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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Airborne Troops and Special-Purpose Forces

The Soviet Union had substantial specialized forces having missions and subordinations distinct from those of the regular military services. The Airborne Troops, subordinated to the Supreme High Command in wartime, were closely linked to the Ground Forces and to Military Transport Aviation. The Special-Purpose Forces (Voiska spetsial'nogo Nazacheniia--Spetsnaz), designed to operate deep behind enemy lines, were controlled by the General Staff's Military Intelligence Directorate.

In 1989 the Airborne Troops were more numerous than all the other airborne forces of the world combined. The Airborne Troops consisted of seven divisions. Each division had 7,000 troops organized into three paratroop regiments and an artillery regiment. The Airborne Troops had specially designed air-transportable and, in some cases, air-droppable equipment. Their inventory included light infantry fighting vehicles for transporting and protecting airborne forces on the ground and self-propelled 85mm assault guns to provide them with firepower.

The Airborne Troops were the primary rapid intervention force of the armed forces. They spearheaded the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979 by seizing the airports in Prague and Kabul, respectively. The performance of the Airborne Troops in Afghanistan had raised their status as an elite combat arm.

The Soviet Spetsnaz has been the subject of intense speculation among Western experts because little is known about it. In 1989 the Soviet armed forces had about 30,000 Spetsnaz troops organized into sixteen brigades. In 1989 the Soviet Naval Forces also had four elite naval Spetsnaz brigades trained to reconnoiter, disrupt, or sabotage enemy naval installations and coastal defenses. One Western view held that, in wartime, small Spetsnaz teams would be assigned reconnaissance missions up to several hundred kilometers behind enemy lines. Spetsnaz units would then provide Soviet forces with targeting data on important enemy rear area facilities. Another view was that Spetsnaz troops would be emplaced weeks before a war to assassinate the enemy's political and military leaders; to sabotage its airfields; to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities; and to disrupt its command, control, and communications systems. Proponents of this view asserted that Spetsnaz teams assassinated the unpopular Afghan communist leader Hafizullah Amin before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Data as of May 1989