Self-propelled artillery Number built – 1 to 2 Prototypes
Following the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 90s, the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in 2003, its name was changed to Serbia and Montenegro and finally, in 2006, Serbia became an independent state) inherited a relatively huge stock of various armament, equipment and weapons. One of these was the Soviet 122 mm D-30 and the domestically modified D-30J (with improved ammunition) howitzer. As the Serbian Army lacked a more modern self-propelled artillery (beside the aging 2S1 Gvozdika), in 2004, an attempt was made to develop such a vehicle using a military truck chassis and arming it with a 122 mm D-30J gun.
During 2004, the military leadership of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro discussed the possibility of improving the performance of the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. This was, in essence, just a Soviet D-30 howitzer that was imported during the 70s. The main difference was the use of improved ammunition with stronger propellant charge, which increased the overall firing range of the howitzer. The military decided to develop a brand new self-propelled artillery vehicle equipped with this howitzer. This vehicle was to act as a mobile fire support element of infantry and armored brigades. Its main mission was to saturate enemy positions with artillery fire before changing position to avoid counter fire. Great emphasis was thus placed on good mobility and sufficient firepower.
The development of such vehicles could basically go in two directions. Either a fully tracked vehicle or a truck wheel chassis. Due to factors including cost, the possibility of using already existing production capabilities, and reducing development time, the officials of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro decided to proceed with the second option.
The official designation for this vehicle was Samohodna Haubica (self-propelled howitzer) 122 D-30/04 SORA (Serbian.- Самоходна Хаубица СОРА). In many sources, it is just mentioned as SORA (SORA-122 or 122 mm SORA are also used). This article will use this designation for the sake of simplicity.
The job for designing such a vehicle was given to the Vojno Tehnički Institut VTI (Војно Технички Институт). Work on the construction of the first operational prototype was given to the ‘14 Октобар’ (14th October) factory from Kruševac. The VTI decided to go with a simpler solution, possibly in hope of reducing the overall cost and time. The new vehicle consisted of a standard military truck with its cargo bay replaced with a new firing platform with the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. Initially, a KAMAZ truck was to be used as the main chassis, but this was changed to the FAP2026 BS/AB, which was already in use.
In 2006, after a referendum, Montenegro became an independent state, and the development of the SORA vehicle was left to the Serbian Army. During 2006, there were a number of changes in the leadership of this project (due to the retirement of people involved in it). The project was given to Colonel Novak Mitrović. He was chosen mostly due to his experience with designing such vehicles. Besides the SORA, Colonel Mitrović was also involved with the design work of another self-propelled project, the 152 mm NORA-B. Colonel Mitrović would be replaced as the head of the SORA project by Lieutenant Colonel Srboljub Ilić. He had worked earlier on the 100 mm TOPAZ anti-tank gun (which was based on the D-30J). He too would be replaced by Mihajlo Trailović in 2007 due to retirement.
In 2008, at the 14th October factory, the preparations for the final assembly of the SORA began. However, there were some issues with the design of the firing platform. For this reason, another factory, the Tehnički Remonti Zavod Čačak (TRZ Čačak) – Технички Ремонти Завод Чачак was included in the project. Its engineers managed to design the modified D-30J mounting, which they successfully placed on the FAP2026 BS/AB chassis.
The SORA vehicle was then sent back to the 14th October factory, where it was fully completed and given to the Army for field testing. The testing and evaluation of the vehicle proved to be generally positive after firing trials held in the Nikincima army test site. In 2011, it was presented to potential foreign buyers at the ‘Partner 2011’ (Партнер) Arms Fair held in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The first prototype failed to gain any foreign interest, nor did the Serbian Army adopt it. Despite this, work on improving its performance was carried on.
The improved version
Following the completion of the first prototype and its failure to gain any military contract, attempts were made to increase its overall performance. Sources are not clear if the second vehicle was just a modified first prototype or a completely new vehicle. The second prototype incorporated several new improvements which included: an automatic loading system, an improved fire control system, reducing the numbers of crew members, increasing ammunition load, and adding a close defense machine gun. It was presented for the first time for potential buyers at the ‘Partner 2013’ Arms Fair.
The basis of this vehicle was the FAP2026 BS/AB 6×6 all-terrain wheeled truck. This was a vehicle domestically developed and built by the FAP (Fabrika Automobila Priboj) factory beginning in the late 1970s. It was primarily designed to act as a towing vehicle for a number of artillery pieces. It could also be used to transport troops and materials, with up to 6 tonnes capacity. It was powered by a German Mercedes OM 402 engine giving 188 kW @ 2500 rpm. The maximum speed of this truck was 80 km/h and the operational range was 600 km.
For the SORA, the FAP2026 truck chassis had to be reinforced and strengthened to be able to withstand the firing recoil of the main gun. The weight of this new vehicle was 18 tonnes and the operational range was reduced to 500 km. The maximum speed was 80 km/h, dropping down cross country to 20 km/h. A spare wheel was positioned to the vehicle’s rear. To use this wheel, a mechanical crane was added, which, when activated, lowered the wheel to the ground.
The main weapon chosen for this vehicle was the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. This weapon was originally designed during the early ’60s in the Soviet Union. It was a somewhat unusual howitzer, mostly due to the design of its trail legs that, when fully deployed, enabled the gun to have a 360° traverse. During deployment, the rails of this howitzer are split into three different smaller legs, evenly separated. The wheels would be then raised from the ground up, thus creating a stable platform for the gun for firing in any direction. During transport, these three legs would be connected together and placed under the barrel. On the muzzle brake was a towing hook.
