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Yugoslav People's Army
Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija
Југословенска народна армија

Jugoslovanska Ljudska Armada

JNA sign logo.gif

Founded 1945
Disbanded 1992
Service branches Yugoslav Ground Forces (KoV)
Yugoslav Navy (JRM)
Yugoslav Air Force (RV i PVO)
Territorial Defense (TO)
Civil Protection (ONO I DSZ)
Headquarters Belgrade
Commander-in-Chief President of SFR Yugoslavia (1945–1980)
Presidency of SFR Yugoslavia (1980–1992)
Minister Federal Secretary of People's Defence
Commander Marshal of Yugoslavia (1945–1980)
General of the Army or Admiral of the Fleet (1980–1992)
Military age 15–65
Conscription 18
Available for
military service
circa 6,200,000, age 15–65 (588,000)
Active personnel 620,000
Reserve personnel >3,200,000
Related articles
History History of the JNA
Ranks Ranks and insignia of the JNA

The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA, YPA) (Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian: Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija or Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija – JNA,[1] Cyrillic script: Југославенска народна армија or Југословенска народна армија – JHA[2]; Slovene: Jugoslovanska ljudska armada – JLA) was the military of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.



Marshal Josip Broz Tito during military maneuvers "Sloboda 71" (Freedom 71).

The origins of the JNA can be found in the Yugoslav Partisan units of World War II. As part of the antifascist People's Liberation War of Yugoslavia, the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ), a predecessor of the JNA, was formed in the town of Rudo in Bosnia and Herzegovina on December 22, 1941. After the liberation of the country from the Axis Powers, that date was officially celebrated as the Day of the Army in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia).

In March 1945, the NOVJ was renamed the Yugoslav Army (Jugoslovenska Armija) and finally on its 10th anniversary on December 22, 1951, received the adjective "People's" (Narodna).[3]


Once considered the third strongest army in Europe and fourth in the world (only the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union were stronger),[citation needed] the JNA consisted of the ground forces, air force and navy. It was organized into four military regions which were further divided into districts that were responsible for administrative tasks such as draft registration, mobilization, and construction and maintenance of military facilities. The regions were: Belgrade (responsible for eastern Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina), Zagreb (Slovenia and northern Croatia), Skopje (Republic of Macedonia, southern Serbia and Montenegro) and Split Naval Region. Of the JNA's 180,000 soldiers, more than 90,000 were conscripts.

In 1990, the army had nearly completed a major overhaul of its basic force structure. It eliminated its old divisional infantry organization and established the brigade as the largest operational unit. The army converted ten of twelve infantry divisions into twenty-nine tank, mechanized and mountain infantry brigades with integral artillery, air defense and anti-tank regiments. One airborne brigade was organized before 1990. The shift to brigade-level organization provided greater operational flexibility, maneuverability, tactical initiative and reduced the possibility that large army units would be destroyed in set piece engagements with an aggressor. The change created many senior field command positions that would develop relatively young and talented officers. The brigade structure had advantages at a time of declining manpower.

Industry and Infrastructure

The arms industry was dominant in the Yugoslavian economy. With annual exports of $3 billion, it was twice as large as the second largest industry, tourism. It had modern infrastructure with underground air bases and control centres in several mountains. The biggest and best known installation was the Željava Air Base, also known as the Bihać Underground Integrated Radar Control and Surveillance Centre and Air Base, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Several companies in Yugoslavia produced airplanes and specifically combat aircraft, most notably SOKO of Mostar, with the Soko J-22 Orao being its best known product. Another important manufacturer was Utva in Serbia. The Yugoslav military-industrial complex produced tanks (most notably, the M-84), armored vehicles (BOV APC, BVP M-80), various artillery pieces (mortars, multiple rocket launchers, howitzers), anti-aircraft weapons, as well as various types of infantry weapons and other equipment.

Ground forces

T-55 tanks were the main tanks of the JNA.

The ground forces led in number of personnel. In 1991 there were about 165,000 active-duty soldiers (including 90,000 conscripts), and over a million trained reservists could be mobilized in wartime. Each of the Yugoslav constituent republics had its own Territorial Defence Forces which in wartime would be subordinate to Supreme Command as an integral part of the defence system. The Territorial Defence (Reserve Force) was made up of former conscripts; they were occasionally called up for war exercises.

The ground forces were organised into infantry, armour, artillery, and air defence, as well as signal, engineering and chemical defence corps.

Air Force

SOKO G-2 Galeb, the first Yugoslav-made jet aircraft.
Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (Yugoslav Air Force) Pilots on pre-flight planning.
The MiG-21s were the main fighters in Yugoslav Air Force.

