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Soviet Air Defense Forces

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Title: Soviet Air Defense Forces  
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Subject: Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Soviet Air Forces, 1983 in aviation, 1987 in aviation, Sukhoi Su-30, 1941 in aviation, 1960 in aviation, 1978 in aviation, R-40 (missile), Korean Air Lines Flight 902
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Soviet Air Defense Forces

Air Forces of Russia

Russian Empire

Air Force (1909–1917)

Soviet Union

Red Air Force (1918–1991)

Naval Aviation (1918–1991)

Air Defence (1948–1991)

Strategic Rocket Forces (1959–1991)

Russian Federation

Air Force (1991–present)

Naval Aviation (1991–present)

Strategic Rocket Forces (1991–present)

The Soviet Air Defence Forces (Russian: Войска ПВО, Voyska ProtivoVozdushnoy Oborony, Voyska PVO, V-PVO, lit. Anti-Air Defence Troops; and formerly ProtivoVozdushnaya Oborona Strany, PVO Strany, lit. Anti-Air Defence of the Nation) was the air defence branch of the Soviet Armed Forces. It continued being a service branch of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1998. Unlike Western air defence forces, V-PVO was a branch of the military unto itself, separate from the Soviet Air Force (VVS) and Air Defence Troops of Ground Forces. During the Soviet period it was generally ranked third in importance of the Soviet services,[1] behind the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Ground Forces.


Service during Second World War

Preparations for creation of the air defence forces started in 1932, and by the start of the war there were 13 PVO zones located within the military districts. At the outbreak of war, air defence forces were in the midst of rearmament. Anti-aircraft artillery teams had few of the latest 37-mm automatic and 85-mm guns. Moreover, the troops were deficient in Yak-1 s and MiG-3s; 46% of the fleet were obsolete aircraft. Increased rates of production were initiated to provide the troops new equipment.

In July 1941, the National Defence Committee took several measures to strengthen the forces guarding Moscow and Leningrad, Yaroslavl and Gorky industrial areas, and strategic bridges across the Volga. To this end, the formation of parts of the IA, IN, anti-aircraft machine gun and searchlight units were accelerated.

A classic example of a major political organization of defence and industrial center was the defence of Moscow. It was carried out by the 1st Air Defence Corps and the 6th Fighter Aviation Corps PVO. As part of these formations at the beginning of massive Nazi air raids had more than 600 fighters; more than 1,000 guns of small and medium calibers; 350 machine guns; 124 fixed anti-aircraft barrage balloons; 612 stations; and 600 anti-aircraft searchlights. The presence of such large forces, skillful management organisation foiled enemy attempts to inflict massive air strikes. Just broke the city 2.6% of the total number of aircraft. Air defence forces defending Moscow destroyed 738 enemy aircraft. In addition, assaults by the 6th Fighter Aviation Corps inflicted heavy blows, destroyed 567 enemy aircraft on the ground. Overall, the Air Defence Forces destroyed 1,305 aircraft, and in combat with the enemy armies destroyed 450 tanks and 5,000 vehicles.

On November 9, 1941, the post of the Commander of the Air Defence Forces was created, and Major General Mikhail Gromadin (ru:Громадин, Михаил Степанович) was appointed.[2] In January 1942, to improve the interaction of forces and air defence systems in January 1942, fighter aircraft was subordinated to the Air Defence Command. In April 1942, the Moscow Air Defence Front was founded, and the Leningrad and Baku Air Defence Armies. There were first operational formations of the Air Defence Forces.

In June 1943, the Office of the Commander of Air Defence Forces of the country was disbanded. Following the reorganization in April 1944 created the Western and Eastern Air Defence Fronts, and the Transcaucasian Air Defence Area, which this year have been reorganized as the North, the South and the Transcaucasian Air Defence Fronts. Air defence forces in the vicinity of Moscow were renamed the Moscow Air Defence Army. In the Far East in March 1945, three air defence armies were established: Maritime, Priamurskaya, Transbaikalia.

During the Second World War, the Air Defence Forces provided the defence industry and communication, allowing the breakthrough to the objects only a few planes, so that there were brief stops enterprises and impaired movement of trains on some sections of railways. In carrying out its tasks, air defence of the country destroyed 7,313 German aircraft, of which 4168 and 3145 by the IA antiaircraft artillery, machine guns and barrage balloons. More than 80,000 soldiers, sergeants, officers and generals of the Air Defence Forces were awarded orders and medals, and 92 soldiers were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and one was twice given the honor.

