Croatian Air Force – Transport
For its local needs, the Croatian Air Force operates two An-32Bs and a combination of Mi-8 and Mi-171 Sh helicopters. The transport element is the largest within the HRZ (Croatian AF), and is responsible for a wide variety of duties within the armed forces, including support and logistics missions that shuttle personnel between bases within Croatia.
The two An-32s were obtained in 1995 from Ukraine, and were originally destined for India. One of the aircraft was originally outfitted with stretchers for medical duties. After their long overhaul and a minor update in Ukraine (adding chaff and flare launchers), both aircraft returned to Zagreb wearing a new Dark Compass Ghost Gray color scheme. Both An-32s now share the same internal configuration.
The two An-32s have also seen long-range action, when they supplied the Croatian contingent of soldiers in Afghanistan. This round trip lasted for five days, but has not been repeated since.
The HRZ operates two transport helicopter squadrons. One is based at Zagreb-Lučko, formerly 92. ZB, this facility now coming under the command of the 91. ZB at Zagreb-Pleso. The Zagreb unit operates all 10 multi-purpose Mi-171 Sh helicopters, as well as some Mi-8s for firefighting duties. Since 1999 the HRZ has used the locally-designed Flory 2600 bucket with a 2,200-liter capacity. The second unit is based at Split-Divulje and comprises the remaining Mi-8s. That at Divulje has twice been recognized as the best rescue unit within Croatia. Located on the coast, with a mountain range and numerous islands in close proximity, this unit is never short of work, including search and rescue, emergency medical services, firefighting, and supporting civilian operations on remote mountains and islands. Another role is the support of the Croatian Navy, which is headquartered at Split.
Between 2004 and 2007 the remaining 15 Mi-8s received an overhaul and upgrade at ZTZ in Velika Gorica, adjacent to Pleso air base. The work was completed with Ukrainian help, with modernization of communication and navigation equipment as well as installation of NATO-compatible IFF. In 2008 at least two Mi-8s received IFR equipment.
The Mi-171 Sh fleet arrived between December 2007 and mid-2008 as part of a debt clearance deal between Russia and Croatia. The Mi-171 Sh helicopters are fitted with searchlights, can have up to four guns mounted at the windows, have stub wings for long-range fuel tanks or weaponry, and boast Kevlar protection for the crews.
On July 1,2009, the HRZ made its first foreign deployment as a NATO member when two Mi-171 Sh helicopters and a 20-man contingent, including three crews, deployed to Kosovo. Initial crew rotations occurred after three-and-a-half months, but have been recently increased to six months.
As well as the mission in Kosovo, the HRZ also trains Afghan AF crews on Mi-17s. Ten experienced Croatian Mi-8 helicopter instructor pilots and technicians continue to train the Afghan crews in situ, alongside other new NATO members. They also rotate every six months. Basic training for these 27 Afghan crews took place in the UK between 2008 and 2010, using British-operated Mi-17s under Project Curium.