The original Soviet 122 mm D-30, with its nearly 22 kg round, had a range of some 15.4 km. The Yugoslav modified howitzer had a slightly longer range thanks to improved ammunition and larger propellant charge, reaching up to 17.5 km.
To make room for the D-30J howitzer and its mounting on the truck chassis, the rear positioned storage bin was removed. Instead of it, a new firing platform was placed to the rear. The howitzer, without its wheels and trail legs, was placed on a new round-shaped mount. Below this mount, a hydraulically operated support leg was to be lowered during firing. When ready for the firing mission, the main weapon was rotated to the rear. Despite the appearance of possessing an all-around firing arc, this was not the case.
During 2005, while still in the development phase, a number of experiments were done in order to test the durability of the front driver’s cabin during the firing of the main weapon to the front. As the tests showed that it lacked proper durability and general stability, instead the D-30J howitzer was pointed to the rear to avoid any damage to the driver cabin. Elevation of the D-30J howitzer was -5° to 70°, and the traverse was 25° in both directions. To help with absorbing recoil and providing a stable firing platform, two hydraulically operated supporting legs would be placed to the ground. When on the move, the D-30J howitzer was to be repositioned to the front and held in place at a 10° angle by a travel lock placed above the ammunition and crew housing. The SORA has an ammunition load of 24 rounds.
The SORA-122 D-30J howitzer had to be manually loaded and fired, which, given the lack of crew protection, made it quite vulnerable to enemy return fire. For this reason, following the completion of the first prototype, a new project was started with the aim of equipping the SORA with a more modern automatic loading and improved fire control systems. The new automatic loading system consisted of two round-shaped drums placed on both sides of the main gun. These were used to store six rounds of ammunition (placed in the right drum) together with six propellant charges (in the left drum). When these were all fired, they had to be manually reloaded.
When moving to the designated area of attack, this new configuration required some 3.5 minutes to deploy, fire six rounds, and disengage. Around 90 seconds were needed for the vehicle to be combat-ready for firing. The firing cycle of all six rounds was 1 minute. An additional minute was needed for the vehicle to prepare for moving again. The speed for redeployment after firing was desired to be as short as possible. It was estimated that enemy radar detectors would need at least 2 minutes to detect the SORA’s firing position after it fired, by which time it had already changed position to a new location. The whole process of deploying and redeploying was completely automated and easy to use.
On the improved prototype, the firing of the main weapon could effectively be done either from the vehicle itself or from a distance of 150 to 200 m (wired or wireless) from a mobile computer. The D-30J firing trigger was activated by a pneumatic cylinder. If, for some reason (malfunction or combat damage), the firing trigger failed, it could be operated manually by the crew members.
The new total ammunition load of the self-propelled guns would be 40 rounds, mainly located in the ammunition racks in the back of the cabin. The SORA could fire a number of domestically developed ammunition. These included the TF-462 with a range of 15.3 km, TF PD UD M10 with a range of 18.5 km, and the TF PD GG M10 with the greatest range, up to 21.5 km. The elevation and traverse were unchanged in comparison to the first prototype. The elevation and traverse speed ranged from 0.1 to 5 degrees per second.
For crew protection, beside their personal weapons, a 7.62 mm M84 machine gun was placed on top of the driver’s cabin. To use the machine gun, the crew were provided with a hatch.
The first prototype had at least four to five crew members (the sources do not specify the precise number). These were the commander, the driver, the gun operator, and loaders (one or more). The crew were seated inside the front cabin and in the rear positioned superstructure, which had two side doors.
The second prototype had only three crew members. It consisted of a commander, a driver, and a gun operator. While the sources do not specify it, one (or more) of these men also had to act as loaders for the drum magazine. In comparison to the previous model, the new one did not have the rear positioned crew compartment. This was instead replaced with added ammunition storage bins.
The SORA was not provided with any armor protection, neither for the front driver cabin nor for the gun operators (besides the small gun shield on the first prototype). The main reason for this was to reduce the cost and weight as much as possible. While the use of a protective armored cabin for the gun operators was considered, it was not adopted.
Fate of the project
The overall situation of the SORA within the Serbian Army is unclear. While, in the media and according to many statements of the Ministry of Defense over the years, one gets the impression that the SORA would be adopted, the project is nearly two decades old and still in the prototype phase. In addition, very recently, the Serbian Army stated that it is interested in upgrading its old 2S1 Gvozdika vehicles. The SORA also failed to gain any foreign interest despite its low price and simplicity. The Serbian Army appears to be focusing more attention in developing and introducing into service the much larger NORA B-52 and another 122 mm armed SOKO self-propelled artillery vehicle. Based on these factors, it is unlikely that it will be adopted for service within the Serbian Army in the near future, if ever.
The SORA is designed as a cheap and quick solution to the Serbian army’s lack of more modern self-propelled artillery. Despite achieving these goals, for unknown reasons, it is still not yet adopted for service. Despite its final fate, it provided the Serbian engineers with a good deal of experience in designing more modern vehicles.
Experimental Modular Robotic System Number – At least one prototype built
In the last few decades, all of the major armies around the world have shown an interest in the development of remote-controlled devices. These are meant to perform various tasks and intended to supplement or even replace human soldiers in dangerous situations, thus reducing the risk to human life. The tasks of these remote-controlled devices are many, ranging from reconnaissance, target identification, ammunition and other equipment resupply, transport, engaging and destroying designated targets, etc.
The Serbian Army, in a desire to follow international arms development trends in unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), began developing a series of its own vehicles. One of these project was the short range anti-tank system named simply Милица (Eng: Milica -a Serbian female name). It was, in essence, a small remotely-controlled tracked vehicle armed with two anti-tank launchers.
