Soviet Air Forces

The Soviet Air Force, also known under the abbreviation VVS, transliterated from Russian: ВВС, Военно-воздушные силы ("Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily"), was the official designation of one of the air forces of the Soviet Union. The other was the Soviet Air Defence Forces.

The VVS was founded as the "Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet," with the status of a Main Directorate, on May 24, 1918, succeeding the Imperial Russian Air Force. [An earlier Bolshevik aerial headquarters was apparently the All-Russia Collegium for Direction of the Air Forces of the Old Army (translation is uncertain), formed on December 20, 1917. It was initially led by chairman Constantine Akashev. via] It became the Directorate of the USSR Air Forces on March 28, 1924, and then the Directorate of the Workers-Peasants Red Army Air Forces on January 1, 1925. Gradually its influence on aircraft design became greater. From its earliest days, the force mimicked ground forces' organisation, being made up of Air armies, Aviation Divisions, and Aviation Regiments.

After the creation of the Soviet state many efforts were made in order to modernize and expand aircraft production. Domestic aircraft production increased significantly in the early years of the 1930s and towards the end of the decade the Soviet Air Force was able to introduce I-15 and I-16 fighters and SB-2, SB-2 BIS and DB-3 bombers.

One of the first major tests for the VVS came in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War, in which the latest aircraft designs were used against latest German aircraft designs. Early dogfight victories by the I-16 fighters were squandered because of their limited use. German Bf-109s delivered for the Spanish Nationalist cause later in the war secured air superiority. On November 19, 1939, VVS headquarters was again renamed as the Main Directorate of the Red Army Air Forces.

World War Two

On 1 January 1941 the Air Forces of the Red Army had 363,900 serving personnel, and accounted for 8.65% of all military force personnel of the Soviet Union. [cite book |last=Hardesty |first=Von |title=Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power 1941-1945 |origdate=1982 |year=1991 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution |location=Washington, D.C. |isbn=0874745101 |pages=55 |chapter=Where Was Our Air Force?]

However, much practical combat experience had been gained in participating in the Spanish Civil War, and against Japan in the Far-East, as well as in the Winter war against Finland in 1939. The VVS used its bombers to attack Finland in the Winter War, but the significant losses inflicted on them by the relatively small Finnish Air Force showed the shortcomings of these forces, in part due to the effect of the Great Purge in 1937-38 on the officer corps. The Soviet Air Force as well as the Soviet aircraft industry would learn from these combat experiences and design mistakes.

Shortly before the start of war with Germany a Soviet Volunteer Group was sent to China to train the pilots from the Republic of China Air Force for the continuing war with the Japanese.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet military was not yet at a level of readiness suitable for winning a war: Joseph Stalin had said in 1931 that Soviet industry was "50 to 100 years behind"cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=Why did Stalin rise to power? | date=2003-08-01 | publisher= | url = | work =Socialist Worker Online | pages = | accessdate = 2007-03-29 | language = ] the Western powers. By the end of the war, Soviet annual aircraft production outstripped that of the German Reich; annual Soviet production rose to 40,241 aircraft in 1944. Some 157,261 aircraft were produced during the Great Patriotic War, of them 125,655 combat types. [cite book |last=Hardesty |first=Von |title=Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power 1941-1945 |origdate=1982 |year=1991 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution |location=Washington, D.C. |isbn=0874745101 |pages=225 |chapter=Barbarossa to Berlin: A Summing Up]

The main reason for the large aircraft losses in the initial period of war with Germany was not the lack of modern tactics, but the lack of experienced pilots and ground support crews, the destruction of many aircraft on the runways due to command failure to disperse them, and the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht ground troops, forcing the Soviet pilots on the defensive during Operation Barbarossa, while being confronted with more modern German aircraft.cite book
title=Air Power in the Age of Total War
publisher=Indiana University Press
] In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe destroyed some 2000 Soviet aircraft, at a loss of only 35 aircraft (of which 15 were non-combat-related). [Ratley, III, Maj. Lonnie O. (March-April 1983). [ A Lesson of History: The Luftwaffe and Barbarossa] . "Air University Review".]