The Yugoslav Air Force had about 32,000 personnel including 4,000 conscripts, and operated over 1,000 aircraft and 200 helicopters. In 1991, it was the second largest air force in Europe. It was responsible for transport, reconnaissance, and rotary-wing aircraft as well as the national air defense system. The primary air force missions were to contest enemy efforts to establish air supremacy over Yugoslavia and to support the defensive operations of the ground forces and navy. Most aircraft were produced in Yugoslavia. Missiles were produced domestically or supplied by the Soviet Union.

The Yugoslav Air Force had twelve squadrons of domestically produced ground attack fighters. The ground attack squadrons provided close air support to ground force operations. They were equipped with 165 new Soko J-22 Orao, Super Galeb and J-21 Jastreb, and older Soko J-20 Kraguj fighters. Many ground attack fighters were armed with AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles purchased from the United States. Others were armed with Soviet Kh-23 and Kh-28 missiles. The air force also had about ninety armed Mi-8 helicopter gunships to provide added mobility and fire support for small ground units. A large number of reconnaissance aircraft were available to support ground forces operations. Four squadrons of seventy Galeb, Jastreb, and Orao-1 fighters were configured for reconnaissance missions.

The Yugoslav Air Force had nine squadrons of 130 Soviet-made MiG-21 interceptors for air defence. First produced in the late 1950s, the MiG-21 design was largely obsolete in 1990 and represented a potential weakness in Yugoslavia's air defense. However, the bulk of the MiG-21 fleet consisted mainly of the bis variant, the latest production MiG-21 model, and was armed with Soviet Vympel K-13 (NATO reporting name: AA-2 "Atoll"), air-to-air missiles and some more modern Molniya R-60 (NATO reporting name: AA-8 "Aphid") missiles as well as twin 23 mm cannons. By 1989, Yugoslavia started developing a new domestic multirole fighter called Novi Avion, which was supposed to replace the MiG-21 and J-21 Jastreb fleets entirely. The design of the new aircraft was influenced by both Mirage 2000 and Dassault Rafale fighter types and it was to enter service by early 2000s. As an interim solution, a modernization package was planned for the MiG-21 and it is speculated that India's MiG-21 Bison upgrade was actually intended for Yugoslav aircraft.

The MiG-29s were the newest aircraft in the Yugoslav Air Force.

In 1987, Yugoslavia acquired 16 MiG-29 interceptors.

Although not officially known at the time, Yugoslavia was rumored to have been interested in the purchase of certain numbers of Su-25 attack-aircraft and Mi-24 gunships. Instead of developing its own fighter plane, the Novi Avion, the country made a request to licence-build the F-20, but due to unstable relations with the US, the request was rejected. By the late 1980s, the licenced production of Eurocopter Super Puma was also envisaged, but due to the dissolution of the country, it was never realized.

The Yugoslav Air Force conducted a large pilot training program with almost 200 G-2's, G-4's, and UTVA-75 aircraft. The propeller-driven UTVA trainers had under-wing pylons capable of carrying light weapon loads. A new UTVA Lasta trainer was under development in 1990. After practicing instrument and night flying, gunnery, bombing, rocket firing, and aerial maneuvers in the Lasta, student pilots progressed to the Super Galeb. Twenty Partisan helicopters were used for pilot training.

One of the most impressive structures operated by the JNA Air Force was the underground Željava Air Base near the town of Bihac in Bosnia. The structure was made to withstand a nuclear explosion and was destroyed by the JNA in 1992 to prevent its capture. Željava was home to the 117th Fighter Aviation Regiment, which was composed of the 124th and 125th Fighter Squadrons, equipped with MiG-21Bis fighters, and the 352nd Reconnaissance Squadron, equipped with MiG-21R aircraft.

The Air and Air Defence Forces were headquartered at Zemun and had fighter and bomber aircraft, helicopters, and air defence artillery units at air bases throughout the former Yugoslavia: Batajnica Air Base (Belgrade), Niš Constantine the Great Airport, Slatina Air Base (Priština), Golubovci Airbase (Titograd), Skopski Petrovec, Sarajevo, Mostar, Željava Air Base (Bihać), Pleso (Zagreb), Split Airport, Pula, Zemunik (Zadar), Cerklje ob Krki and many other smaller air bases.


Large Patrol Vessel VPBR-34 "Pula".
JRM submarine P-832 "Drava".
Yugoslav Kamov Ka-25 anti-submarine helicopter.

Minor surface combatants operated by the Yugoslav Navy included nearly eighty frigates, corvettes, submarines, minesweepers, and missile, torpedo, and patrol boats in the Adriatic Fleet. The entire coast of Yugoslavia was part of the naval region headquartered at Split (now part of Croatia).