Jugoimport (Југоимпорт СДПР Ј.П) was founded back in 1949, with the intention of acquiring necessary military equipment for abroad for the JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People’s Army). After 1953, Jugoimport expanded the scope of its business to the export of domestic military equipment. In 2006, Jugoimport was reorganized and became a Serbian state-owned public enterprise.
During the following years, Jugoimport would continue to work on improving the performance of a number of older projects developed during pre-Civil War Yugoslavia. It also began a series of experiments to develop new technologies and weapon systems, including self-propelled artillery vehicles, armored cars, APCs, and multiple launch rocket systems etc.
During the late 2000s, Jugoimport was also involved in the development of a number of remote-controlled systems meant to perform different tasks, ranging from reconnaissance to the anti-tank. These included the Vrabac (Sparrow) unmanned aircraft, APOS – automatizovani protiv tenkovski sistem (Eng: automated anti-tank system), DALOS – daljinski upravljanu laku modularnu osmatračko-borbenu stanicu (Eng: remotely controlled light modular observation-combat station), and the Milica – modularni robotički sistem (Eng: Modular Robotic System).
Milica was primarily intended to provide infantry with a remotely controlled anti-armor close support system that could engage modern MBTs (main battle tanks). It could also be used to engage and destroy enemy firing positions and fortifications. The Milica system was intended to be fully modular, which meant it could be adapted to fulfill various combat roles, but also secondary non-combat duties. Other roles included helping infantry with gathering intelligence, monitoring and observing areas that were not yet fully secured, transporting spare equipment, ammunition, and even transporting wounded soldiers.
Not much is listed in the sources about its development history. It was presented for the first time to the public at the military Partner 2009 fair held in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Inspiration for the Milica’s overall design (like the hull, superstructure, and suspension) was taken directly from the BVP M-80 infantry fighting vehicle. Back in the 1960s, the JNA placed a request for a fully protected infantry fighting vehicle. From this, the BVP M-60 was developed. As it proved to be unsatisfactory, a new model, the BVP M-80, was therefore developed to replace it. It was a large improvement in contrast to the earlier model and was provided with a fully rotating turret and anti-tank rockets. From 1976 to 1988, around 658 M-80s were built. Despite their old age, a number of these vehicles are still in use with the Serbian Army.
While there is limited information on its interior, based on the available pictures, it can be seen that the hull was divided into a few sections. The transmission was placed in the front of the hull, followed by the electric motor. The batteries and other equipment needed for controlling and powering the main weapon system were stored to the rear of the vehicle.
The Milica’s superstructure was taken more or less from the M-80. It had a very simple design, with a highly angled front plate, slightly less angled sides, and flat rear. There were a number of rectangular-shaped hatches placed in the superstructure to provide easy access to the different components stored inside.
In the front angled glacis, there was a hatch for access to the engine and the transmission. Three hatches were placed on top of the superstructure, with two in the front and to the rear. The last hatch was placed at the rear. Next to it, there was a round-shaped plug, possibly used for powering the main motor and system batteries. All of these hatches were held in place by simple screws, so removing them was quite easy.
The Milica’s superstructure was built using simple welded steel plates. The thickness of these plates is unknown, but probably only enough to provide protection from small-caliber weapons. Its greatest protection was its relatively small size. The Milica was 1.9 m long (1.72 m without the main armament), 0.77 m wide, and had a height of 0.77 m.
The suspension was another element that is quite similar to that of the M-80, albeit with one more roadwheel. The suspension consisted of six small road wheels, which were independently suspended with torsion support units. In addition, there was a front-drive sprocket, rear idler, and three return rollers.
The sources do not provide information about the engine type or its power output. What is known is that an electrical motor was used. With a weight of 250 kg, its maximum speed is only 3 km/h. The effective operational autonomy was noted to be 2 to 4 hours. It can climb a 30° slope and is supposed to possess amphibious capabilities.
An ‘H’ shaped metal firing platform was bolted to the superstructure top. This is then used to house either the two 9 cm M79 OSA or a single 12 cm M91 anti-tank rocket launcher. The 9 cm M79 OSA anti-tank rocket launcher is in service with the Serbian Army and its purpose is to engage enemy armor and fortified positions. Its effective range is 350 m and the maximum effective range is 650 m. Armor penetration power is 400 mm of rolled homogeneous armor.
The elevation of the Milica weapon platform was -20° to +50° and the traverse was 350° (it could not rotate a full circle). Elevation speed was 3°/s, while the traverse speed was slightly faster, at 6°/s. The two launchers were fired independently. Once both tubes were fired, the Milica had to be driven back to a safe position to be reloaded.
Depending on the combat requirement, the Milica could be armed with the 12 cm M91 rocket launcher for improved anti-tank capabilities. This is a disposable light shoulder-launched rocket launcher that is in the service of the Serbian Army. The M91 consists of two components, the launcher, and the shaped charge rocket projectile. The shaped charge warhead, containing an explosive filling of phlegmatized octagen and a contact-type electric superquick fuze. The M91’s main purpose is to engage modern MBTs at ranges up to 250 m. Its penetration power against rolled homogeneous armor is around 800 mm. Secondary targets, like fortified enemy positions, could be engaged at ranges up to 400 m. Currently, there is no picture of Milica being armed with this weapon.
While these two were intended to be the Milica’s primary armament, other weapon systems, depending on the field requirement, could be used instead. These options ranged from different types of machine guns, grenade launchers, to possibly even small-caliber cannons.