The principal aircraft of the VVS during World War II were the Ilyushin Il-2 "Shturmovik" ground assault model and the Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter in its many variants; each of which became the most produced aircraft of all time in its class, together accounting for about half the strength of the VVS for most of the Great Patriotic War. The Yak-1 was a modern 1940 design and had room for development, unlike the mature design of the Messerschmitt Bf 109. The Yak-9 brought the VVS to parity with the Luftwaffe, eventually allowing it to gain the upper hand over the Luftwaffe until in 1944, when many Luftwaffe pilots were deliberately avoiding combat with the last and best variant, the out-of-sequence numbered Yak-3. The other main VVS aircraft types were Lavochkin fighters, mainly the Lavochkin La-5, the Petlyakov Pe-2 twin engined attack-bombers, and a basic but functional and versatile medium bomber, the Ilyushin Il-4.

Alone among World War II combatants, the Soviet Air Force initiated a program to bring women with existing air training into combat air groups. Marina Raskova, one of very few women in the VVS prior to the war, used her influence with Stalin to form three all-female air regiments: the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment and the 588th Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. Because of their achievements in battle, the latter two units were honored by being renamed Guards units. Beyond the three official regiments, individual Soviet women sometimes served alongside airmen in otherwise all-male groups. [cite book |last=Hardesty |first=Von |title=Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power 1941-1945 |origdate=1982 |year=1991 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution |location=Washington, D.C. |isbn=0874745101 |pages=193 |chapter=At Full Stride |quote=...over the Gulf of Finland on May 5, 1943, when the Luftwaffe downed a Lend-Lease Havoc A-20, the Germans were considerably shocked to discover that the three-member crew included a woman—a gunner.] Women pilots, navigators, gunners, mechanics, armament specialists and other female ground personnel made up more than 3,000 fighting members of the VVS. Women pilots flew 24,000 sorties. From this effort came the world's only two female fighter aces: Lydia Litvak and Katya Budanova.

Chief Marshal of Aviation Alexander Novikov led the VVS from 1942 to the end of the war, and was credited with introducing several new innovations and weapons systems. For the last year of the war German military and civilians retreating towards Berlin were hounded by the presence of "low flying aircraft" strafing and bombing them, an activity in which even the ancient Polikarpov Po-2, a much produced biplane of 1920s design, took part. However, this was but a small measure of the experience Wehrmacht front-line s were receiving of the sophistication and superiority the Red Air Force had achieved. In one strategic operation alone, the Yassy-Kishinev Strategic Offensive, the 5th, 17th Air Armies and the Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation aircraft achieved a 3.3:1 superiority in aircraft over the Luftflotte 4 and the Royal Romanian Air Force, allowing almost complete freedom from air harassment for the ground troops of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts. [p.301, Wagner]

As with many allied countries in World War II the Soviet Union received western aircraft by Lend-Lease, mostly P-39 Airacobras, P-63 Kingcobras, Hawker Hurricanes, Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks and A-20 Havocs. Soviets in P-39s scored the highest individual kill totals of any pilot ever to fly a U.S. aircraft. Two air regiments were equipped with Spitfire Mk. Vb in early 1943 but immediately experienced unrelenting losses due to friendly fire as the British aircraft looked too much like its German nemesis, the Bf 109. Lend-Lease aircraft from the US and UK accounted for nearly 12% of total Soviet air power. [cite book |last=Hardesty |first=Von |title=Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power 1941-1945 |origdate=1982 |year=1991 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution |location=Washington, D.C. |isbn=0874745101 |pages=253 |chapter=Appendixes]

Cold War

MiG-31 fighter/interceptor aircraft.] During the Cold War, the Soviet Air Force was rearmed, strengthened and modern air doctrines were introduced. At its peak in the 1980s, it could deploy approximately 10,000 aircraft, and at the beginning of the 1990s the Soviet Union had an air force that in terms of quantity and quality fulfilled superpower standards.cite web| title = Russian Aviation Regiments 1941- | publisher = David R. Hames | url = ] .

