National Air Defense Forces

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

National Air Defense Forces


an armed service of the USSR. The forces are intended for repulsing enemy air attacks against the most important administrative and political centers, industrial and other important objectives in the rear, armed forces groupings, and the objectives that make up the foundation of the state’s economic and military power. In terms of their combat capabilities, the air defense forces are able to defeat all modern means of air attack under any weather conditions and at any time of the day or night. The main features of the air defense forces as an armed service are high maneuverability and the ability to intercept and destroy means of air attack at great distances from the defended objectives. They carry out their missions in close coordination with the other armed services. The air defense forces consist of the following combat arms: antiaircraft rocket troops, antiaircraft defense aviation and radar troops, and various types of special-purpose troops. Organizationally they consist of regular units of all sizes, special forces units, and service troops. The antiaircraft rocket troops are armed with complexes of rockets of different ranges and designations. Antiaircraft defense aviation is armed with fighter aviation intercept complexes, which include supersonic fighter-interceptors with rocket weaponry capable of intercepting and destroying enemy aircraft carrying air-to-ground rockets before the rockets are launched from the aircraft. The primary armament of the radar troops is the radar station. These troops maintain surveillance of the air space, identify detected targets, warn the National Air Defense Forces, other armed services, and civil defense agencies about them, and support the guidance of fighters to the target and the actions of antiaircraft rocket troops. In large capitalist states, defending administrative centers of the war industry and other important government objectives against air attack is assigned to the air force, which also includes antiaircraft rocket troops and other troops designated for antiaircraft defense.

The development of the National Air Defense Forces and of the means of fighting an air enemy is linked to the appearance and combat application of aviation in World War I (1914-18). In France in 1913 and in Russia and Germany in 1914 cannon were developed to fire at air targets. In the Russian Army field guns and machine guns were adapted for use on special mountings. In 1915 aircraft, balloon-barrage aerostats, and antiaircraft searchlights began to be used for covering troops and for the air defense of some major centers of the country. In the Russian Army the first battery of 75-millimeter naval cannon adapted for firing at aircraft was formed in October 1914; antiaircraft guns of the 1914 model and the first fighter aircraft in the world, the RBVZ-S-16, were built in 1915. Antiaircraft artillery batteries and aviation detachments of fighter aircraft were formed for the air defense of the country’s major centers-—such as Petrograd, Odessa—and for the defense of troops and objectives at the rear of the front. An air observation, warning, and communications system (VNOS) was formed to detect enemy aircraft, observe their activity, and warn air defense forces and means. In October 1917 several antiaircraft batteries on rail-road flatcars were formed. They became known as the steel antiaircraft battalions and were one of the first air defense subunits in the Red Army. By the spring of 1918 there were 12 fighter aviation detachments and more than 200 antiair-craft batteries involved in the air defense of Petrograd, Moscow, Astrakhan, Baku, and Kronstadt. The training of command cadres of antiaircraft artillerymen, observers, and signal corpsmen was carried on in the air defense subunits at special schools. The first school for command personnel of antiaircraft artillery was established in 1918 in Nizhny Novgorod. Instructional teams to train artillerymen, observers, and telephone operators were organized in Moscow, Petro-grad, Tula, and other cities.

During the Civil War (1918-20) the tactics of the air defense forces were further developed from combat experience gained in World War I, the principles for constructing the air defense of major points in the country were developed, and elements of the operational skill of the air defense forces were conceived. In view of the rapid development of bomber aviation in the large imperialist countries, the Communist Party and the Soviet government adopted a number of measures to strengthen the nation’s air defense. From 1924 to 1928 the organizational forms of antiaircraft artillery were developed further. In 1924 in Leningrad the 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was formed from detached battalions, and in 1927 the 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade was formed. The basis of the organizational structure of air defense in the 1920’s was the air defense posts. They were included in air defense sectors in the border military districts, and the command of these districts bore responsibility for air defense along the borders of the district. During the same period a network of air observation, warning, and communications posts was set up in the border zone and around the largest centers in the country. In 1927 a department of air defense was organized at the Staff Headquarters of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. In April 1930 it became the Directorate of Air Defense, and in 1932 it became directly subordinate to the people’s commissar for military and naval affairs. The directorate provided general guidance for air defense throughout the country and coordinated the activity of civilian departments, institutions, and public organizations in this field. The command of the military districts provided guidance for air defense within the districts. The air defense sectors were abolished. Army Commander First Class S. S. Kamenev was appointed the first head of the Air Defense Directorate of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army in July 1934.

In the 1930’s the air defense forces were supplied with new combat materiel, grew in strength, and began to train highly qualified command and technical cadres. New air defense units were established, and their organizational structure and principles of combat application were refined. Antiaircraft artillery received new domestic models of antiaircraft guns—the 76,2-mm models of 1931 and 1938, the 85-mm and automatic 37-mm models of 1939, the antiaircraft fire control director PUAZO-2 in 1935, and the PUAZO-3 in 1939. Fighter aviation was supplied with the domestic 1-15, 1-16, and 1-15 bis aircraft and, from 1940, with the improved models Yak-1, MiG-3, and (in 1941) the LaGG-3. The air observation, warning, and communications service received the first domestic radar detection stations, the RUS-1, in 1939; in 1940 they received the RUS-2. Between 1934 and 1939 anti-aircraft artillery almost tripled its equipment, and fighter aviation increased its equipment about 1.5 times. A uniform organizational structure for air defense units and subunits was established, and in 1932 antiaircraft artillery divisions were formed. In 1937 air defense corps, divisions, and detached brigades were formed to defend the largest centers in the country. In 1940-41 the entire border region of the country was divided into air defense zones (by number of military districts), which were in turn divided into air defense areas. Unit antiaircraft artillery and fighter aviation allocated for the air defense of important centers in the country were not included in the air defense zones. In 1940 the Air Defense Directorate of the Red Army was changed into the Main Directorate of Air Defense and headed by Colonel General N. N. Voronov.