Control and optics
The Milica was a wireless remote-controlled system that was operated from a concealed command post. The effective wireless control range is around 500 meters. The command unit of the vehicle consists of a control system with telecommunication modules. In addition, there is also a laptop computer which is used for choosing the camera mode and for finding targets. The Milica’s movement and weapon system were controlled by a console with an alphanumeric monitor. The sources do not mention the precise number of operators that were needed to properly control the Milica.
For directly observing surroundings and possible targets, the Milica was provided with an all-weather, day and night, black and white IP (internet protocol) surveillance camera. This camera also possesses high sensitivity electrical and optical zoom. The camera itself was placed in a protective housing above the two rocket launchers.
Operational use and fate
When the prototype was completed, it was tested at the Nikinci experimental military test range in November 2009. It underwent a number of firing tests and, while the sources do not go into much detail regarding these tests, they note that the Milica performed satisfactorily.
As mentioned earlier, it was presented for the first time to the public in 2009. In the following year, it was still presented at the military Parner fair held in Belgrade, in the hope of gaining some foreign interest.
It appears that the Milica was not adopted for service within Serbia nor anywhere else in the world. In recent years, the Serbian Army appears to have adopted (in limited numbers) another similar system. This is named the Miloš Remote Control Unmanned Platform (Милош ДУБП – Даљински Управљива Безпосадна Платформа). The precise number of Milica built beside the one prototype is not known.
The Milica was one of the first Modular Robotic Systems developed by the Serbian arms industry. It offered an alternative way of supporting infantry operations, minimizing the risk to the soldiers operating it. While it was not adopted for service, it provided Serbian engineers with valuable experience in designing and building such systems. This would lead to the development of newer systems that entered limited service in recent years.
1.9 m, 0.77 m, 0.47 m
One or more remote operators
2 to 4 hours
Two 9 cm M79 OSA or one 12 cm M91 anti-tank launcher
-20° to +50°
unknown, but probably only lightly protected
At least one prototype
M. Jandrić Weaponry and Military equipment Fair, Partner 2009
Yugoslavia and succesor states(1985-present)
Main Battle Tanks – 650 Built
Symbol of Brotherhood and Unity
Development and production of the M-84 Main Battle Tank (MBT) by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia perfectly symbolized their national slogan, Brotherhood and Unity, just a decade before the country fell apart. It combined the economies and production capacities of six Yugoslav multi-ethnic republics to produce what will become their national pride. Considered one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the Yugoslavian industry, it proved how complex and demanding tank production can be even for medium-sized countries.
Context – Playing Both Sides of the Cold War
After the Second World War, Yugoslavia operated a wide variety of Axis and Allied armored vehicles. Two armored brigades consisted of captured German Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs, along with AmericanM3 Stuarts and around five Soviet T-34-76s captured from German Anti-Partisan units. Italian L6/40, M13/40, M14/41, and M15/42 tanks were also captured during the war and kept in limited service. Based on an agreement with the Soviet Union, 308 T-34-85 tanks and 52 SU-76M self-propelled guns arrived in 1947. This was just before the Tito-Stalin Split of 1948, after which the relations with the Soviets became distant.
Two years later, an attempt to produce an unlicensed copy of the T-34-85, known as the Type A, proved unsuccessful. Production was slow and required skilled workers due to a lack of blueprints and standardized parts, which resulted in just five prototypes being built before the programme was cancelled. Following an agreement, this time with the United States, between 1951 and 1957, Yugoslavia received 599 M4A3 Shermans and 319 M47 Patton tanks, 140 M18 Hellcat and 399 M36 Jacksontank destroyers as military aid part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, along with many other kinds of military vehicles.
Without the means to produce spare parts for the newly acquired tanks, maintaining them became a rising problem. In the meantime, the relationship with the USSR started to improve after Stalin’s death. A Yugoslav Army delegation visited the Soviet military academy and attended a military exercise, at which they had a chance to see the new T-54 tanks in action. During the next 25 years and across several contracts, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) acquired 140 T-54s and over 1,600 T-55s. In the late sixties, JNA military officials realized that many of the older T-55s needed to be completely replaced by new tanks. It was also becoming apparent that the procurement of a tank more modern than the T-55 could not be postponed any longer.
In the early seventies, the T-72 appeared on the world stage and captured the interest of Yugoslavian military experts. It was available for sale, but obtaining a license for its production was impossible during the first few years, even for Warsaw Pact countries, let alone Yugoslavia. In 1978, after Yugoslav military officials had seen the T-72 during a presentation near Moscow, a decision was made to purchase the license. The Soviets quickly rejected the request, with an explanation that Yugoslavia was not able to produce such a vehicle due to its complexity. Shortly after, President Tito visited the USSR and, even with the strong objection of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, he managed to convince Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, to sell the license to the Yugoslavs. The price was 39 million dollars ($162 million in 2020 values), with the license expiring after 10 years or 1,000 produced tanks. The agreement also stated that Yugoslavia could not sell, modify, or co-produce the tank with other countries without the USSR’s approval.
Before the beginning of production, obtaining various machines and tools proved to be very difficult. For example, in order to reduce the weight, the tank’s main wheels were made out of aluminium alloy. The production process was very complex, requiring a 30,000-tonne press, additional smaller presses, and a special furnace. At that time, there was only one press of similar characteristics in the whole of Europe. The production was a real endeavor. Over 200 companies from all six of Yugoslavia’s republics were contracted to produce different parts and subsystems, along with the Djuro Djakovic factory, responsible for the final assembly.