During the Cold War the VVS was divided into three main branches (equivalent to commands in Western air forces): Long Range Aviation ("Dal'naya Aviatsiya" or 'DA'), focused on long-range bombers; Frontal Aviation ("Frontovaya Aviatsiya" or 'FA'), focused on battlefield air defense, close air support, and interdiction; and Military Transport Aviation ("Voenno-Transportnaya Aviatsiya" or 'VTA'), which controlled all transport aircraft. The Air Defense Forces ("Voyska protivovozdushnoy oborony" or "Voyska PVO"), which focused on air defense and interceptor aircraft, was then a separate and distinct service within the Soviet military organization. It was this force that shot down KAL 007 on September 1, 1983.

A list of units and bases can be found here.

The Russian Navy has its own independent air arm, Naval Aviation ("Aviatsiya Voenno Morskogo Flota" or 'AV-MF').

Soviet Air Armies in the last years of the Soviet Union included:
Aviation formation directly subordinated to HQ Command VVS air defense forces
*37th Air Army VGK (Special subordination) (Moscow, Long Range Aviation)Long-range aviation
*30th Air Army VGK (Irkutsk, Long Range Aviation)
*46th Air Army VGK (Smolensk, Long Range Aviation)VVS Aviation in groups of forces
*16th Air Army (Group of Soviet Forces in Germany)
*"4th Air Army" VGK (Special purpose)
*36th Air Army (Southern Group of Forces, Hungary)
*131st mixed air divisionAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of the RSFSR and republics of the USSR
Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia
*15th Air Army (Baltic Military District)
*"6th Separate Army of PVO" (Air Defense) (part) (see below in Leningrad)Formations of military transport aviationAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of Belorussia
*26th Air Army (Belarussian Military District) On 15 June 1992, by decree ? 05 of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus, the 26th Air Army headquarters became the command of the Air Forces of the Republic of Belarus.
*2nd Separate Army of PVO Air Defence Force (part)
*Formations of military transport aviationAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of the Ukraine
*5th Air Army (Frontal Aviation) (Odessa Military District)
*8th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Force)
*"14th Air Army" (see below in Siberia)
*17th Air Army (Kiev Military District) (primarily a training force)
*24th Air Army VGK (Special purpose) (South-Western Strategic Direction) At the dissolution of the Soviet Union this Army had forces in Belarus and Ukraine. In Ukraine forces consisted of the 32nd Bomber Aviation Division, at Starokonstantinov, the 56th Bomber Aviation Division at Cherlyany, and the 138th Fighter Aviation Division at Mirgorod. In the Ukraine in 1991-92, this Army had available over 140 Su-24 Fencer, over 35 Yak-28 electronic warfare aircraft, and 40 MiG-27 Floggers and 40 Su-27 Flankers for strike escort. [Steven J Zaloga, 'Armed Forces in Ukraine,' Jane's Intelligence Review, March 1992, p.135]
*Formations of military transport aviationAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of Moldavia
Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia
*34th Air Army (Transcaucasian Military District)
*19th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Force)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of the Central Asian republics
*73rd Air Army (Alma-Ata, Central Asian Military District)
*12th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Forces)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of RSFSR
Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of Leningrad military district
*76th Air Army (Leningrad, Leningrad Military District)
*6th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Force) (part)
*10th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Force)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of the Moscow military district
*VVS MVO Moscow air defense districtAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) on the territory of the North-Caucasian military district
*VVS SKVO Aviation of air defense forcesAviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) in territory of the Volga-Ural military district
*VVS Of Volga-Ural
*4th Separate Army of PVO (Air Defense) (Frontal Aviation)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) in Siberia
*14th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Forces)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) in territory of Transbaikal military district and Mongolia
*23rd Air Army (Transbaikal Military District)Aviation VVS and PVO (Air Defense) in territory of Far-Eastern military district
*1st Separate Army of PVO (Frontal Aviation) Far East Military District
*11th Separate Army of PVO (Soviet Air Defence Force)Formations of military transport aviation in territory of the RSFSR

1980s Fighter Programs

In the 1980s the Soviet Union acknowledged the development of the Advanced Tactical Fighter in the USA and began the development of an equivalent fighter in order to maintain its position as a superpower.

