Russia, or the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Covering an area of 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), it is the largest country in the world by area, spanning more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, stretching eleven time zones, and bordering 16 sovereign nations. The territory of Russia extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south. With 146.7 million inhabitants living in the country's 85 federal subjects, Russia is the most populous nation in Europe and the ninth-most populous nation in the world. Russia's capital and largest city is Moscow; other major urban areas include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Chelyabinsk.
The East Slavs emerged as a recognisable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Rus arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states, until it was finally reunified by the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 15th century. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland on the west to Alaska on the east. Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR) became the largest and leading constituent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union), the world's first constitutionally socialist state. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognised superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world's first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognised as the continuing legal personality and a successor of the USSR.
The Russian Air Force originated in 1912 and was referred to as Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily and was the official designation of the Air Forces of the Soviet Union.
The Boslhevik All-Russia Collegium for Direction of the Air Forces was formed on 20 December 191. After a general postwar military reorganization, the collegium was reconstituted as the "Workers' and Peasants' Red Air Fleet" (Glavvozduhflot), established on 24 May 1918 and given the top-level departmental status of "Main Directorat. It became the Directorate of the USSR Air Forces on 28 March 1924, and then the Directorate of the Workers-Peasants Red Army Air Forces on 1 January 1925. Initially the number of types in use were limited but with the formation of a national aircraft industry available aircraft types became more diverse.
The structure of the Air Force was organized in air armies, aviation corps, aviation divisions, and aviation regiments, composed of air squadrons, flights. Domestic aircraft production increased significantly in the early thirties and towards the end of the decade, and saw another boost directly after the Second World War.
During the war a “Lend-lease” agreement saw the integration of foreign built aircraft integrated within the Air Force, and the significance of domestic military aircraft development and manufacturing became a top priority. During the war several aircraft factories were erected and designated as OKB. In these factories developments took place towards military aviation in order to design faster, more manoeuvrable aircraft than the opponent. The current aircraft manufacturers like Tupolev, Ilyushin, Mikoyan-Guerevich (MiG), Yak, Lavochkin and Sukhoi were originated during this time. After the war was over these factories remained working on development of mainly military aviation and resulted in the first jet propelled aircraft in 1948.
The jet age started with the design of the Yak-9 and was soon succeeded by the MiG-15 of which a large number were built for air defence purposes and a two seat version for air crew training purposes. Both MiG and Sukhoi factories were focused at the development of fighter aircraft. The Tupolev aircraft factory was focused at the development of bomber and long range strategic aircraft, although Tupolev managed to developed one long range air defence fighter known as the Tu-128. and Sukhoi focused their development on fighter-bomber aircraft. Ilyushin mainly concentrated on the development of Transport aircraft.
Directly after the war the WPKA Army Air Forces became the Soviet Air Forces once again. With the capabilities increased enormously the Soviet Air Force became an independent component of the armed forces in 1949, reaching operational force status in 1954.
Cold War years
During the Cold War the VVS was divided into three main branches:
Long Range Aviation “Dal'naya Aviatsiya”or DA, focused on long-range bombing and reconnaissance missions;
Frontal Aviation “Frontovaya Aviatsiya or FA, focused on tactical aviation and air defence, close air support, and interdiction and most of the fighter and fighter bombers were appointed to this branch; and
Military Transport Aviation “Voenno-Transportnaya Aviatsiya” or VTA, which controlled all transport aircraft.
Within this structure the Soviet Air Defence Forces “Voyska protivovozdushnoy oborony” or Voyska PVO, provided air defence and interceptor aircraft, as a separate force within the Soviet military structure. Another independent service was the Soviet Naval Aviation “Aviatsiya Voenno Morskogo Flota” or AV-MF, and was subordinated under the Navy headquarters.
The Soviet tactical Air Force was engaged again when the Korean war broke out. As an ally to the Chinese and North Koreans they were engaged in fierce battles against US led United Nations coalition forces. Also in the following decades from 1960 to 1980 the tactical air force were involved in several local conflicts, when the Soviet Air Force was extending its operational area providing military assistance to nations within the sphere of influence joined under the Warsaw Pact treaty but also to nations like Cuba and several countries in the middle east. The operational strength of the FA expanded and became one of the largest air forces in the world.
