Soviet Union Table of Contents
The National Air Defense Forces became a separate armed service in 1948 and were given the mission of defending the Soviet industrial, military, and administrative centers and the armed forces against strategic bombing. After Air Defense of Ground Forces was formed in 1958, the National Air Defense Forces focused on strategic aerospace and theater air defense. Around 1980 the National Air Defense Forces yielded responsibility for theater antiaircraft systems to Air Defense of Ground Forces and was renamed the Air Defense Forces. In 1989 the Air Defense Forces had more than 500,000 personnel and operated the world's most extensive strategic air defense network.
In 1989 the Antiaircraft Rocket Troops manned 12,000 strategic surface-to-air missile launchers at 1,400 sites inside the Soviet Union. These forces were organized into brigades of launch battalions. Soviet SA-3 and SA-5 antiaircraft missiles, first produced in the 1960s, together with older SA-1 and SA-2 missiles, constituted over 90 percent of the Soviet surface-to-air missile inventory. In the late 1980s, the new SA-10 was entering service to replace SA-1 and SA-2 missiles. The Soviet Union also had another antiaircraft missile, the SA-12, under development. Western authorities believed the SA-10 and SA-12 had improved capabilities to destroy aircraft and missiles at low altitudes. In support of the Air Defense Forces, the Radiotechnical Troops operated 10,000 ground-based air surveillance radars for surface-to-air missile operations. In addition, the air defense systems of the Warsaw Pact countries were highly integrated into the Soviet network, effectively extending the range of Soviet early warning capabilities.
The other combat arm of the Air Defense Forces, Air Defense Aviation, had the mission of preventing aircraft and cruise missiles from entering Soviet airspace. In wartime it would strive to establish air superiority and provide air cover for Frontal Aviation's deep strike and ground attack aircraft. In 1989 Air Defense Aviation had 2,000 fighter-interceptor aircraft organized into air regiments. The Su-15, MiG-23, and MiG-25, first produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, constituted 80 percent of Air Defense Aviation's inventory. The Soviet Union's newest interceptors, the MiG-31 and Su-27, deployed in the early 1980s, represented 10 percent of the force in 1989. The MiG-29, which first appeared in 1984, may also eventually be deployed with Air Defense Aviation. These new fighter-interceptors had "look-down, shoot-down" radars for engaging aircraft and cruise missiles penetrating Soviet airspace at low altitudes. Since the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union has built four new airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft on an Il-76 airframe. These AWACS aircraft have improved Air Defense Aviation's ability to direct interceptors against enemy bombers, fighters, and cruise missiles in aerial combat.
Although equipped with numerous modern weapons systems, the Air Defense Forces have made operational errors that have raised serious questions about their command, control, and communications systems and training. In September 1983, Soviet interceptors shot down a South Korean passenger jet that strayed into Soviet airspace over Sakhalin. In May 1987, Mathias Rust, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), flew his private airplane into Soviet airspace and landed in Red Square in Moscow. As a result, the commander in chief of the Air Defense Forces, a former fighter pilot, was fired and replaced with a high-ranking Ground Forces officer who had extensive combined arms experience.
Data as of May 1989