The prototype, designated T-72MJ, was finished in April 1983, followed by 10 test vehicles in 1984. Serial production started in 1985 and the vehicle received its new designation: M-84. Some of the factories involved in the production and their products were:
“Djuro Djakovic” – Slavonski Brod – Final assembly
“Famos” – Pale (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Engine
“Iskra” -Ljubljana (Slovenia) – Laser rangefinder and electronic parts
“Zrak” – Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Optics
For its time, the M-84 was a fairly modern tank with good protection, thanks to its composite armor. The upper front plate had a slope of 68 degrees and consisted of an 80 mm rolled homogeneous (RHA) steel plate followed by 105 mm of glass-reinforced plastic called textolite, backed by a 20 mm steel plate. This armor arrangement equated to around 350 mm of RHA against Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) and around 450 mm against High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectiles. The lower front plate was at a 60-degree angle with a thickness of 80 mm. Some additional 20 mm of protection was in the form of a mounted dozer blade and it also enabled the tank to dig a cover for itself in a short amount of time. The hull sides were vertical and had a thickness of 80 mm at the crew compartment and 70 mm at the engine-transmission compartment, while the backplate was 40 mm thick and inclined at 30 degrees. The floor and engine deck were 20 mm thick. Rubber side skirts were also mounted to reduce the amount of dust kicked up by the tank when moving.
While the hull had a welded construction, the turret was cast. Due to its variable thickness, it provided approximately 280-380 mm of RHA protection. This early armor layout was equivalent to the T-72M and had no composite material in the turret.
The M-84’s low silhouette also contributed to the overall protection. The tank featured Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protection equipment and two ways of deploying a smokescreen. The first was using 12 smoke dischargers on the turret front. These launched grenades 150 m in front of the tank, making a smokescreen either 20 m or 100 m wide which lasted 4-5 minutes. The second was through the use of an engine smoke generation system. The system sprayed fuel into the hot exhaust to create a trail of white smoke behind the tank. The M-84 was also equipped with an automatic fire extinguisher system.
The M-84 tank was armed with a smoothbore 2A46 125 mm main gun with a thermal sleeve – the same gun as on the T-72 Soviet MBT. It could fire 3BM9 and 3BM12 APFSDS with 350 mm of penetration at 90 degrees at 2 km, 3BK14M HEAT-FS with 500 mm of penetration at 90 degrees and High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) ammunition.
The gunner also had a 7.62 mm PKT coaxial machine gun at his disposal, while the commander operated a 12.7 mm NSVT anti-aircraft machine gun. The main difference between the T-72 and the M-84 was in the Fire Control System (FCS). The new FCS was developed domestically and had better capabilities compared to the one used in the T-72M. It was named SUV M-84 and was claimed to be comparable to the best fire control systems in the world at that time. The FCS main module was the DNNS-2 gunner’s sight with an integrated laser rangefinder. This device was installed on the left side of the turret, in front of the gunner’s hatch. It had two different magnifications, 3x and 7x, while the night channel had an 8.5x magnification. The night channel had a second-generation image intensifier. The gunner also had a direct vision periscope. The commander was equipped with a DNKS-2 binocular periscope with a 360-degree view and image intensifier for night operation. With a press of a button, he could slew the turret to the target’s direction or engage it himself. There were four additional periscopes at his disposal. Another component of SUV M-84 was the meteorological sensor located on the front of the turret roof, which measured wind speed, ambient temperature, and atmospheric pressure. The FCS used this information, combined with additional data such as distance to the target, powder charge temperature, the longitudinal and horizontal tilt angle, and the tank’s movement speed to ensure high first-hit probability while on the move or when stationary. While the gunner tracked a moving target, the SUV M-84 automatically applied lead by calculating the target’s angular velocity.
Instead of a human loader, the tank had an electro-mechanical autoloader for the main gun. With one crew member less, the turret could be made smaller and better armored for the same weight. The autoloader was located under the turret, on the tank’s floor. It held 22 rounds in its rotating transporter, commonly called a carousel, while additional 20 rounds were stored in the crew compartment. The autoloader had a fixed loading angle, which meant that the gun needed to be elevated to +3 degrees in order to line up the breech with the ammo rammer. Since the gunner’s sight was independently stabilized and not slaved to the gun, the sight remained on target during the loading process. The rate of fire was 8 rounds a minute. Contrary to popular belief, the carousel was well protected from shrapnel in case of a turret penetration. A door, through which the ammunition passed, closed after the loading process, protecting the ammunition. Though the ammunition in the carousel might be safe from most penetrations, the ammunition in the crew compartment could still ignite. Studies after the 1991 Gulf War showed that most of the catastrophic explosions of Iraqi T-72’s were caused by ammunition outside the carousel getting hit.
The M-84 was powered by the V46-6, a 38.8 liter V12 multifuel engine delivering 780 horsepower. It could use diesel, low octane gasoline, or kerosene. The engine was reliable and gave the tank adequate mobility with a 19 hp/tonne ratio. The manual transmission had 7 forward and 1 reverse gear. The only downside was a painfully slow reverse of just 4 km/h. which plagued almost all tanks built on the T-72 platform. Although useful while maneuvering and parking in a non-combat environment, it seriously hampered the ability to quickly reverse out of trouble. The tank had a fuel capacity of 1,600 l (with additional fuel drums at the back) and an operational range of 700 km on the road and around 460 km off-road. Depending on the terrain, fuel consumption went from 230 to 350 l per 100 km. The tank had a torsion bar suspension with double shock absorbers on the first, second, and sixth pairs of doubled road wheels. The tracks, 580 mm wide, were supported by 3 return rollers. The sprocket wheel was at the back. The system could span a 2.8 m trench, climb an 85 cm wall, and ford 1.2 m without preparation. With full preparation, it could ford water obstacles 5 m deep and 1,000 m wide.