In the Cold War period, the Soviet Air Force was modernized, additional aircraft for specific roles were integrated in their operational structure and modern air doctrines were introduced. During the leadership of Nikita Krushchov the expansion ended temporary since the Soviet leader believed in unmanned aircraft and ballistic missiles. This policy however was abandoned by Leonid Brezhnev who did not share his predecessor's opinion and the development of the FA became a new impulse. With the introduction of the third generation fighters in the eighties and nineties both economic and arms reductions plans led to a new decline of the Soviet and later Russian Tactical Aviation Force.
In 1977 the VVS and the Soviet Air Defence Forces were re-organised in the Baltic states and the Leningrad region, as a trial run for the larger re-organisation in 1980 covering the entire country. All fighter units in the PVO were transferred to the VVS, with the Air Defence Forces only retaining the anti-aircraft missile units and radars. Although the experiment was applied for the entire Air Forces in 1980, it was reversed in 1986, when most of the assets became part of the Air Force, as well as several educational and training institutions.
Post Cold War organization and reforms
After the cold war and the end of the Warsaw Pact treaty, the Soviet Air Forces ceased to exist and was renamed to Russian Air Force. They were faced with an enormous fleet of surplus aircraft which were withdrawn from their former bases in the participating nations.
As a result a large number of aircraft were sent to either short term storage or long term storage. Shortly after a period followed where the Russian Air Force was faced with enormous cutbacks in budget which resulted in the delay of termination of required modernization programs and the purchase of new aircraft. Besides the lack of funds for aircraft modernization and acquiring new aircraft, available fuel, spare parts and operational hours were limited as well. As a result of these cutbacks the aircraft that were submitted to short term storage were transferred to long term storage and a couple of aircraft types that were withdrawn from use from the Russian Air Force and the operational capabilities of the Russian Air Force heavily decreased.
The structure of the Air Force was changed multiple times between 2000 and now and initially divided in military districts still divided in Military Air Regiments and squadrons, changed to an aviation base structure still appointed to military districts and changed back again to a Regiment structure.
The Russian Air Force introduced a military serial number system in the early 2000’s and comprises the two letters RF- followed by a five-numbered serial number. With some of the aircraft still appointed an RA- five number serial number the latest developments show that these aircraft are provided with a new RF-serial number.
Besides the introduction of a serial number system funds were allocated to the air force again meaning that aircraft modernization programs were re-started, new aircraft could be developed and purchased and the operational Regiments were able to perform their tasks again due to the availability of both fuel, spare parts and operational hours.
With the reorganization still in full swing the Russian Air Force seems to experience a revival which enables the service to perform their tasks for the future.
Photo: Jan Kraak
On 28 October 1948 the first Soviet Army Aviation regiment was formed. Initially the helicopter air squadron as referred to was an auxiliary branch tasked with transport of personnel and cargo, providing combat air support, intelligence and communications. The actual Soviet Army Aviation “Aviatsiya Sukhoputnykh Voysk” or ASV was formed in the sixties with the primary missions to offer direct fire support to ground troops on the battlefield, and transport troops, supplies, equipment and ammunition over short distances. Helicopter units are typically called upon to perform combat, transport, reconnaissance, target designation and electronic warfare missions. With the arrival of the new Mi-24 attack helicopter in the seventies and the importance of the combat air support task became increasingly significant auxiliary aviation was renamed into Soviet Army Aviation.
In 1990 the army aviation was subordinated to the Soviet Air Force became an independent branch until 2003 when the decision was reversed. The Ground Force passed over the control over the Army Aviation to the Air Force in 2003.
The main inventory of the Soviet Air Force of the seventies was assigned to Frontal Aviation with over 5000 aircraft and more than 1000 attack helicopters at their disposal. While the Soviet Air Force exercised administrative control over these assets, operational control rested with the commanders of the military districts or groups of forces abroad.
