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Ground Forces' Aviation / Army Aviation

The Ground Force passed over the control over the Army Aviation to the Air Force in 2003. Vladimir Mikhailov, commander of the Air Force, thinks that this was a correct decision. Life shows that reorganization has not decreased the number of crashes. In addition, units have not received new helicopters. Army Aviation remains something of a stepchild to the Air Force, important steps have been taken in recent years to get long-delayed (since the beginning of the 1980s) programs to develop a new generation of helicopters back on track.

The Soviet Air Force of the 1970's included three major components: Frontal Aviation (FA), Long Range Aviation, and Military Transport Aviation. The bulk of Air Force assets belonged to Frontal Aviation with over 5000 aircraft and more than 1000 attack helicopters. The sole purpose of Frontal Aviation was to serve as the tactical air arm of the Soviet armed forces; its role was similar in many ways to that of the US Air Force's Tactical Air Command. While the Soviet Air Force exercised administrative control over these assets, operational control rested with the commanders of the military districts or groups of forces abroad.

To free fixed-wing frontal aviation for deep attack in the TVD, the Soviets resurrected the concept of army aviation. The helicopters are assigned to fronts and down to divisional level. The standard attack helicopter, the Mi-24 Hind is used to support counterattack or contain enemy penetration. The Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopters supplements and eventually will replace the Hinds. The newest helicopter, Hokum probably is used for a new mission; battlefield air defense and striking enemy antitank helicopters and lower performance fixed-wing ground attack aircraft.

From 1980 to 1990 the Ground Forces' Aviation [Aviatsiya Sukhoputnykh Voysk - ASV, or Armeyskaya Aviatsiya - Army Aviation] command was subordinated to the VVS, while its helicopter units became part of the ground forces. In December 1990, it was re-subordinated to the High Command of the Army to improve coordination with ground troops.

Army Aviation exists to augment the capability of the Army to conduct prompt and sustained operations on land. By definition, it is aviation which is organic to the Army and is emptloyed to increase its mobility, flexibility, firepower, and efficiency of ground forces. With the greater dispersion of modern combat, in the light of nuclear weapons, the need for control and liaison becomes apparent, and the need for AAVN as an integral part of units, thus becomes very clear.

Army Aviation (Aviatsiya Sukhoputnykh Voysk - ASV) was formed in the 1960s with the primary missions to offer direct fire support to ground troops on the battlefield, and transport troops, supplies, equipment and ammunition over short distances. Helicopter units are typically called upon to perform combat, transport, reconnaissance, target designation and electronic warfare missions.

Since 1992, the ASV has played an important supporting role in all of Russia's regional conflict adventures, and especially in the Caucasus. It is, in fact, one of the most combat ready elements of the Russian armed forces; the experiences of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Chechnya in the 1990s gave it no choice but to adapt its tactics, innovate and be prepared for action.

From 1980 to 1990, the ASV command was subordinated to the VVS, while its helicopter units became part of the ground forces. In December 1990, it was re-subordinated to the High Command of the Army in order to improve coordination with ground troops. Despite the ASV's importance to the army and the constant operational demands placed upon it, between 1992 and 1999 2,000 pilots were cut from the ASV ranks (about 50% of all pilots) and the number of attack and transport helicopters in military districts reduced from 2,000 to about 900.

The ASV is mostly equipped with helicopters that entered service in the 1970s and whose production has stopped altogether. Betwen 1992 and 1997, only four Ka-50 'Hokum' single-seat attack helicopters (which practically have not been used due to lack of money), ten Mi-26 'Halo' heavy transport helicopters and eight Mi-8 'Hip' transport helicopters were delivered to the ASV, while the ASV needs about 40 new transport and 25-30 new combat helicopters a year to replace older models. Defence Minister Ivanov's February 2002 statement - that due to lack of money the ASV fleet will not be renewed in the near future - was disconcerting to ASV officers.

Throughout the 1990s, ASV pilots flew on average twice as often as Frontal Aviation pilots, but its fleet was in as much need of modernization and repairs. According to the ASV Commander, in summer 1997 a thousand helicopters were awaiting repairs because of a severe shortage of spare parts (only 20 helicopters a year had been repaired between 1994 and 1997) while on average only 28% of ASV helicopters were clear to fly.