At the start of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) air defense forces units were removed from the control of the commanders of the military districts and fleets (with the exception of Leningrad) and made subordinate to the commander of Air Defense Forces of the Country’s Territory, a position instituted in November 1941. (The first commander was Major General M. S. Gromadin.) At the same time air defense was subdivided into unit air defense and the air defense of the country’s territory.

In 1941 out of the existing air defense zones in the European USSR, corps (Moscow and Leningrad) and division air defense regions were formed. In January 1942 fighter aviation allocated for defending air defense objectives was made sub-ordinate to the air defense command of the country. In April 1942 overall control of the air defense forces began to be exercised by the commander of artillery of the Red Army through the newly formed Central Staff Headquarters of the National Air Defense Forces and the Central Staff Headquarters of Air Defense Fighter Aviation. The first operational commands of the air defense forces were formed—the Moscow Air Defense Front and the Baku and Leningrad Air Defense Armies. By the end of the war the National Air Defense Forces included four air defense fronts—the Western, Southwestern, Central, and Transcaucasus—and three air defense armies—the Maritime, Amur, and Transbaikal.

During the war antiaircraft artillery and air defense fighter aviation took shape organizationally as combat arms of the air defense forces. There was significant development of air observation, warning, and communications troops, searchlight units, and balloon-barrage aerostats. Large operational and tactical units of the National Air Defense Forces and units of the combat arms were formed. During the war years the strength of the National Air Defense Forces almost doubled. The fighting efficiency of the National Air Defense Forces showed itself particularly in defending against enemy air attack Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities, as well as important industrial regions and communications lines. Dozens of air defense units, hundreds of aircraft, and thousands of antiaircraft guns participated in repulsing massive enemy air attacks. The combat activities of the front commands of the National Air Defense Forces took on the character of antiaircraft operations conducted, as a rule, in coordination with neighboring air defense commands and large units and the air defense forces and means of other armed services (in the area near the front with frontline fighter aviation and unit antiaircraft artillery and along the coastal operational axes with air defense forces of the navy). Some of the troops of the air defense forces were brought in for direct participation in the fulfillment of combat missions in the interests of the at-tacking fronts. More than 80,000 soldiers of the air defense forces were awarded orders and medals for combat feats during the Great Patriotic War; of them 93 were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. In addition, 29 units were given the name of guards, and 11 were given other honorary names.

In 1948 the National Air Defense Forces were removed from subordination to the artillery commander of the Soviet Army and transformed into an independent armed service of the USSR with control assigned to the commander of National Air Defense Forces. At the end of the 1940’s and the beginning of the 1950’s the National Air Defense Forces began to adopt new antiaircraft artillery complexes (57-, 100-, and 130-mm antiaircraft guns), radar stations for gun laying, and the fire control director. Air defense fighter aviation was reequipped with the MiG-15 and MiG-17 jet fighters and the supersonic MiG-19 fighters. The air observation, warning, and communications troops received much new materiel and began to be called the air defense radar troops.

In May 1954 the position of commander in chief of the National Air Defense Forces and deputy USSR minister of defense was instituted and filled by Marshal of the Soviet Union L. A. Govorov. Subsequent commanders in chief have been Marshal of the Soviet Union S. S. Biriuzov (1955-62); Marshal of Aviation V. A. Sudets (April 1962-July 1966); and Marshal of the Soviet Union P. F. Batitskii (since July 1966).

A new stage in the development of the National Air Defense Forces began in the mid-1950’s, called forth by the adoption of nuclear weapons and the rapid development of various types of rockets, aircraft that carried winged rockets, and radio electronic equipment. In connection with this the role and place of air defense in armed combat greatly changed, and greater demands were made on the National Air Defense Forces, which were reequipped on a fundamen-tally new technological basis. Forms and methods of providing an impenetrable air defense capable of repulsing attacks by any means of enemy air attack were developed. The possibilities for centralizing troop control and carrying out troop maneuvers significantly expanded, and the forms and methods of using the National Air Defense Forces were refined. The combat activities of the National Air Defense Forces are characterized by their great area, the participation of a significant number of troops, the decisive nature of the targets, and the high level of tension, fast pace, aggressiveness, and extreme and sudden changes in the situation.

In the air defense of the capitalist countries (the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany), various new, modern means have been adopted in the postwar period. Special attention is being devoted to the development of fighter aviation and antiaircraft rocket complexes for various purposes.


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Voiska protivovozdushnoi oborony strany. Moscow, 1968.
50 let Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR. Moscow, 1968.
Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941-1945, vols. 1-6. Moscow, 1963-65.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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