Production and variants
In total, around 650 tanks of all variants were produced. The most numerous variant was the basic M-84 with 370 vehicles made between 1984 and 1987.
In 1987, a new variant of the M-84 started production and received the designation M-84A. While firepower remained the same, armor protection and mobility were substantially improved. The upper frontal plate had a different laminate layout and consisted of a thin 16 mm high hardness steel plate welded to a 60 mm rolled homogenous plate, followed by 105 mm of textolite backed by a 50 mm plate. While the basic M-84 had a simple cast steel turret, the M-84A’s turret had a cavity filled with Quartz sand mixed with an adhesive. The thickness of this insert was 130 mm. The tank’s new armor layout was claimed to be effective against contemporary NATO 105 mm projectiles. Mobility was improved by replacing the old 780 hp engine with a 1000 hp V-46TK. The new engine gave the M-84A an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 24 hp/tonne. That was enough to propel the 41.5-tonne tank to a respectable top speed of 65 km/h. Around 100 vehicles were assembled until the end of production in 1992.
The M-84AB/ABK was an export variant made for Kuwait. The company in charge of export and shipment was Yugoimport SDPR. It impressed the Kuwaitis after it won a desert trial against the M1A1 Abrams. It proved more reliable and finished the 102 km course without breakdowns, while the Abrams was not able to finish due to a fuel system malfunction. Later, Yugoslav mechanics demonstrated engine removal, complete disassembly, and reassembly in the field. The Kuwaitis were sold and made an order of 200 M-84AB and 15 M-84ABK command tanks. The price was 1.58 million dollars per vehicle (3.4 million in 2020 values).
Around 150 were shipped to Kuwait before the Yugoslav Civil War and a small number after the war. It differed from the M-84A by having a desert color scheme, slightly different positioning of the smoke launchers, Racal Dana or Jaguar V radio instead of the standard RUT-1, conventional searchlight on the right turret front, lettering in Arabic, additional equipment for desert operations, and around 200 smaller changes requested by Kuwait. The Command versions had a generator for keeping the tank’s radios and electrical systems running with the engine off.
During the 1991 Gulf War, M-84s operated alongside Coalition tanks against the Iraqis, but somewhat cautiously. The M-84 could be easily mistaken for an enemy T-72 during the night or in a sandstorm and potential friendly fire was a major concern. Luckily, this did not happen. Kuwait found their M-84’s excelled in desert conditions. Sweden, Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt also showed interest in the tank. Pakistan extensively tested two examples. They completed rigorous evaluation and traveled 1,600 km without any failures or mechanic interventions. Libya ordered 200 vehicles but later withdrew the order in favor of the cheaper Soviet T-72M. Since 240 companies were contracted for making parts and components, none of the former Yugoslav republics could independently produce the tank.
Even though Croatia only had a 25% share in the M-84 productions, the company that assembled the tank into a finished product was on its soil. After the breakup of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, during a bloody civil war, the Djuro Djakovic factory still had enough parts to roll out new M-84s and pass on M-84ABs intended for export to Kuwait to the newly established Croatian Army. After the war, many M-84ABs were finally delivered to their original buyer. Some were kept in service and by 2003 modernized together with remaining M-84As. The main objective of modernization was the Fire Control System. A new FCS called Omega-84 was developed in cooperation with the Slovenian company Fotona and is claimed to be more effective than the original SUV-M84. The system had new stabilization systems for the sight and the main gun, a new meteorological sensor, a second-generation image intensifier for night operations, and a new laser rangefinder accurate up to 10 km with a probable error of +/- 7.5 m. The rest of the tank was left basically unchanged. This variant received the designation M-84A4 Snajper (Eng. Sniper). As of 2021, the Croatian Army still operates around 80 tanks of this type.
A Croatian upgrade to the M-84A4 that incorporates many modern improvements is the mid-2000’s M-84D. The tank is equipped with explosive reactive armor of Israeli origin, along with the Omega-84D FCS featuring a thermal imager, laser warning receivers, navigation and battle management systems for improved situational awareness. An air-conditioning device is installed to improve the crew’s comfort. The commander’s independent weapon station with a 50. caliber Browning M2 machine gun is also added. This rectifies the safety problem of using the old non-remotely fired heavy machine gun in a combat environment. The turret traverse system is now electric, which operates faster and more precisely than the old hydraulic system. A bustle rack that doubles as RPG slat armor protection is located on the back of the turret, as well as laser warning receivers. The engine remained the 1,000 hp V-46TK, but a new automatic transmission was installed. A more powerful engine (probably a German MTU) could be ordered. The M-84D has a modular construction that provides the potential buyer a degree of freedom in choosing the tank’s subsystems and equipment. This upgrade package was intended for Kuwait and Croatia’s Army’s, but neither of them decided to upgrade their tanks to M-84D standards yet. The tank remained at the prototype stage.
In July 2004, on the 55th anniversary of the Serbian company YugoImport SDPR, the M-84AB1 was revealed. This was a modernized M-84AB model primarily intended for export. The cost of modernization was around 1 million dollars per vehicle (1,374,000$ in 2020 values). The armor was improved by the addition of the Kontakt 5 ERA in a layout similar to the Russian T-90 MBT. Protection was further enhanced with the Shtora-1 soft-kill passive protection system. This Soviet system dating back to the early 1980s is an electro-optical jammer that uses two InfraRed (IR) dazzlers to disrupt semiautomatic command to line-of-sight (SACLOS) anti-tank guided missiles. It is also equipped with laser warning receivers that detect and inform the crew of incoming laser beams from rangefinders and target designators. This system can automatically turn the turret towards the threat and deploy an aerosol smokescreen to conceal the tank. The M-84AB1 received an electro-magnetic mine protection system, which moves the tank’s magnetic field upfront to trigger this type of mines.
