Tactical Aviation includes all aircraft that can engage in combatat or beyond the forward edge of the battle area. For the Soviets this included frontal and naval aviation, and for the U.S. it includes tactical aviation of the Air Force and Navy and attack helicopters of the Army. Since 1965, the U.S. had produced more tactical fighters and attack aircraft than the USSR, but by the early 1980s the Soviets approached parity in force levels as the USSR was outproducing the US. The modernization of Soviet Frontal Aviation was substantial. This cames in part from the stepped up RDT&E outlays in this category. This figure also reflected that a new Soviet attack aircraft, originally expected in mid-decade, was operational in 1983. In addition to increased Soviet RDT&E expenditures, the estimated dollar cost for Soviet procurement of tactical aviation is about double that of the United States.
Following the Great Patriotic War, Soviet fighter design not only progressed largely independently of prevailing doctrinal requirements, but appears to have driven the development of tactical air employment doctrine for over forty years.
In the 1930s "Stalin's Falcons" were regularly setting world records. But in the West monoplane designs had almost completely supplanted biplanes by 1935. Although the Soviet Union was holding its own in large planes, it lagged in small-plane design. The drubbing that Soviet fighters, including the I-15 biplane and the underpowered I-16 monoplane, took in Spain from 1936 to 1939 bore this out.World War II forced pilots to break from restrictive tactics and to develop and use initiative in combat. By war's end, Soviet fighters' initiative greatly resembled western fighters'. However, since WWII technology and doctrine led to an increase in control measures and a decline in initiative. Despite this, veterans of combat have consistently spoken out for realistic training and the freedom for fighter initiative. As a result, emphasis on initiative rose in the late 1970's. But Soviet pilots did not come close to having the initiative of WWII fighters and the recent emphasis on initiative may be short-lived. By the 1980s technology gave the Soviet Air Force the choice of developing or extinguishing initiative among their fighters. In the 1950s US surveillance aircraft flew into Soviet airspace, but before the mid-1950s these aircraft could not penetrate deep enough into the USSR to see facilities far from the border and generally could not fly high enough or fast enough to avoid detection and interception by Soviet fighters. Thus, the Air Force began a new R&D program for a specially designed, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft, the U-2. The fight for air superiority began the day the Korean War started. The arrival of the MiG-15 in November 1950, often flown by Soviet pilots, changed things considerably however. For the remainder of the war, bitterly contested air battles were fought almost daily. Despite a decided numerical superiority in jet fighters, the Communists were never able to gain air superiority, testament to the skill and training of the UN fighter pilots, primarily those U.S. Air Force airmen flying the F-86 Sabre. The situation was somewhat different in air warfare in Vietnam. Military experts defined the principal change as follows: the offensive potential (lethal capabilities) of supersonic fighters had increased considerably due tothe use of guided weapons, while the defense had acquired nothing other than additional speed. During the Vietnam conflict, the multi-role F-4 had not completely outclassed its MiG-21 opponent. The overall victory-loss ratio dropped to nearly 2 : 1, (and sometimes was actually less than that) and America's joint service fighter community was clearly bitter, angry, and seeking something far better to fly. The Phantom ~ the principal U.S. Air Force second-generation tactical fighter - had an excessive wing loading, in line with the prevailing notions of the time. With a specific wing loading of 490 kg/sq m, it was unable to execute evasive maneuvers (the MiG-21, with approximately equal thrust-to-weight ratio, had a specific wing loading of 340 kg/sq m), which directly reflected in air combat losses. By 1960 most Soviet air defense fighters could operate at altitudes up to about 50,000 feet, and some up to about 55,000 feet, but the capabilities of the fighter force would be reduced considerably during periods of darkness or poor visibility. By 1970 the Soviets hade several thousand fighters in their air defense system. These aircraft were capable of supersonic speeds and were armed with the latest air-to-air rockets and missiles. The latest, the FOXBAT, is capable of speeds