was stated that every house or bulidng must have shelter in the case of nuclear attack, we would be able to survive atomic attack while army had it own food production projects. I need to say something about these food projects. Few units were so successful in producing that they even manage to pass some major factories.

JNA didn't just had an economic and military impact. It also directly helped a movie industry.

For the purpose of making a movie: Bitka na Neretvi, movie producer Veljko Bulajić had on his disposal over: 6000 soldiers and officers, 75 tanks and APC, 22 planes, 5000 amounts of rifles and 380 machine guns, 2000 artillery pieces combined with the 110 airplane bombs. Over 12, 000 explosive and 10, 000 kg of bombs were used. Back then, people joked that with that power he could go all the way, to Bucharest or Sofia.

About the spirt which which was the main weapon. In the army, people from the various parts of Yugoslavia had a chance to meet others. They would often go outside own republic to the places which they would naver had a chance to visit. This produce even greater sense of unity which resulted with the friendships that even today lives. Today, someone founded a group on FB where you can try to find your army buddies during your service. It seems that JNA survived even the country which she should defend.

Map 1: Map of companies that worked during Yugoslavia, with they location.[5]

About military capabilities and industry. Basically, Yugoslavia wanted to be considered as serious and respected country. If you wanted to achieve that, you need to have strong projects behind you. Projects which were done in the country helped to get a more serious projects abroad.

In our economic scope were the countries who didn’t have enough resource to build a huge infrastructural projects. That is why Yugoslavia empathize corporation with the Non Alignment Movement.

These objects served to:

1) to show what Yugoslavia can do to and how much it costs:

The best way to understand this is to illustrat it as some kind of catalog. Interested states could see what and which company is spacialised for what kind of activity, then they could see how much that would cost.

2) as way to employ huge amount of people:

Projects were used as a war to employ more people. Usually M, you would pick those who didn't have too much work experience and work habits. By sending this person abroad, he would really work hard which, eventually would leave to have an experience worker with international experience. Since he or she works, your econoly would improve while your social system wouldn't be exploited. That person should be more confident and sure in himself or herself.

3) you would learn new techniques and technology:

With working abroad, you are opened to others. It is possible to compare were are you and others while trying to improve your work. At the end, everybody would profit from this.

And, on the end, it is hard position JNA as 5th army in Europe. There so many factors which you need to take into account. It not just the question of numbers.

What I can say, is that Yugoslavia was a serious military power which could do more then its basic task of protecting a country. It was capable to follow others and to adopt. It grow up from an resistance force to the army which used her military industry as a bridge for improving an economic picture and awarding contracts to civilian industry abroad. At least, this was a case in 70s and 80s.

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