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Reconnaissance Aircraft

M-17 Mystic



Yak-18 Max
Yak-25RV Mandrake
Yak-27RV Mangrove
Even as the Soviet Army was struggling to tranform itself into the modern mechanized force envisioned by Triandafillov and Tukhachevskly it suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the German Army. A strategic-operational intelligence failure, coupled with abysmal tactical reconnaissance, nearly destroyed the Soviet Army in the opening battles of the Russian campaign -- Operation Barbarossa. The experience of the Great Patriotic War taught the Soviets the connection between reconnaissance, intelligence, and success in battle. Their doctrine cited reconnaissance as "the most important type of combat support."

The Soviets had a special term that incorporated the correlation between reconnaissance and intelligence: razvedka. The Soviets understood razvedka as both the process of acquiring information through reconnaissance and the product of intelligence for military operations. Razvedka is a requirement at the lowest tactical level through to the highest strategic level. At all levels, razvedka efforts must work together towards a common goal.

The Soviet Military Encyclopedia defined razvedka as: "The obtaining, collection, and study of data about military-political conditions in individual countries and in probable or actual enemy coalition nations; their armed forces and military-economic potential; the compositions, dispositions, condition, nature of actions, and intentions of groups of forces; and also the theater of operations."

The principal method for gathering target intelligence is air reconnaissance. The Front commander's staff prepares an overall reconnaissance plan that details tasks for tactical aviation assets. Tactical aviation reconnaissance focuses on the tactical and operational depths of the enemy, although targets at strategic depths also may be assigned.

By the late 1980s the Soviets had become increasingly preoccupied with the problem of how to neutralize or destroy NATO nuclear delivery systems before they can be used against advancing Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces. However, the Soviet offensive can be successful if not only NATO's nuclear systems, but also ground-based command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3M) systems and various air and air defense assets are neutralized. The steady improvements in mobility, range, and destructive power of various weapon platforms used by NATO was bound to complicate, and complicate greatly, the Soviet problem of how to neutralize or destroy them at the very outset of hostilities, and in the course of combat on the ground. This problem could be resolved only by completely integrating and automating all available reconnaissance assets, command, control and communications (C3) systems, and means of destruction into what the Soviets called a recconnaissance-strike complex.

Air reconnaissance is conducted to determine the enemy's intentions and collect intelligence for planning air and ground operations. There are four major categories of targets for air reconnaissance: Nuclear weapon systems and storage depots; Active and potential enemy airfields; Defensive positions and systems (air defense, command and control centers, electronic warfare centers). Enemy reserves, supply depots, and approach routes (particularly key intersections and bridges).

Aircraft crews on any mission are expected to immediately report observed enemy activity. Primary responsibility for air reconnaissance is borne by dedicated reconnaissance regiments. These regiments have specially equipped reconnaissance aircraft. Airborne electronic intelligence collectors also are available from aviation assets. Perishable target intelligence data is transmitted by radio from the aircraft to ground command posts. Greater effort is being made to develop and improve methods for secure transmission of reports from the aircraft to data collection and processing centers. The processing of data from an air reconnaissance mission takes 2 to 8 hours, although procedures for interpreting reconnaissance data are being modernized to speed up this process.

In training exercises, the Soviets showed some resewations about employing armed reconnaissance flights on battlefield and rear area interdiction missions ("free hunting" flights) until airsuperiorityis established. Armed reconnaissance efforts would he directed toward disrupting the enemy's resupply operations and troop movements through the immediate exploitation of reconnaissance data (by a flight of a reconnaissance aircraft and two to four attack aircraft). Targets for interdiction missions are nuclear storage areas, enemy airtields, troop reserves, and command and control centers. Targets may be located up to 480 kilometers behind the front lines.

Interdiction of enemy efforts to deploy and concentrate his forces against arapidand highly mobile attacking force is considered particularly effective when the enemy lacks in-depth reserves and relies on moving forces laterally to blunt offensive operations. The classification (characteristics and configuration) and location of targets are the bases for planning strikes). Targets are classified as single, multiple, line, or area.

One area of expressed interest in the 1980s was the improvement of night-time aerial reconnaissance and ordnance delivety in support of ground maneuver formations. Despite heavy emphasis on night combat, the Soviets recognized limitations in their capability to maintain continuity of air support at night. They see a need for improved target designation and mutual identification procedures between air and ground units at night, even to the extent of forming special helicopter units for night combat.

The survivability of aircraft and crew in modern warfare depends a great deal on avoiding detection by radar controlled enemy guns and missiles. To prevent radar detection by means of electronic jamming of enemy radar signals requires electronic jamming equipment that is very costly and is itself susceptible to countermeasures. Another means of offsetting radar detection is to fly the aircraft at a very low altitude where interference from ground terrain renders detection by most radars ineffective. Low altitude flying has certain drawbacks, notably increased susceptibility to crashes and exposure to hostile ground fire. Nevertheless, it represented one of the most viable and successful countermeasures available.

While an aircraft may effectively avoid radar detection by flying at low altitude, the aircraft must, at some point, increase its altitude in order to perform missions such as aerial reconnaissance or surveillance and strikes of mobile targets. Avionics equipment used in the performance of these missions must operate at a substantially higher altitude than that required for radar avoidance. At such altitude, the aircraft is highly subject to enemy radar detection and immediate attack.

The Soviet's most significant firepower shortfall in Afghanistan was not in the number of delivery units, but rather in their inability to apply available firepower effectively. That's why the Soviets made the development of an effective network of razvedka (intelligence and reconnaissance) one of their most important priorities. Soviet reconnaissance aircraft such as the MIG 21R Fishbed, the Mi 8 Hip helicopter, and the Antonov provided "over-the-hill" surveillance for the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The Soviets thought that with an increase in the maneuverability of troops and tempo of combat actions and the massive employment of diverse types of weapons the possibility of achieving surprise has been considerably increased. Hence, air reconnaissance has become the principal source of information on the adversary's troops and forces in the conduct of an operation or battle. The Soviets assert that up to 80% of data in preparating and executing combat actions are obtained by using air reconnaissance.

They postulated that because of the large quantity of data obtained with air reconnaissance and, at the same time, limited forces and assets available, strict centralization of the planning and combat employment of air reconnaissance forces was required. The increased importance of air reconnaissance in the conduct of combat operations is primarily owing to the increase in firepower, mobility and precision of all weapons systems.

Air reconnaissance is most suitable to reconnoiter large areas in the shortest possible time, and to concentrate rapidly activities in other important areas and in those areas in which other reconnaissance forces and means cannot be used. Air reconnaissance can obtain reliable and precise data on coordinates of the targets and transmit them in a timely manner. It can be used uninterruptedly in all combat situations.

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Page last modified: 03-03-2016 16:15:31 ZULU