Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


Flag of Soviet air force

The Soviet Air Force, officially known in Russian as Военно-воздушные силы or (in the Latin alphabet) Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily (literally, "Military Air Forces") and often abbreviated VVS (ВВС in Cyrillic) was the official designation of one of the air forces of th Soviet Union. The other was the Soviet Air Defence Forces. The Air Forces were formed from components of the Imperial Russian Air Force in 1917, faced their greatest test during World War II, were involved in the Korean War, and dissolved along with the Soviet Union itself in 1991-92.


The All-Russia Collegium for Direction of the Air Forces of the Old Army (translation is uncertain) was formed on 20 December 1917. This was a Bolshevik aerial headquarters initially led by Konstantin Akashev. Along with a general postwar military reorganisation, 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 Directorate".

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. Gradually its influence on aircraft design became greater. From its earliest days, the force mimicked ground forces' organization Aviation Divisions, and aviation regiments.

After the creation of the Soviet state many efforts were made in order to modernize and expand aircraft production, led by its charismatic and energetic commander, General Yakov Alksnis, an eventual victim of Stalin's purges. 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 Tupolev SB and SB-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, both Soviet and German, were employed against each other in fierce air-to-air combat. At first, the Polikarpov I-16 fighters proved superior to any of the German Luftwaffe fighter aircraft, and managed to achieve local air superiority wherever they were employed. However, the Soviets refused to supply the plane in adequate numbers, and their aerial victories were soon squandered because of their limited use. Later German Bf-109s delivered to Franco's Spanish Nationalist air forces secured air superiority for the Nationalists, one they would never relinquish. The defeats in Spain coincided with the arrival of Stalin's Great Purge of the ranks of the military leadership, which severely affected the combat capabilities of the rapidly expanding Soviet Air Forces. Newly promoted officers lacked flying and command experience, while older commanders, witnessing the fate of General Alksnis and others, lacked initiative, frequently referring minor decisions to Moscow for approval, and insisting that their pilots strictly comply with standardized and predictable procedures for both aerial attack and defence. On 19 November 1939, VVS headquarters was again titled the Main Directorate of the Red Army Air Forces.

The War with Finland[]

Some practical combat experience had been gained in participating in the Spanish Civil War, and against Japan in the Far-East. 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. However, these experiences proved of little use in the Winter war against Finland in 1939, where scores of inexperienced Soviet bomber and fighter pilots were shot down by a relatively small number of Finnish Air Force (FAF) pilots. The VVS soon learned that established Soviet air defence procedures derived from the Spanish Civil War, such as forming defensive circles when attacked, did not work well against the Finns, who employed dive-and-zoom tactics to shoot down their Soviet opponents in great numbers. The effects of the Great Purge in 1937–38 on the Red Army's officer corps undoubtedly played a role in the slow reaction of the VVS and its command to the new realities of air combat. The Soviet Air Force as well as the Soviet aircraft industry would eventually learn from these combat experiences, though not before the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

On 1 January 1941, six months prior to Operation Barbarossa, the Air Forces of the Soviet Red Army had 363,900 serving personnel, accounting for 8.65% of all military force personnel of the Soviet Union.

The first three Air Armies, designated Air Armies of Special Purpose were created between 1936 and 1938. On 5 November 1940 these were reformed as the Long Range Bombardment Aviation of the High Command of the Red Army (until February 1942) due to lack of combat performance during the conflict with Finland.

World War II[]

The Air Force was hit hard by the Red Army purges in 1941. 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" the Western powers. By the end of the war, Soviet annual aircraft production had rose sharply with annual Soviet production reaching to 40,241 aircraft in 1944. Some 157,261 aircraft were produced during the Great Patriotic War, of them 125,655 combat types. Original star roundel in World War IIThe 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. In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe destroyed some 2000 Soviet aircraft, most of them on the ground, at a loss of only 35 aircraft (of which 15 were non-combat-related).

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.

The 31st Bomber Aviation Regiment, equipped with Pe-2s and commanded by Colonel Fyodor Ivanovich Dobysh, was one of the first Guards bomber units in the Air Forces - the 4th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment (ru:4-й гвардейский пикирующий бомбардировочный авиационный полк). The title was conferred on the regiment for its actions on the Leningrad Front in November–December 1941 during defensive operations and the Soviet counterattack near Tikhvin.

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 (a.k.a. the Night Witches.) 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. 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 Litvyak and Katya Budanova.

While there were scores of Red Army divisions on the ground formed from specific Soviet republics, there appears to have been very few aviation regiments formed from nationalities, among them being the 1st Latvian Night Aviation Regiment.

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-lines were receiving of the sophistication and superiority the Red Air Force had achieved. In one strategic operation alone, the Yassy-Kishinev Strategic Offensive, 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.

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 10. Lend-Lease aircraft from the US and UK accounted for nearly 12% of total Soviet air power.