All army aviation, including helicopter units, was re-subordinated to the allegedly development-oriented Russian Air Force. This decision did not make much sense to some, because all Russia's cash-strapped armed services were unable to acquire modern military equipment at the turn of the century. The Air Force, for example, which only got the first new Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback tactical bombers in late 2006, managed to upgrade just a few aircraft per year, starting with 1992. Consequently, Air Force generals cared little about helicopter units. The Ka-50 faced problems after the re-subordination because Army General Vladimir Mikhailov, commander of the Russian Air Force, preferred the Mil Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter that had lost out to the Ka-50 in 1984. This choice was justified because the Mi-28's maneuverability had improved greatly by 1999. The helicopter also received thicker armor, more powerful weaponry and was renamed the Mi-28N Night Hunter, meaning it could operate round the clock.

One of the worst helicopter disasters suffered by federal forces was the downing of a Mi-26 at Khankala on 19 August 2002 with a loss of 127 lives. Quite clearly one of the factors which contributed to this disaster was the singular failure of command, the lack of discipline and control throughout the chain of command. The Mi-26 helicopter was shot down by a portable air defense missile system. In September 2002 the Defense Ministry announced that it finished investigation into the catastrophe in Chechnya. The Defense Minister announced that 19 people were punished by disciplinary measures, including 12 generals. Among them are the Commander of Army Aviation, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel General Vitaly Pavlov, who was dismissed, and Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy Commander of Army Aviation Major General Anatoly Surtsukov received a severe reprimand. Pavlov was a scapegoat; ASV assets in Chechnya were subordinated directly to the federal forces commander, while Pavlov had the wider responsibility for ASV matters as a whole.

On 05 September 2002 it was reported that the Russian Armed Forces Army Aviation Directorate would be disbanded by 01 December 2002 under a Russian defense minister's decree. Army Aviation of the Land Forces was reassigned of the Air Force as of 01 January 2003. The Armed Forces Army Aviation Directorate, commanded by a four star general officer of the Air Force, was replaced by the Air Force Army Aviation Directorate, being tailored at the Air Force Command. The new directorate was headed by Lieutenant General Alexander Zelin, a three star general officer, the Air Force aviation chief and deputy Air Force commander-in- chief.

Modernization

A program to modernize existing Mi-24P helicopters and equip them with night capability began in 2003. At the same time, the Air Force rejected plans to modernize the older Mi-24V for financial reasons. A limited modernization of Mi-8MTV transport helicopters (including to the night version Mi-8MTKO) has begun, and procurement of this family of vehicles is to be renewed. The state armaments program plans the delivery of 156 new and 372 modernized helicopters for army aviation. Given the current fleet of up to 500 helicopters (about 240 combat Mi-24, a few combat Ka-50 and Mi-28N, 25 transport Mi-26, with Mi-8 transport helicopters accounting for the rest), this would preserve the current make-up of Army Aviation.

As of 2004 eight modernized Mi-24 had been adopted in the army aviation. Russia's Air Force was expected to purchase 50 new Mi-28N shock helicopters by 2010. Test of the helicopter is to start in two months; Mi-28N is to become the basic military helicopter of the Russian army aviation.

In August 2008 Air Force Commander Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said that by 2011, Russia's Mi-26 heavy airlift helicopters and Mi-24PN choppers will be upgraded. Zelin said that army aviation will be modernized with MI-24 and Mi-26 until 2011. In the future Air Force plans to procure more than 60 Mi-8MTV-5, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters. From 2011 to 2015 by the Air Force RF will acquire more than 100 attack helicopters Mi-28N, Ka-52 and Mi-8 of various modifications. He said that the helicopter regiments equipped with new aviation technologies should form the basis of airborne reserves of special-purpose, as well as mountain brigades. According to A.Zelina, these programs will provide strategic directions group army aviation, capable of getting the job done both independently and in providing special events of various law enforcement agencies.




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