Since the role of the fixed fixed-wing frontal aviation Regiments differed from the role of the attack, the Soviets resurrected the concept of army aviation. As a result the helicopter Regiments were assigned to divisional level. Between the eighties and the nineties the Ground Forces Aviation “Aviatsiya Sukhoputnykh Voysk” ASV, or Army Aviation command “Armeyskaya Aviatsiya” used to be subordinated to the Soviet Air Force, while its helicopter units became part of the ground forces. After a rerganization which took place in December 1990, the Soviet Army Aviation was re-subordinated to the High Command of the Army with the purpose to improve the coordination with the ground troops.
Post Cold War organization and reforms
After the cold war ended since 1992, the ASV has played a vital supporting role in all of Russia's regional conflicts, and especially in the Caucasus with the gained experiences of Afghanistan in the eighties and Chechnya in the ninetiesthe Russian Army Aviation was forced to adapt its tactics, innovate and be prepared for action with an inventory in heavy need for refurbishment and modernization.
With the withdrawal of a large amount of helicopters which were assigned to Regiments located in the friendly Warsaw Pact nations in the early nineties a lot of helicopters were stored in either short term storage and long term storage, and some of them were cannibalized to use spare parts for the helicopters that remained operational. During the remaining years of the nineties, the ASV was mostly equipped with helicopters that were acquired in the seventies. Like all other branches in the Soviet military the Army Aviation faced enormous budget cutbacks ass well which meant delaying refurbishment and modernization programs and the delay of developing and acquisition of new helicopters. Between 1992 and 1997, only four Ka-50 'Hokum' single-seat attack helicopters, ten Mi-26 'Halo' heavy transport helicopters and eight Mi-8 'Hip' transport helicopters were delivered to the ASV, while the ASV needs about 40 new transport and 25-30 new combat helicopters a year to replace the older models. According to unconfirmed sources around 1997 a thousand helicopters were awaiting repairs because of a severe shortage of spare parts. As a result only 20 helicopters a year had been repaired between 1994 and 1997 while on average a quarter of the helicopters were certified to fly.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Army Aviation was renamed to Russian Army Aviation and funding became even worse. This limited the capabilities of the Army Aviation significantly and showed its effect on flight safety and tactical capabilities of the pilots. On 5 September 2002 it became clear that the Russian Armed Forces Army Aviation Directorate would be disbanded on 1 December 2002 under a Russian defense minister's decree. Army Aviation of the Land Forces was reassigned of the Air Force as of the first of January 2003 and meant the end of the Russian Army Aviation branch. Initial additional funding however became available in 2003 which meant that several modernization programs which had been delayed were started again. Also new helicopters could be acquired in order to replace the older and in some cases cannibalized helicopters. In 2004 the first eight modernized Mi-24 had been delivered to the Air Force and these modernization programs continue until today. In 2008 the modernization programs commenced for the Mi-26 and Mi-24P helicopter fleet The Russian Air Force was also allowed to acquire new Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters by 2010. In recent years the army aviation branch has received many new helicopters. So, most regiments now have the Ka-52, Mi-28, Mi-35M, and Mi-8AMTSh at their disposal.
Photo: Ad Jan Altevogt
The Soviet Naval Aviation originated betwee 1912 and 1914 when the first Naval Aviation Regiments were formed subordinated to the Baltic fleet and the Black Sea fleetThe main tasks appointed to the Naval Aviation branch were reconnaissance, bombing and firing coastal and port fortifications, destroying naval vessels and submarines and hostile aircraft. With additional Regiments formed in 1918 the Naval Aviation participated in the Russian Civil War and in 1920 the old and worn down aircraft were replaced by newer aircraft designed for their specific mission. In the thirties the Soviet state created the Naval Air Force and with the increasing importance of the Naval Aviation expanded to become a separate branch within the armed forces.
