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Tactical Aviation

Tactical Aviation includes all aircraft that can engage in combat at or beyond the forward edge of the battle area. For the Soviets this included frontal and naval aviation, and for the U.S. it included 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.

The Great Patriotic War 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 the War, 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, was 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.

The removal of single-engine aircraft from the air force played a decisive role in the development of the Air Force and which had far-reaching consequences for the Russian Air Force. A political decision was made to reduce 800 aircraft in the Frontal Aviation [FA] of the USSR Air Force. Part of the aircraft from the Air Force completely unjustifiably and thoughtlessly began to be transferred to the Navy. It is understandable - what to honestly reduce - it is better to hide in the Navy. The Navy swore for a long time, not knowing what to do with such a mass of equipment and people.

It was during this period that the order (or instructions) apparently began to create a project on the withdrawal of single-engine aircraft from the air force. Some believed the decision to reduce single-engine aircraft in the Air Force that was the first and most severe blow that Soviet policy dealt the Air Force. The decision to reduce was made directly by the CPSU Central Committee, and the opinion of the General Staff and the Air Force Commander-in-Chief was not taken into account. By coincidence, the first to undergo a reduction were the units that passed Afghanistan and had experience in combat use. After all, it was they who were armed with the MiG-23ML (MLD), Su-17M2, M3, M4 aircraft, which were considered obsolete and very dangerous (one engine). Critics said no sabotage against the USSR, if it was executed, would not bring so much harm and would not have such catastrophic consequences for the Russian Air Force.

The Air Force reduction policy deprived the Frontal Aviation of whole classes of aircraft - fighter-bomber aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft. Army aviation was also affected, having lost almost all unmanned aircraft. The reductions were determined not by an updated military doctrine, which did not fit the planes, but by the demands of politicians. The Air Force was deprived of aircraft filling the gap between the relatively cheap Su-25 and the very expensive Su-24(M), capable of not only performing these tasks, but also using high-precision weapons, as well as navigating (automatic) bombing with sighting navigation systems.

No less paradoxical situation developed with the reduction of reconnaissance aviation (RA). After this, the Frontal Aviation was virtually left without eyes. The use of light and relatively cheap Su-17M3R, M4R allowed reconnaissance at any time of the day on the contact line of troops and in tactical depth. The reconnaissance modifications of aircraft created on the basis of fighter bombers had an armament kit similar to the basic models. Thus, reconnaissance aircraft were dual-use aircraft, performing reconnaissance and strike missions. After the reduction in the RA Air Force, operational tactical reconnaissance assets remained - the MiG-25RB (various modifications) and the Su-24MR. Designed to operate in the deep tactical and operational depths, these aircraft were not designed to solve reconnaissance tasks in the immediate vicinity of the contact line of troops.

In 1992, the Russian Air Force command, while analyzing the experience of military operations and the statistics of losses of past wars (not only Soviet ones) and realizing that there were serious budget problems ahead, decided to withdraw single-engine combat aircraft from the Air Force: MiG-23, MiG-27 and Su-17M of various modifications. This decision meant the de facto liquidation of fighter-bomber aircraft and the erosion of its tasks between attack and front-line bomber. This decision did not immediately succeed: some of the Su-17Ms that were in service lasted until the mid-nineties, and some squadrons until 1997. The 43rd Separate Naval Assault Squadron of the Black Sea Fleet was the last air unit on single-engine fighter-bombers. Its Su-17M4, due to the position of Ukraine, which did not want to allow the renewal of forces of the Black Sea Fleet, flew until 1998.

Russia must resume the creation of low-cost single-engine jet fighters, the engine for which can be developed on the basis of the existing RD-33. This was announced 21 October 2019 in an interview with TASS by the executive director of UEC-Klimov JSC Alexander Vatagin. "In our opinion, we definitely need to create a single-engine fighter, a cheap one. It has a market. Rostec enterprises can do this. We hope that the management of the state corporation will take a closer look at this area, and we hope that such work will be open," he said.

According to Vatagin, the enormous potential of the RD-33 engine allows him to create a more modern engine with a thrust of up to 11 tons. The RD-33 engine was created in the late 1970s. It is the most massive jet engine in its class. It is in service with 25 countries of the world as part of MiG-29 fighters.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2019 18:32:26 ZULU