The greatest Soviet fighter ace of World War II was Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub, who scored 62 individual aerial victories from 6 July 1943 to 16 April 1945, the top score for any Allied fighter pilot of World War II. See also: Soviet Air Forces Order of Battle 1 May 1945

Cold War[]

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. Soviet Tu-95 escorted by US Navy F-14 Tomca An air-to-air right underside rear view of a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft carrying four AA-6 Acrid missilesIn the late 1940s and in the 1950s, the WPKA Army Air Forces became the Soviet Air Forces once again, and its capabilities increased. The force became one of the best services of the Soviet Armed Forces due to the various types of aircraft being flown.

In 1977 the VVS (Air Force) and the Soviet Air Defense Forces were re-organised in the Baltic states and the Leningrad Oblast, as a trial run for the larger re-organisation in 1980 covering the whole country. All fighter units in the PVO were transferred to the VVS, the Air Defence Forces only retaining the anti-aircraft missile units and radar units. The 6th independent Air Defense Army was disbanded, and the 15th Air Army became the VVS Baltic Military District. Though the experiment was then applied countrywide in 1980, it was reversed in 1986.

According to a 1980 TIME Magazine article citing analysts from RAND Corporation, allegedly Soviet non-Slavs, including Jews, Armenians, and Asians were generally barred from senior ranks and from joining elite or strategic positions in the Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, and the Soviet Navy because of doubts regarding the loyalty of ethnic minorities. RAND analyst S. Enders Wimbush said, Soldiers are clearly recruited in a way that reflects the worries of society. The average Russian citizen and Soviet decision maker have questions about the allegiance of the non-Slav, especially the Central Asian".

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 defence, close air support, and interdiction; and Military Transport Aviation (Voenno-Transportnaya Aviatsiya or "VTA"), which controlled all transport aircraft. The Soviet Air Defence Forces (Voyska protivovozdushnoy oborony or Voyska PVO), which focused on air defence and interceptor aircraft, was then a separate and distinct service within the Soviet military organisation. Soviet MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft in 1989.Yet another independent service was the Soviet Navy's air arm, the Soviet Naval Aviation (Aviatsiya Voenno Morskogo Flota or "AV-MF").

The official day of VVS was the Soviet Air Fleet Day, that often featured notable air shows meant to display Soviet air power advancements through the years, held in Moscow's Tushino airfield.

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.

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 Black Widow II). 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 with primarily emphasized 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. The aircraft's first flight took place on 29 January 2010.

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.

Forces in the late 1980s[]

Su-27 Flanker Soviet fighter aircraft. MiG-31 fighter/interceptor aircraft.Soviet Air Armies in the last years of the Soviet Union included:

Aviation formations directly subordinated to Headquarters, VVS

Long Range Aviation[]

Frontal Aviation in Groups of Forces[]

Military Transport Aviation[]

Military Transport Aviation included six separate regiments, and five divisions with a total of 18 military transport aviation regiments in 1988. The divisions were the 3rd Guards Military Transport Aviation Division (VTAD) at Vitebsk (four regiments), the 6th Military Transport Aviation Division at Krivoy Rog (two regiments), the 8th Division at Omsk Chkalovsk near Omsk (three OSNAZ regiments), the 12th Military Transport Aviation Division at Migalovo, which traced its heritage to the 12th Bomber Aviation Division of the World War II period, and had three regiments, and the 18th Military Transport Aviation Division at Shaulyai, tracing its history to the wartime 6th Guards Bomber Aviation Division, and had three regiments. (Feskov et al 2004, p. 146)

Frontal Aviation[]

Soviet Air Defence Forces (Voyska PVO)[]

Independent air defense component of the Soviet Armed Forces under Headquarters, V-PVO.

Training schools of the VVS and PVO[]

In 1988, schools included:

There is also a list of Soviet Air Force bases listing the various air bases of the force.


Soviet Air Force inventory as of 1990[]

Soviet Tu-16, Soviet MiG-23MLD (NATO – Flogger K) aircraft.Sukhoi Su-15 (NATO code Flagon) Sukhoi Su-24 ground attack aircraft. Soviet Mil Mi-8T helicopter.See also: [[:List of military aircraft of the Soviet Union and the CIS]];205 strategic bombers

160 Tupolev Tu-95
15 Tupolev Tu-160
30 Myasishchev M-4
230 medium bombers
30 Tupolev Tu-22M
80 Tupolev Tu-16
120 Tupolev Tu-22
1,755 fighters
90 Su-27 Flanker
540 MiG-29 Fulcrum
700 MiG-23 Flogger
185 MiG-21 Fishbed
200 MiG-31 Foxhound
40 MiG-25 Foxbat
2,135 attack aircraft
630 Su-24 Fencer
535 Su-17 Fitter
130 Su-7 Fitter-A
500 MiG-27 Flogger-D
340 Su-25 Frogfoot
84 tankers
34 Ilyushin Il-76 Midas
30 Myasishchev M-4 'Molot' Bison
20 Tupolev Tu-16 Badger
40 Beriev A-50 Mainstay
1,015 Reconnaissance and ECM aircraft
50 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed
170 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat
190 Sukhoi Su-7R
235 Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer
200 Yakovlev Yak-28 Brewer
130 Tu-16 Badger
30 Tu-22M Backfire
10 Il-20 Coot
620 transport aircraft
45 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