The Partisans had operated many small boats in raids harassing Italian convoys in the Adriatic Sea during World War II. After the war, the navy operated numerous German and Italian submarines, destroyers, minesweepers, and tank-landing craft captured during the war or received as war reparations. The United States provided eight torpedo boats in the late 1940s, but most of those units were soon obsolete. The navy was upgraded in the 1960s when it acquired ten Osa-I class missile boats and four Shershen class torpedo boats from the Soviet Union. The Soviets granted a license to build eleven additional Shershen units in Yugoslav shipyards developed for this purpose.

In 1980 and 1982, the Yugoslav navy took delivery of two Soviet Koni class frigates. In 1988 it completed two additional units under license. The Koni frigates were armed with four Soviet P-15 Termit surface-to-surface missile launchers, twin 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name: SA-8 "Gecko") surface-to-air missiles, and anti-submarine rocket launchers.

The Yugoslav navy developed its own submarine-building capability during the 1960s. In 1990, the main combat units of the submarine service were three Heroj class submarines armed with 533 mm torpedoes. Two smaller Sava class submarines entered service in the late 1970s. Two Sutjeska-class submarines had been relegated mainly to training missions by 1990. At that time the navy had apparently shifted to construction of versatile midget submarines. Four Una-class midgets and four Mala-class swimmer delivery vehicles were in service in the late 1980s. They were built for use by underwater demolition teams and special forces. The Una-class boats carried five crewmen, eight combat swimmers, four Mala vehicles, and limpet mines. The Mala vehicles carried two swimmers and 250 kilograms of mines.

The Yugoslav navy operated ten Osa class missile boats and six Končar class missile boats. The Osa I boats were armed with four P-15 Termit surface-to-surface missile launchers. In 1990, ten domestic Kobra missile boats were scheduled to begin replacing the Osa I class. The Kobra class was to be armed with eight Swedish RBS-15 anti-ship missiles, and fifteen of them were ordered in late 1989. Armed with two P-15 Termit launchers, the Končar class boats were modeled after the Spica class torpedo boats, and there were plans to upgrade them with Swedish-built missiles. Two Kobra missile boats were built by Croatia as the Kralj class fast attack craft and both are still in service. The navy's fifteen Topčider-class torpedo boats included four former Soviet Shershen-class and eleven Yugoslav built units.

The Yugoslav navy's mine warfare and countermeasures capabilities were considered adequate in 1990. It operated four Vukov Klanac-class coastal minesweepers built on a French design, four British Ham class minesweepers, and six 117-class inshore minesweepers built in domestic shipyards. Larger numbers of older and less capable minesweepers were mainly used in riverine operations. Other older units were used as dedicated minelayers. The navy used amphibious landing craft in support of army operations in the area of the Danube, Sava, and Drava rivers. They included both tank and assault landing craft. In 1990, there were four 501-class, ten 211-class, and twenty-five 601-class landing craft in service. Most of them were also capable of laying mines in rivers and coastal areas.

The Yugoslav Navy had 10,000 sailors (including 4,400 conscripts and 900 marines). This was essentially a coastal defense force with the mission of preventing enemy amphibious landings along the country's rugged 4,000-kilometer shoreline and coastal islands, and contesting an enemy blockade or control of the strategic Strait of Otranto. The entire coast of Yugoslavia was part of the naval region headquartered at Split. The naval region was divided into three smaller naval districts and a riverine flotilla with major naval bases located at Split, Sibenik, Pula, Ploce and Kotor on the Adriatic Sea, and Novi Sad on the River Danube. The strategic islands of Vis and Lastovo were heavily fortified and unauthorised entry was prohibited. The fleet was organized into missile, torpedo, and patrol boat brigades, a submarine division, and minesweeper flotillas. The naval order of battle included four frigates, three corvettes, five patrol submarines, fifty-eight missile, torpedo, and patrol boats, and twenty-eight minesweepers. One antisubmarine warfare helicopter squadron was based at Split on the Adriatic coast. It employed Soviet Ka-25, Ka-28, and Mi-8 helicopters, and domestic Partisan helicopters. Some air force fighter and reconnaissance squadrons supported naval operations.


The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) had a unique operational military doctrine for a conventional military force. Yugoslavia based its defence doctrine upon the total war concept of "Total National Defence" which drew upon Yugoslavia's successful partisan history during the Yugoslav People's Liberation War during the Second World War. The "Total National Defence" concept gave the JNA the role of defending borders against aggressors with the intention of delaying an invader long enough for Territorial Defence Forces to enter the field and start wearing the invader down with partisan tactics. The entire Yugoslav population was to be engaged in armed resistance, armaments production, and civil defence under this concept. It was believed by the Yugoslav planners to be the best method by which a smaller nation could properly defend itself against a much stronger invader.