Structure during Second World War

During the war PVO formations were organised as Air Defence Fronts and Air Defence Armies. PVO Fronts normally covered airspace over several ground Army Fronts; these should not be confused with each other. The Air Defence Fronts (Russian: Фронты ПВО) had the following service history:[3]

  • Western Air Defence Front
    • 1st formation 29 June 1943 - 20 April 1944 renamed to Headquarters, Northern PVO Front
    • Northern Front PVO 21 April 1944 - 23 December 1944 formed from Headquarters, Western PVO Front (1st formation); re-flagged as Headquarters, Western PVO Front (2nd formation)
    • 2nd formation 24 December 1944 - 9 May 1945 formed from Headquarters, Northern PVO Front
  • Moscow Front PVO 6 April 1942 - 10 July 1943 formed from Headquarters, Moscow PVO Corps Region; re-flagged as Headquarters, Special Moscow PVO Army
  • Southern Front PVO 21 April 1944 - 24 December 1944 formed from Headquarters, Eastern PVO Front; re-flagged as Headquarters, Southwestern PVO Front
  • Southwestern Front PVO 24 December 1944 - 9 May 1945 formed from Headquarters, Southern PVO Front

Cold War

All the possible air components were divided (as of 1945, before the 1949 reforms of the Soviet Armed Forces) into[4]

  • Active Army (Russian: Действующая армия) air forces assigned to fighting Fronts, known as Frontal Aviation
  • PVO Territorial Defence Forces (PVO-TDF) (Russian: Войска ПВО территории страны; Voiska PVO territoriy Strany)
  • PVO Army on sovereign territory (Russian: армия ПВО территории страны, Armiy PVO Territorii Strany')
  • STAVKA High Command Forces Reserve PVO (Russian: Резерв Ставки ВГК)
  • Military Districts' PVO (Russian: Военные округа, Voennyi Okruga)
  • Inactive Fronts' PVO (Russian: недействующие фронты)

The PVO Strany was separated from the other Soviet Armed Forces services in 1949. In May 1954, it was established as equal to the other branches of the Soviet Armed Forces, receiving its first commander-in-chief: Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov.[5]

The PVO's principal role was to shoot down United States Strategic Air Command bombers if they penetrated Soviet airspace. Secondary target were U.S. air reconnaissance aircraft. There were a number of such aircraft shot down while operating around the Soviet borders,[6] including MiG-17s downing a US reconnaissance Lockheed C-130 Hercules over Armenia, with 17 casualties in 1958.[7] The PVO gained an important victory on May 1, 1960, when a S-75 Dvina missile downed Gary Powers' U-2, causing the short U-2 crisis of 1960. (See Strategic Air Command#Strategic Reconnaissance)

The PVO had its own chain of command, schools, radar and sound director sites. From the mid-1960s however, PRO, anti-rocket defence, and PKO, anti-space defence, troops began gaining strength under PVO leadership and its high command, eventually forming the basis for the now-Russian Aerospace Defence Forces, formerly the Russian Space Forces. Organisationally, there were two main PVO districts for most of the USSR's postwar history, Moscow and Baku,[1] and the rest of the country was divided into PVO regions like in Belarus, the Ukraine, the Baltics and Central Asia. However in 1960 it appears that most of the PVO regions/areas were reorganised into seven separate armies of the Air Defence Forces - the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 14th, and 19th Air Defence Army.[8] In 1963 additionally the 12th Air Defence Army was formed.[9]

In 1977, the Air Forces and Air Defence Forces were re-organised in the Baltic states and the Leningrad Oblast (a trial run for the larger re-organisation in 1980 covering the whole country).[10] All fighter units in the PVO were transferred to the VVS, the PVO only retaining the anti-aircraft missile units and radar units - the 6th Independent Air Defence Army was disbanded, and the 15th Air Army became the VVS Baltic Military District.

In a 1981 reorganisation, the now Voyska PVO was stripped of many command and control and training assets, which were moved to the Air Force.

On 1 September 1983 the PVO shot down Korean Air Flight 007 after they correctly believed that the civilian airliner had illegally crossed into restricted Soviet airspace but mistook it for a spy plane. Previously Korean Air Flight 902 had once crossed into Murmansk airspace,[11][12] and had to make an emergency landing when a Soviet Air Force Su-15 fired on it. Soviet government officials finally admitted their mistake much to the anger of the South Korean and the United States governments. It even resulted in the forced and sudden resignation of the then Armed Forces Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, in the following year by the CPSU General Secretary and President of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium Konstantin Chernenko.

Mathias Rust's flight to Moscow in May 1987 caused a massive shakeup within the PVO.[13] It seems that after the KAL 007 shootdown of 1983, no one was willing to give an order to bring Rust's tiny Cessna 172 down, and modernization programmes within the PVO had led to the installation of radar and communications systems at the state border that could not effectively pass tracking data to systems closer to Moscow. PVO Commander-in-Chief Marshal A. I. Koldunov was only among the first to be removed from his position. Over 150 officers, mostly from the PVO, were tried in court and removed from their posts. A large-scale changeover of senior officers of the force more generally followed as well.

Under the Russian flag

In December 1994, the 4th Air Defence Army was transformed into the 5th Separate Air Defence Corps, which in 1998 became the 5th Army of VVS and PVO. In 1998, the force groupings and headquarters of the PVO that had remained within Russia were merged with the Russian Air Force becoming part of the Moscow District of Air and Air Defence Forces, and the 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 14th Armies of VVS and PVO.