The firepower was also improved. A new Fire Control System was installed, coupled with the Thales Catherine-QW gunner’s sight. This thermal imager had a target detection range of 3.5 to 8.6 km, depending on the selected level of magnification. The tank also had an optional device called TOMS that could be elevated to provide observation and measurement behind cover without exposing the tank. Improved main gun stabilizer, meteorological sensor, and crew periscopes were also installed. The newer 2A46M main gun enabled the tank to fire modern APFSDS projectiles with around 550 mm of penetration at 2.2 km, a tandem-charge HEAT projectile with around 600 mm of penetration, and a Refleks ATGM that has a range of 5 km and penetration from 700 to 900 mm. The commander could now fully take control of the main gun and remotely operate the heavy machine gun. The remote machine gun was optional and was not present on all examples. Crew comfort was improved with an air-conditioning device, and situational awareness became much better with the new navigation and battle management systems.
Two different engine options were offered with M-84AB1. The V-46TK with 1,000 hp or V-46TK1 with 1200 hp. The engines were equipped with a safety system that prevented starting with improper procedures. This system also switched the engine off if the oil pressure dropped below 2 bar. A new high-pressure fuel pump gave 16% more power with no increase in fuel consumption. The tank had a new type of tracks with extended service life from 3,000 to 8,000 km.
In 2009, the M-84AB1 was renamed M-84AS. Kuwait tested this modification but the decision to upgrade their M-84 fleet to this standard was not made. This variant can arguably be described as a commercial failure. The Serbian Army operates around 10 examples of the M-84AS.
The most recent Serbian M-84 modification is known as the M-84AS1. Not much is officially revealed about the tank, but some assumptions can be made. The tank’s base armor is probably augmented by a new domestic M19 ERA, which is claimed to be effective against tandem-charge HEAT and 3BM42 Mango APFSDS projectiles. Laser warning receivers are also present on the turret. The Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) covers a large portion of the fighting compartment sides and slat armor protects the engine and transmission compartment from Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks.
The M-84AS1 received a Belorussian PKP-MRO commander’s independent thermal viewer with a detection range of 7 km and recognition range of 4 km for tank sized targets, along with a remotely operated 12.7 mm machine gun weapon station with its own fire control system and thermal imager. The commander has access to all-around low light cameras for observing the tank’s surroundings, mounted on a new type of meteorological sensor, as well as a battle management system. An improved version of the gunner’s sight called DNNS-2 TI is equipped with a thermal imager but it is not clear if this type of sight is installed on the new tank since it looks almost the same as the old DNNS-2 from the outside. The driver is equipped with a rearview camera, digitized control panel, and GPS or GLONASS navigation system. M-84AS1 is planned to have a second stage of modernization called M-84AS2. What systems will be upgraded in the second stage or how many tanks will be upgraded to the M-84AS1/AS2 standard is not revealed yet.
In the mid-1990s, the M-84AI Armored Recovery Vehicle was developed on the chassis of the M-84A with the help of Polish engineers and strongly resembles their WZT-3. It has vehicle recovery and towing equipment, along with hydraulic dozer blades for landscaping and barrier removal. A crane was mounted for lifting heavy objects or assisting in vehicle repair. For vehicle recovery, the main winch with a pulling force of 300 kN (30 tonnes) and a 200-meter cable was used. It has a mechanical drive with a two-speed transfer case. An additional smaller hydraulic winch with 20 kN of force (2 tonnes) and 400-meter cable was used for less demanding tasks. The TD-50 hydraulic telescoping crane with a capacity of 15 tonnes had a 360-degree range of motion and a maximum lifting height of 8.6 m. The vehicle was also equipped with a welding apparatus and toolsets for lighter repairs. The transport platform on the back had a 3,500 kg capacity. The vehicle was powered by the 1,000 hp V-46TK and weighed 42 tonnes. The vehicle was armed with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun with 300 rounds mounted in front of the commander’s hatch. Only five examples were built.
Use in the Yugoslav Wars
The M-84s were operated by all sides during the chaotic and bloody Yugoslav Civil War that lasted from 1991 to 1995. This topic is very complex, and accurate information is not available for many units that used these tanks. Given the fact that T-55s and T-34s still made the majority of unit strengths, M-84s were, in comparison, less common. Right before the start of the war, Yugoslav National Army (JNA) units equipped with M-84s were:
1st Armored Brigade – Vrhnika / Slovenia
4th Armored Brigade – Jastrebarsko / Croatia
211th Armored Brigade – Nis / Serbia
252nd Armored Brigade – Kraljevo/ Serbia
329th – Banja Luka – Bosnia and Herzegovina
51st Motorized Brigade – Pancevo/ Serbia
243rd Armored Brigade – Skopje/ Macedonia (today called North Macedonia)
Before the start of the civil war, each armored brigade was equipped with 40 tanks. The actual number once the conflict began and reinforcements were harder to come by is uncertain.
As the war progressed and former republics started to gain their independence, many of the JNA’s military vehicles were captured and used to equip newly formed units of the Slovenian Army (SV), Army of Serbian Krajina (SVK), Croatian Army (HV), Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), and Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).
Early in the war, JNA’s armored units suffered heavy losses against the HV. During the battle for the city of Vukovar, the inexperienced supporting infantry often refused to advance forward without tanks leading the way. This lack of proper infantry support made the tanks easy targets for the Croatian defenders armed with handheld rocket launchers and anti-tank mines.