Column of JNA T-55 tanks in Slovenia.
JNA tanks in Slovenia, 1991.

During the early stages of the Yugoslav wars, and in general during the breakup of Yugoslavia, there was a great sense of confusion and concern as to the role that would be played by the Yugoslav People's Army.

Due to the fact that roughly 60% of the JNA's upper leadership was ethnically Serbian, when war broke out in Croatia in 1991 (Croatian War of Independence), the Croatians increasingly treated the JNA as a hostile force. During the Battle of Vukovar, the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the JNA's soldiers with no real stake or interest in the war in Croatia led to instances of desertion and confusion in the area. This was primarily caused by a lack of understanding as to where they stood with both the Croatian defence forces and the Serbian paramilitary units who were promoting a purely Serbian agenda in Eastern Slavonia.

The morale in parts of the JNA became very low as the war intensified. On September 29, 1991, the navy admiral Vladimir Barović committed suicide while stationed at the Vis naval base, leaving a suicide letter which stated that he could not reconcile his feeling of honor as a Montenegrin with the aggression of the JNA against Croatia.[citation needed] At the beginning of the war in Croatia, the JNA targeted civilians[4], killing three children near the Grabovac Campground at Plitvice Lakes.

By the end of 1991, when both Slovenia and Croatia had practically seceded, the JNA was crippled as a joint army of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and was deprived of its basic fundamentals as a fighting force.

Further complications arose when the Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina declared their independence and an already unpopular war caused conscription levels in Serbia to drop to only 13% of what was required to maintain a functioning army. Many in Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina felt that the war was none of their concern and that their people should not have anything to do with the conflicts developing in the region. By mid-1992, war spread to Bosnia.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was replaced by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, JNA was subsequently dissolved and replaced by the Yugoslav Military (Vojska Jugoslavia) or VJ.

In May 1992, the United Nations Security Council confirmed independence of the new republics and accepted them into the UN. In accordance, the Yugoslav Army was asked to withdraw from Bosnia (as it was now deemed a hostile armed intervention in another sovereign state) or face sanctions. On May 12, 1992, JNA units were split between the Army of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the Army of Republika Srpska (mostly in accordance with geographical location or place of origin), along with the majority of officer staff. In reality, this meant that many units changed nothing except their titles and insignia.

After the formation of militaries in the new republics and the JNA was officially dissolved, the Army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was reformed with new democratic intentions overshadowing the old socialistic fundamentals of the Yugoslav People's Army. Changes to the Yugoslav Military (Vojska Jugoslavia) were very slow and modernization did not begin until near the war's end. [5] The solidarity of the army cadres helped keep Slobodan Milošević in power, but when he was overthrown, the army did not intervene.

In the end, Serbia inherited most of Yugoslavia's military arsenal, though some of its infrastructure was destroyed or left behind in other Yugoslav republics. Croatians captured some of the arsenal in the Battle of the Barracks. What remained of the navy was left to Montenegro.

Exemplary Soldier

JNA Exemplary Soldier Plaque.

If a JNA recruit completed basic training with distinction, he earned the Exemplary Soldier plaque. This meant that the soldier had gone above and beyond the call of duty. The plaque's text was addressed to the soldier's parents and sent to them upon completion of training. It stated that the recruit had excellent understanding of basic military training, military doctrine and politics. The plaque also stated that the recruit had shown excellent commitment to brotherhood and unity and had shown honor in defending the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Peacekeeping operations

Operational experience

Modern militaries from territories of former Yugoslavia

See also


  1. ^ Two alternative name variants in Latin script. Latin script was used in Serbo-Croatian, and Slovene languages. The Yugoslav People's Army had two primary variants of its name: the Croatian variant and the Serbian/Macedonian variant. These differ only slightly, while the Slovene language term is significantly different. The Croatian variant of the term is "Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija", while the Serbian and Macedonian versions use "Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija". The variants differ in the use of the letters "a" or "o" in the first word: "Jugoslavenska/Jugoslovenska", the adjective "Yugoslav". The unified Serbo-Croatian language and Macedonian languages predominantly use Cyrillic script.
  2. ^ Two alternative name variants in Cyrillic script (Serbian Cyrillic variant). Used as an alternative to Latin script in Serbo-Croatian, as well as the Serbian and Macedonian languages. Serbian and Macedonian use Cyrillic script and the second variant of the name ("Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija"). The spelling is identical to the Latin transliteration.
  3. ^ p.202, Trifunovska
  4. ^ [1] Massacre at Grabovac, Plitvice Lakes, article from Glas Koncila
  5. ^ Bosnian Institute News: The JNA: a broken army


  • Trifunovska, Snezana, Yugoslavia Through Documents: From Its Creation to Its Dissolution, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994 ISBN 0792326709


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