Soviet Union Table of Contents
In 1989 the Air Forces had 450,000 personnel in three combat arms and one supporting branch, the Aviation Engineering Service. The Air Forces also provided and trained prospective cosmonauts for the Soviet space program. Air Forces personnel operated all military aircraft except aircraft belonging to the Air Defense Forces and the Naval Forces. In 1989 the Air Forces were organized into air armies consisting of several air divisions. Each air division had three air regiments with three squadrons of about twelve aircraft each.
The Strategic Air Armies were organized in the late 1970s from elements of Long-Range Aviation. Their mission was to attack the enemy's strategic delivery systems and infrastructure, including missile and bomber bases. The Strategic Air Armies were organized into five air armies of bomber aircraft of several types. In 1989 these included Tu-95 long-range strategic bombers, a type first deployed in the late 1950s and continuously upgraded since then. Since the early 1980s, more than seventy of these bombers have been modified to carry air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). A new intercontinental-range bomber, the Tu-160, which also bears the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) designation Blackjack, became operational in 1989. In the late 1980s, long-range bombers carried a small, but increasing, percentage of all Soviet strategic nuclear weapons.
Although its name implies an intercontinental mission, most Strategic Air Armies aircraft were medium- and short-range bombers. In 1989 the Soviet Union had Tu-16, Tu-22 and Tu-26 medium-range bombers. The Tu-16 and Tu-22 aircraft entered service in large numbers in the early 1960s. The Tu-26, sometimes called the Tu-22M and designated the Backfire bomber, was first fielded in 1974. In 1989 the Strategic Air Armies also included Su-24 fighter-bombers, which had a combat radius of over 1,000 kilometers. Medium-range bombers and fighter-bombers would support military operations by striking the enemy's nuclear delivery systems, airfields, air defense systems, and command, control, and communications facilities in a theater of war.
Data as of May 1989