Two programs were initiated, one of which was proposed to directly confront the United States' then-projected Advanced Tactical Fighter (that was to lead to the development of the F-22 Raptor/YF-23). This future fighter was designated as "Mnogofounksionalni Frontovoi Istrebitel" ("MFI") (Multifunctional Frontline Fighter) and designed as a heavy multirole aircraft, with air-supremacy utmost in the minds of the designers.

In response to the American X-32/F-35 project, Russia began the "LFI" program, which would develop a fighter reminiscent of the X-32/F-35 with a single engine, without the capabilities of a true multirole aircraft.

Russia would later change the designation of the "LFI" project to "LFS", making it a multirole aircraft, primarily emphasising ground attack capability. During the 1990s the Russian military cancelled the "LFS" projects and continued with the "MFI" project, with minimal funding, believing that it was more important than the production of a light fighter-aircraft. Most recently the 'PAK FA' was planned, no advanced fighter successor to the Su-27 and MiG-29 family has entered service. Sukhoi won the latest PAK FA competition in 2002.

Breakup of the Soviet Union

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 the aircraft and personnel of the Soviet VVS were divided among the newly independent states. Russia received the plurality of these forces, approximately 40% of the aircraft and 65% of the manpower, with these forming the basis for the new Russian Air Force.


* Vershinin Konstantin Andreyevich ( _ru. Вершинин Константин Андреевич) (1946-1949, 1957-1969)
* Zhigarev Pavel Fedorovich ( _ru. Жигарев Павел Федорович) (1949-1957)
* Kutakhov Pavel Stepanovich ( _ru. Кутахов Павел Степанович) (1969-1984)
* Yefimov Aleksandr Nikolayevich ( _ru. Ефимов Александр Николаевич) (1984-1990)
* Chief Marshal of Aviation Yevgeny Shaposhnikov (1990-1991)

oviet Air Force Inventory as of 1991

;200 strategic bombers, : 150 Tupolev Tu-95 Bear:35 Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack:15 Myasishchev M-4 Bison

;550 medium bombers : 155 Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire:260 Tupolev Tu-16 Badger:135 Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder

;2830 fighters :610 Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker:790 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum:450 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31 Foxhound:570 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger:260 Sukhoi Su-15 Flagon:105 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat:20 Tupolev Tu-128 Riddler:20 Yakovlev Yak-28 Firebar

;2705 attack aircraft : 770 Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer:210 Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot:830 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27 Flogger:895 Sukhoi Su-7 Fitter-Aand Sukhoi Su-17 Fitter-C

;84 tankers : 34 Ilyushin Il-76 Midas:30 Myasishchev M-4 'Molot' Bison:20 Tupolev Tu-16 Badger

;40 AWACS: 40 Beriev A-50 Mainstay

;658 tactical reconnaissance and ECM aircraft : 65 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed: 195 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat: 65 Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer: 195 Yakovlev Yak-28 Brewer

;260 strategic reconnaissance and ECM aircraft : 115 Tupolev Tu-16 Badger: 15 Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder: 4 Tupolev Tu-95 Bear: 102 Yakovlev Yak-28 Brewer: 24 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat

3050 helicopters

1500 trainers and training helicopters

;615 transport aircraft : 40 Antonov An-124 'Ruslan' Condor: 55 Antonov An-22 'Antey' Cock: 210 Antonov An-12 Cub: 310 Ilyushin Il-76 Candid: 2,935 civilian and other transport aircraft, usually Aeroflot aircraft which were easily converted


Further reading

*Boyd, Alexander. "The Soviet Air Force Since 1918". Stein and Day, 1977.
*Palmer, Scott W. "Dictatorship of the Air: Aviation Culture and the Fate of Modern Russia". New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521859573

World War Two
*Hardesty, Von. "Red Phoenix". Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. ISBN1560980710
*Loza, D. F. "Attack of the Airacobras: Soviet Aces, American P-39s, and the Air War Against Germany". Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001. ISBN 0700611401
*Pennington, Reina. "Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat". Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002. ISBN 0700611452

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