WWII and the Cold War
During World War 2 the Soviet Naval Aviation consisting of 16 Aviation Regiments played a vital. role and managed to realize a significant setback to the enemies naval forces. When the war ended and the cold war period commenced the Soviet Naval Aviation branch commenced modernizing its entire inventory of aircraft. Since the Soviet Navy did not poses an aircraft carrier the Regiments were deployed regularly in order to fulfill their appointed tasks. In 1970 the first aircraft carrier was introduced within the Soviet Navy. The Kiev class aircraft carrier was able to carry the Yak-38 aircraft and a couple of none VTOL aircraft. The Kiev class carriers were replaced by the Admiral Kutznetsov class and jet aircraft were able to operate from this carrier. In order to train the carrier pilots a NITKIA training facility was constructed at Novofyodorovka – Saki in the Ukraine. At this facility the carrier deck was reconstructed able to serve as an as identical as possible situation as landing on the carrier deck.
Post Cold War and recent developments
At the end of the cold war and the cease of the Warsaw Pact the Russian Naval Aviation or Aviatsiya Voenno-morskovo Flota Rossii AV-MF was formed. The Russian Naval Aviation was also faced with severe budget cutbacks in the nineties and in the early years of the new century and deployments were reduced to a minimum as well as on-board deployments of the fighter Regiments. Training at the NITKIA facility was also reduced to once or twice per year. As a result of the 2008 Russian military reforms, the units of the Russian Naval Aviation were reorganized into thirteen Naval Air Bases. Each new naval air base consisted of an HQ, support units and one or more aviation groups or wings. In a second stage, the air bases were merged into territorially integrated structures.
In 2013 however, the Russian Naval Aviation acquired significantly increased budgets enabling them to conduct the long overdue maintenance and modernization programs.The branch also gathered additional new aircraft by integrating the Russian Air and Space forces within their operational inventory. As of 2012, the only fixed wing strike and fighter aircraft of Russian Naval Aviation are the Su-33 fighters and Su-25UTG attack aircraft of the 279th Regiment assigned to the Admiral Kuznetsov's carrier air wing, plus the Su-24 bombers based in the Crimea. This sole bomber unit remained part of Naval Aviation as an exception to satisfy treaty requirements governing Russian forces deployments on Ukrainian territory which had to be part of the Black Sea Fleet as deenaded by the Ukrainian Government.
With the gained independence of the Ukraine the Soviet Navy still leased the Black Sea port at Sevastopol including a number of airfields amongst which also the NITKIA facility at Novofyodorovka – Saki. By late 2014 discussions commenced to create a new facility and abandon the existing installation, but with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula the future for both the harbor and the air bases has been secured. With the purchase of brand new multirole Sukhoi Su-30SM for the Black Sea Fleet to replace Su-24 in full swing and the formation of new Russian Naval Aviation units at Belbek the branch faces yet another expansion. The long range assets of the Naval Air Forces consists of long range bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft which are currently facing an extensive modernization program as well.. Slowly but gradually the fleet's aircraft numbers are being increased with MiG-29KUB and Su-33 being taken on charge. Moreover, their sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, is used in overseas deployments once again.
The guards were formed by presidential decree in 2016 to collate the forces of the Ministry of the Interior. Goal is to unite the effort of various domestic forces to combat terrorism.
The ministry of emergency situations EMERCOM is dedicated to disaster management. Mainly combating a wide variety of calamities in Russia, like forest fires or earthquake disaster relief operations. But it can also assisted other countries when so requested. The pride of the fleet is of course the Beriev Be-200 flying boat and other work horses are the venerable Mi-8MT and Ka-32 helicopters. The fleet is dispersed over the vast country and keeps seasonal detachments.
The federal security service (FSB) is the successor to the infamous KGB. It has had its own aerial assets since that time, around sixty years, already. Spread accross the country, these units are tasked with bguarding the border, warding off terrorists and supporting special forces.
This voluntary organisation started life back in 1927 to spur patriotism and involve the youth in sports and military life. The DOSAAF consists of numerous branches, most interesting for us are those with aircraft. Para jumping (with An-2, An-28 and L-410), gliding (wth L-13 and SZD-types) and sports aviation (with various Yak-models) are the current leasure activities. After all these years, prepping the youth for a possible military career and envoking discipline is still the main objective. Over 80 airfields are housing air detachments all over Russia. Nowadays, hang gliding, ultralight flying and fully civil aeroclubs are gaining ground though.