Soviet Air Defence Forces

Soviet Air Defence Forces
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The Soviet Air Defence Forces (Russian: Войска ПВО, Voyska ProtivoVozdushnoy Oborony, Voyska PVO, V-PVO, lit. Anti-Air Defense Troops; and formerly ProtivoVozdushnaya Oborona Strany, PVO Strany, lit. Anti-Air Defense of the Nation) was the air defense 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 defense forces, V-PVO was a branch of the military unto itself, separate from the Soviet Air Force (VVS) and Air Defense 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.



World War II

While the preparations for creation of the air defense forces started in 1932, and by the start of the World War II there were 13 PVO zones located within the military districts, the real growth of the Service was during the four years of the Second World War. During World War II its formations were organized as PVO Fronts, Air Armies of PVO, and PVO of military district, such as the Baku Air Defence Army. The largest of these, the PVO Fronts (Russian: Фронты ПВО), had the following service history:[2]

  • Western Front PVO
    • 1st formation 29 June 1943 - 20 April 1944 renamed to Headquarters, Northern PVO Front
    • 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
  • 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)
  • Southwestern Front PVO 24 December 1944 - 9 May 1945 formed from Headquarters, Southern PVO Front
  • Southern Front PVO 21 April 1944 - 24 December 1944 formed from Headquarters, Eastern PVO Front; re-flagged as Headquarters, Southwestern PVO Front

PVO Fronts normally covered airspace over several ground Army Fronts; these should not be confused with each other.

Cold War

All the possible air components were divided (as of 1945, before the 1949 reforms of the Soviet Armed Forces) into[3]:

  • 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 has been separated from the other services of the Soviet Army since 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, Commanding General-in-Chief, PVO-S.[4]

PVO's principal role was to shoot down United States Strategic Air Command bombers if they penetrated Soviet airspace. Secondary target were the U.S. air reconnaissance aircraft. There were a number of such aircraft shot down while operating around the Soviet borders,[5] but 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.

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 Space Forces. Organisationally, there were two main PVO districts for most of the USSR's postwar history, Moscow and Baku,[6] and the rest of the country was divided into PVO regions like in Belarus, the Ukraine and the Baltics.

In a 1981 reorganization, 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,[7][8] 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.[9] It seems that after the KAL 007 shootdown of 1983, no one was willing to give an order to bring Rust's tiny Cessna down, and modernisation 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.

1998 - merging into Russian Air Force

In 1998, the force groupings and headquarters of the PVO that had remained within Russia were merged with the Russian Air Force becoming the Air Force Air Defense Command.

The Day of Air Defense Forces (Den' Voysk PVO) was established in USSR on the second Sunday of April,[10][citation needed] and is still celebrated in the Russian Federation even after the 1998 merger of the Air Defense Forces with the Air Force.

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".

Commanders-in-Chief, Air Defense Forces

  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov 1954-1955
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Biryuzov 1955-1962
  • Marshal of Aviation V.A. Sudets 1962-1966
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Pavel Batitsky 1966-1978
  • Chief Marshal of Aviation A. I. Koldunov 1978-May 1987
  • General of the Army I.M. Тret'yak 31 May 1987-24 August 1991
  • General of the Army Viktor A Prudnikov (ПРУДНИКОВ) с 09/1991-December 1997[11]
  • General-Colonel Viktor P Sinitsin (СИНИЦИН Виктор Павлович) Dec 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.[12]

  • Moscow District of the PVO (now the Russian Special Purpose Command)
  • 2nd Air Army (Belarussian Military District)
    • 11th and 28th Corps of the PVO

Fighter Regiments of the 2nd Army PVO 1988 (Source AFM June 1993, 'Western CISAF', extracts)

Regiment Base Equipment Remarks
61st Fighter Aviation Regiment Baranovichi MiG-25/Su-27
201st Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment Machulishi MiG-23

Fighter Regiments of the 8th Army PVO 1988 (Source Feskov et al)

Regiment Base Equipment Remarks
62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment Belbek Su-27P Crimean Oblast
136th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment Kirovskoe (Кировское) Su-27P (?)
146th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment Vasylkiv (air base)? (Васильков) MiG-25PD 146 GvIAP 1945
179th Fighter Aviation Regiment Stryi(Стрый) MiG-23MLD Ярославский ордена Кутузова ; 179 иап 1945
636th Fighter Aviation Regiment Kramatorsk МиГ-23П, Су-15ТМ (Краматорск)
737th Fighter Aviation Regiment Artsyz MiG-23МЛ
738th Fighter Aviation Regiment Zaporoshye-Mokroe, Zaporozhia Oblast МиГ-23МЛ 738 иап 1945; disbanded 9 November 1990[13]
894th Fighter Aviation Regiment Ozerne МиГ-23MLD 894 иап, activated 9 June 1942
933rd Fighter Aviation Regiment Dnepropetrovsk MiG-25PD 933 иап
  • 10th Army of the PVO (HQ Murmansk)
    • 21st and 22nd Corps of the PVO and 22nd Division of the PVO
  • 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 Army of the PVO (HQ Tashkent)
    • 24th and 37th Corps of the PVO
  • 14th Air Army (Siberian Military District)
    • 38th, 39th, 50th and 56th (Semipalatinsk) Corps of the PVO and 41st Division of the PVO
  • 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)

19th PVO Army was the successor to PVO formations that had operated in the area from the Second World War, among them the Baku Air Defence Army. For existing details on the 19th PVO Army, see 19th PVO Army. 19th PVO Army was disbanded 1 April 1993, with much equipment handed over to Georgian Ministry of Defence.[14]

Inventory (1987/1990)

A Sukhoi Su-15 Flagon

The PVO inventory of 1990 was:[15]

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:[16]

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 defense system

Previous fighter aircraft operated by the PVO included:

  • MiG-3
  • La-9 Fritz
  • La-11 Fang
  • MiG-15 Fagot
  • MiG-17 Fresco
  • MiG-19 Farmer
  • MiG-21 Fishbed
  • Su-9 Fishpot
  • Yak-25

See also


  1. ^ a b Viktor Suvorov, Inside the Soviet Army, Hamish Hamilton
  2. ^, Великая Война - Фронты Пво (Russian)
  3. ^ Вестник ПВО
  4. ^ "History Of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense (Vol. 1, Pt. 2) 1945 - 1955". p. 151.,%20Pt.%202%29%201945%20-%201955%29.pdf. Retrieved 8 March 2011. ""the formation of PVO (Strany) as a co-equal with other services of the Soviet armed forces in May of 1954"" 
  5. ^ See Cold War Shotdowns
  6. ^ Viktor Suvorov, Inside the Soviet Army, Hamish Hamilton
  7. ^ Aviation Safety Network for Korean Air Flight 902
  8. ^ KAL 902 fails to appear on time(Russian)
  9. ^ William E Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1998, p.107-111
  10. ^ Initially established in 1975 it was to be held on April 11. In 1980 this was changed to the second Sunday of April.
  11. ^ See link on talk page,
  12. ^ This army, corps, and division data is drawn from Feskov et al. 2004, p.151-152
  13. ^
  14. ^ Richard Woff, 'The Armed Forces of Georgia', Jane's Intelligence Review, July 1993, p.309
  15. ^
  16. ^ George M. Mellinger, Chapter IV, Soviet Deployments and Military Districts, 1990, in Soviet Armed Forces Review Annual 14:1990, Academic International Press
  • Scott, Harriet Fast, and William Fontaine Scott. The Armed Forces of the USSR. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979. ISBN 9780891582762.

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