The Day of Air Defence Forces (Den' Voysk PVO) was initially established in 1975, to be celebrated on April 11. In 1980 this was changed to the second Sunday of April. It is still celebrated in the Russian Federation even after the 1998 merger of the Air Defence Forces with the Air Force. The unofficial motto of the Forces is 'Сами не летаем - другим не дадим'('Sami ne letaem - drugim ne dadim'), which can be translated as "Don't fly -- don't let others" / "If we can't fly -- we won't let anyone else either".

Commanders-in-Chief, Air Defence Forces

  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov - 1954-1955
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Biryuzov - 1955-1962
  • Marshal of Aviation Vladimir Sudets - 1962-1966
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Pavel Batitsky - 1966-1978
  • Chief Marshal of Aviation Alexander Koldunov - 1978-May 1987
  • General of the Army Ivan Тret'yak - 31 May 1987-24 August 1991
  • General of the Army Viktor Prudnikov - September 1991-December 1997[14]
  • Colonel-General Viktor Sinitsin - December 1997-Feb 1998

The post was then disestablished with the merger of the PVO and VVS in 1998.


The PVO structure during the Cold War and in Russia until 1998 consisted of three specialized branches: the Radiotechnical Troops (радиотехнические войска), Surface-to-Air Missile Troops (зенитно-ракетные войска), and Fighter Aviation (истребительная авиация; Istrebitel’naya Aviatsiya; IA-PVO).[1] Armies, corps, and divisions of the PVO were made up of units from all three branches.[15]

  • 10th Air Defence Army (HQ Murmansk)
    • 21st Air Defence Corps[24]
    • 22nd Air Defence Corps
    • 22nd Air Defence Division

Fighter Regiments of the 10th Army PVO 1988[25]

Regiment Base Equipment Remarks
57th Fighter Aviation Regiment Norilsk Sukhoi Su-15TM Holm says at Besovets in 1988; disbanded 10.93.[26]
72nd Fighter Aviation Regiment Amderma Mikoyan MiG-31 Podolsk Red Banner Order of Suvorov
174th Fighter Aviation Regiment Monchegorsk Mikoyan MiG-31 2 Gds IAP 1945.
265th Fighter Aviation Regiment Poduzhemye, Karelian ASSR Sukhoi Su-27 23rd Air Defence Division. Disbanded 1994.
431st Fighter Aviation Regiment Afrikanda Sukhoi Su-27 431 IAP
445th Fighter Aviation Regiment Savatiya (Kotlas) Mikoyan MiG-25P 445 IAP
518th Fighter Aviation Regiment Talagi Airport Mikoyan MiG-31 518 иап 1945.[27]
524th Fighter Aviation Regiment Letneozersk Mikoyan MiG-25P 22nd Air Defence Corps. Disbanded 1994[28]
641st Fighter Aviation Regiment Rogachevo Sukhoi Su-27
941st Fighter Aviation Regiment Kilpyavr Sukhoi Su-27 63rd Guards IAP
991st Fighter Aviation Regiment Besovets Mikoyan MiG-25P

Feskov et al. reports the 470th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment in addition, but Holm's information makes it likely this is a mistake. The regiment is reported at Afrikanda.

  • 11th Red Banner Army of the PVO (Far East Military District)
    • 8th and 23rd Corps, and 6th, 24th, and 29th Divisions of the PVO
  • 12th Air Defence Army (HQ Tashkent)
    • 24th and 37th Corps of the PVO
  • 14th Air Defence Army (Siberian Military District)
    • 38th Air Defence Corps
    • 39th Air Defence Corps (Irkutsk) (ru:Мукденское соединение ПВО)
    • 50th Air Defence Corps
    • 56th Air Defence Corps (Semipalatinsk)
    • 41st Division of the PVO
  • 19th Air Defence Army (19th Army of the PVO) (Transcaucasus Military District)
    • 14th Corps of PVO (Tblisi)
    • 51st Corps of PVO (Rostov-na-Donu)
    • 10th Division of PVO (Volgograd)
    • 97th Lvov Red Banner Division of PVO (Baku)

Inventory (1987/1990)

The PVO inventory of 1990 was:[29]

2,410 interceptors 
210 Su-27 Flanker
850 MiG-23 Flogger
350 MiG-25 Foxbat
360 MiG-31 Foxhound
500 Su-15 Flagon
90 Yak-28 Firebar
50 Tu-128 Fiddler
AWACS aircraft 
7 Tupolev Tu-126 Moss
1 Beriev A-50 Mainstay

Surface to air missiles on strength in 1990 included:[30]

1,400 S-25 Berkut - being replaced by the Almaz S-300 and expected to be replaced by the Almaz S-400 Triumf
2,400 Lavochkin S-75 Dvina
1,000 Isayev S-125 Neva\Pechora - 300+ sites, 2 or 4 missile launchers and rails
1,950 Almaz S-200 Angara\Vega\Dubna - 130 sites
1,700 Almaz S-300 - 85 sites, 15 more building
ABM-1 Galosh Anti-Ballistic Missile, part of the A-35 missile defence system

Previous fighter aircraft operated by the PVO included:



Further reading

  • «На страже северного неба» (Москва, 2005) председатель совета ветеранов 10-й армии ПВО генерал-майор А. С. Иванов
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