One example was the destruction of 9 JNA armored vehicles on the infamous Trpinjska Road (Trpinjska cesta). The Croatian National Guard (ZNG), the precursor to the Croatian Army, and members of the police, while keeping the JNA infantry at bay with mortar and sniper fire, destroyed four M-84s, one T-55, three BVP M-80 armored personnel carriers, and a TZI recovery vehicle.
Even though the terrain of that part of Croatia was ideal for the use of armored units, being open and flat, instead of exploiting weak points or quickly maneuvering to a different position on the frontline, tanks were often used as self-propelled guns or immobile hardpoints, completely ignoring the JNA’s doctrine. Tank-on-tank engagements were very rare. On one occasion, however, the HV attempted a breakthrough with several captured T-55s and probably one M-84 tank. They frontally attacked dug-in JNA M-84s and suffered losses. Three T-55s were destroyed and two were damaged.
As the M-84 had a three-man crew, the lack of a fourth crew member put an increased strain on them during maintenance due to an insufficient increase in auxiliary staff at the unit level. Enemy action was not always the cause of tank losses, as many accidents occurred due to inadequate or skipped maintenance. For example, the lack of regular cleaning of the cannon barrel could result in a deformation upon firing. The projectile would take a couple of milliseconds longer to exit and the pressure exerted for a longer duration of time deformed the barrel enough to become stuck between the cannon trunnions during the recoil cycle. In another instance, the shell exploded in the cannon breech and launched the barrel almost 30 meters in front of the tank, while the breech ended up hitting the back of the turret. Luckily, the crew survived with only minor injuries. Another flaw of the M-84 was that the commander needed to be exposed in order to operate the anti-aircraft machine gun, as it could not be fired remotely. This is the case with almost all tanks built on the T-72 platform and the machine gun was commonly left unused or removed to prevent snagging on foliage and debris. In the Bosnian hills or urban fighting, due to the low turret roof, a lack of gun elevation and depression became noticeably problematic.
The autoloading system proved reliable, but almost all hits to the lower sides of the tank ignited the ammunition storage with deadly consequences. The frontal armor of the M-84 was never penetrated during the war, but one vehicle was put out of service after it was hit with what was most likely an unexploded High-Explosive or illumination shell fired from either 122mm howitzer or 130 mm field cannon. The projectile struck the glacis plate and warped the hull longitudinally, making it structurally unsound, so it was written off. Around 40 M-84s were destroyed during the war, but some were later repaired.
The M-84s were last used against the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) in the Kosovo province during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Although the main tank used against the KLA insurgents was the T-55, the M-84s were kept in reserve for the expected land invasion. The 252nd Armored Brigade managed to keep their tanks hidden from NATO aviation and only a few tanks were lost. Many decoys were built and placed on fake fighting positions for the NATO aircraft to “destroy”.
The official NATO reports numbered 110 tanks, 200 APCs, and 545 artillery pieces destroyed. In reality, the Yugoslav Army lost nine M-84s during the 78 days of constant bombing and KLA attacks.
Since the land invasion never came and the peace treaty was signed, the Yugoslav 3rd Army, along with the 252nd Armored Brigade, nicknamed the “Invisible” Armored Brigade, withdrew from Kosovo province in front of the UN and NATO eyes almost unscathed.
Serbia operates 199 M-84 and M-84A’s, along with a few M-84AS and AS1/2 tanks included in this number.
Kuwait still uses 149 of its M-84AB/ABK tanks.
Croatia has 72 tanks of the M-84A4 standard, two M-95 Degman prototypes and one M-84D.
Slovenia operates 54 M-84/M-84A’s captured from the JNA.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has 16 M-84/M-84A’s in service.
While the initial M-84 version was a slightly improved T-72 licensed copy, it spurned the Yugoslav arms industry into producing a competitive Main Battle Tank that saw export success and is still in use to this day. However, due to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the production facilities were split up between the successor states, so none of them was able to keep producing the tank.
Total length 9.53 m, Hull length 6.96 m, Width 3.46 m Height 2.19 m
Total weight, battle-ready
3 (driver, gunner, and commander)
780 hp V-46-6 (M-84), 1000 hp V-46TK (M84A/AB)
60 km/h (M-84), 65 km/h (M84A/AB)
Torsion bar, shock absorbers
Manual, 7 forward, 1 reverse gear
700 km on-road, 460 km off-road
125 mm 2A46 with 42 rounds
12.7 mm NSVT with 300 rounds
7.62 mm PKT with 2000 rounds
Composite UFP, steel turret (M-84)
Composite UFP+16 mm plate, 130 mm quartz insert in the turret (M-84A/AB)
LFP 80 mm+20 mm dozer blade
Hull sides 80-70 mm, back 40 mm, floor and engine deck 20 mm
SAVREMENI TENKOVI U SVETU- Iztok Kocevar, Beograd 1988.
PRAVILO TENK M -84 i T-72 PRVI DEO VOJNOIZDAVACKI I NOVINSKI CENTAR Beograd, 1988.
ILUSTROVANI PRIRUCNIK UZ PRAVILO GADJANJA NAORUZANJEM OMJ
VINC, Beograd 1991.
mr Dragan Petkovic, dipl. inz.
UTICAJ SISTEMA ZA UPRAVLJANJE VATROM NA VEROVATNOCU POGADJANJA TRODIMENZIONALNIH CILJEVA TENKOVSKIM TOPOM 125 mm NA TENKU M84
Spasibuhov, Bahmetov, Mihaylov
Yugoslavskiy tank M-84
Tankomaster -1999- nr. 2
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