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History teaches us that all militaries, even the strongest and the most modern ones, almost as a rule, are preparing for ‘the previous war’. Experiences from the current war in Ukraine are showing that military conflict on European soil between peer competitors is fought on completely different principles than those predicted and prepared for in more than half of a century.

Dr Nenad Miloradović, Serbia’s Assistant Minister of Defence for Materiel Resources
Credit: Serbian MoD

As a case in point, we don’t see large-scale ‘combined arms’ manoeuvre thrusts (not even on a battalion level), even though the terrain is favourable, a large volume of appropriate equipment is available (armoured fighting vehicles, combat helicopters, self-propelled artillery, breaching equipment, etc.) and multi-decade doctrinal and training preparations have been performed for such operations on both sides. Also we don’t see the strategic impact of ‘airpower’ deciding the outcome of the war, not even deciding the outcome of current operations. We do see the relevance of ‘revamped’ artillery, which is increasingly capable of delivering long range precision strikes with smart ammunition, which is operating in the unprecedented level of ‘battlefield transparency’. Alongside this, we see the importance of dismounted infantry with portable anti-tank/air defence weapons, as well as the effectiveness of EW and AD systems.

In general, we can state that defensive weapons and tactics are, in this war, far superior to the offensive ones, hence we are witnessing the WWI style ‘meat grinder’ static operations lasting for eighteen months.

Drones are the prevailing phenomena of this war, even commercial ones that are more or less adapted for military purposes, for their capability to influence the battlefield dynamics swiftly and in a very cost-effective manner. They have also shown themselves capable of overcoming the opponent’s advantage with much more expensive weapons, which are much more difficult to produce and deliver to the warfighters in relevant timescales. With their usage en masse, they have provided the aforementioned battlefield transparency (much greater situational awareness at the lowest tactical level). Used as loitering munitions they have greatly limited freedom of ‘armoured manoeuvre’.

They have also managed to stress the opponent’s territorial air defence and inflict damage on their infrastructure, on par with much more expensive cruse and ballistic missiles or air-launched guided weapons. Naval unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) have managed to produce similar blockading effects on an opponent’s shipping routes and greatly limit freedom of manoeuvre of far superior naval forces. One can only imagine what impact on the future battlefield will be dealt by drone swarms and combined human-machine teamed armies which are currently being planned and/or developed in most modern militaries. Therefore, both soft- and hard-kill countermeasures and effectors against this threat have become mandatory and urgently needed.

The time for comprehensive changes in the doctrine and strategy of modern warfare has come, as well as for changes in the structure and organisation of both combat units and the administrative bureaucratic portion of national defence systems dealing with procurement and development. The latter should follow the rapid pace of innovation seen in the commercial industry sector.

Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia is actively following current global trends in development of armament and defence equipment as well as drawing lessons from contemporary armed conflicts around the world, and plans the development of the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF). Accordingly, the Serbian military-industrial complex has 180 years of experience in industrial armament production and great technological potential, and supplies SAF and partners all over the world. It is directed to transform and increase its capabilities in identified key future technologies needed for equipping modern armed forces, especially in the fields of unmanned platforms, long-range artillery, new generation and smart ammunition, air defence systems, armoured vehicles and soldier technologies.

Changes in Military Affairs as Result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)

The new possibilities for military purposes created by the 4IR has the potential and tendency to change the philosophy of combat operations, from the existing doctrines of each service branch of the armed forces, to the strategy and the usage of armed formations in war. Unmanned combat platforms are greatly increasing the operational capabilities of modern armed forces, and nowadays, they are one of the main force multipliers, providing collaborative human-machine capabilities to combined arms operations. They are capable of being integrated into units equipped with manned combat platforms and supported by command and control (C2) and battle management systems (BMSs) of the new generation based on artificial intelligence.

Such a combination enables the user to combine the sensor potential, reaction speed and lethality of robotic systems with the cognitive capabilities of soldiers in manned platforms. Under this model, the level of force protection is significantly improved, as is situational awareness, and the quality and speed of decision-making by commanders. Such accelerated combat dynamics will radically change and reshape combat philosophies in the near future. Therefore, it is necessary to take a holistic approach and develop robotic platforms and in parallel with the related doctrines of their usage, and most importantly, the structure of the forces that use them. A lot of experimentation will be required before we reach the optimal solution.

Future Serbian Armed Forces Capability Development

The Serbian Armed Forces have been equipped with various ground and airborne unmanned platforms for many years. They were developed and procured at the request of individual branches of the armed forces. They have been developed domestically, produced in cooperation with foreign partners, or acquired as finished products from the foreign suppliers. To successfully reap the benefits of the 4IR in the armed forces, we need a comprehensive approach to equip all branches of the Serbian Armed Forces with mass quantities of unmanned platforms.

Special attention should be paid to the transition from remotely operated to fully robotic platforms. In this way, the emphasis will be on development and procurement of new unmanned platforms with greater autonomy based on artificial intelligence, but also through the spiral development of systems that have already been introduced into service without the aforementioned functions, in order to expand their autonomous capabilities. We emphasise that fielding and operating alongside robotic combat platforms is significantly more complex than usage of purely reconnaissance robotic platforms, but combat platforms contribute much more to overall operational capability, due to their ability to perform a wider range of tasks.

The ‘Osica’ loitering munition.
Credit: Serbian MoD


Today, the pace of changes makes a clear distinction between ‘small’ and ‘big’ players, that is, between those who are only able to use the results of 4IR technological breakthroughs, and those who develop these breakthroughs. We predict that even small (in terms of territory, population, economic strength, etc.) countries that can manage to keep pace with the development, production of unmanned and fully autonomous combat platforms, and integrate them into their combat units, will be in a position to elevate the capability and competence of its armed forces to ensure necessary levels of deterrence to ensure security and independence. Only time will tell if this prediction holds water.

Today, Serbia’s military and industry has significantly increased its capabilities in the aforementioned areas, and has reached further than many of the larger and more developed European countries, especially in terms of the development/procurement and operational use of both aerial and ground unmanned platforms. Serbia’s primary effort in the near future will be focus on increasing the quantity, level of autonomy and firepower of new-generation unmanned platforms, along with their wider integration into the lowest tactical level combat units, together with new or modernised manned combat platforms, supported by new generation, AI-enabled battle management systems.

The Ministry of Defence of Serbia intends to further expand the country’s technological base primarily by including more scientific research organisations, technical institutes, and private companies (both Serbian and those from friendly countries) with capabilities in the 4IR sphere, as well as supporting appropriate technologies needed for the development and production of robotic and manned combat platforms.

In the next ten-year period, a huge gap in capabilities will arise between the armed forces that will implement the results of this ‘robotic revolution’, and those that fail to do so. Consequently, the Republic of Serbia, as a militarily neutral country, must not lag behind.

Dr Nenad Miloradović