nearly three times the speed of sound. The Soviet strategic interceptor force consisted of several thousand aircraft, and was continuing the slow downward trend which had been in evidence for some time. Moreover, a large percentage of that force still consisted of subsonic or low-supersonic models introduced in 1957 or earlier, i.e., MIG-17s, MIG-19s, and YAK-25s. Most of these older models were day fighters and are armed with guns or rockets. A smaller portion of the force was composed of supersonic, all-weather interceptors introduced in 1959-64, which were armed with air-to-air missiles. A still smaller portion of the force was made up of new aircraft, i.e., YAK-28s, TU-28s and FLAGON-As. Soviet tactical fighters were characterized by short combat radii and small payloads; their design and rugged construction allow them to operate from unimproved airfields. These characteristics would permit a high sortie rate from improved bases where sufficient logistics and maintenance support were available. Soviet tactical air doctrine, however, placed heavy emphasis on operations from dispersed unimproved airfields; from such airfields the sortie rate would be lowered. The early MiG-series aircraft (MiG-15, 17, 19, and 21) were all designed primarily as interceptors for use in the counterair role. Early MiGs could carry only two bombs or rocket pods on wing pylons normally used to carry external fuel pods. Because of this restricted ordnance carrying capability, their ability to attack ground targets was limited. Newer models of these aircraft are significantly improved in their ability to attack ground targets. The Su-17 Fitter C and D and the export variant Su-20 Fitter are typical of these improved, older generation aircraft. In Tactical Aviation, by 1970 the Soviet had several thousand fighters and light bombers in their operational units, plus some older model aircraft collocated with those units. In addition, they had a large number of combat-type aircraft in reserve and in the training establishment. Of the aircraft in operational units, about 40 percent were available for the close air support, air strike and interdiction missions, and about the same percentage for air defense. The balance was available for reconnaissance and reconnaissance strike. Almost all of the air defense elements were equipped with the all-weather MIG-21 FISHBED, but a large proportion of the ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft are obsolescent MIG-l? Frescos and IL-28 Beagle light bombers. In the 1970s the air forces of the Warsaw Pact underwent extensive modernization. The appearance of the MiG-25 fighter-interceptor in quantity led some observers to wonder if an era of unchallenged Western technological superiority in aircraft design had ended. Other developments also stirred anxious thoughts. The Soviets and their allies vigorously improved their capacity for close-air support by equipping air regiments withnew Su-19 and MiG-27 fighter-bombers that could carry heavier payloads, laser-guided weapons, and nuclear bombs. The USSR's Frontal Aviation forces generally did not undertake deep interdiction missions and that the service's aircraft are primarily designed for air superiority or ground attack. They were also more mission-specific than the major U.S. fighters. The MiG-21 and -27 were designed for air superiority; the Su-7 and -17 for close support; and the Su-24 for penetrating ground attack against hardened targets. Two newer aircraft, in particular, greatly increased the ground attack capability of Soviet forces. The MiG-27 Flogger D was designed specifically for ground attack. It is capable of carrying most new ordnance currently under development. To supplement this ground attack capability, the Su-24 Fencer has become operational. The Fencer is a deep penetration strike aircraft believed equivalent to our FB-111. Using an improved terrain avoidance radar, it may be able to underfly friendly radar defenses while conducting deep penetrations. Additionally, the latest ground support fighter, the Su-25 Frogfoot, was designed to fly high-performance missions and is capable of carrying a wide variety of munitions. Within Voiska PVO aircraft were designed for specific, limited roles. Pilot training, for example, concentrated on ground control interception, not free air combat, and the MiG-25, while performing high-altitude, high-speed interception ably, was far less capable in other roles. The Su-9 was designed as a point defense interceptor; the Yak-28, as a low-altitude interceptor. The Tu-28 was built specifically for long-range intercepton. None possessed the multirole capabilities of U.S. fighters.
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