Fighter Aviation (Istrebitel'naya Aviatsiya)
Samolet Istrebitel Perehvatchik
Aircraft Fighter Interceptor

In 1989 Air Defense Aviation had 2,000 fighter-interceptor aircraft organized into air regiments. The Su-15, MiG-23, and MiG-25, first produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, constituted 80 percent of Air Defense Aviation's inventory. The fighter aircraft of the PVO are organised as regiments. In all, in the 1980s the PVO had more than seventy regiments, each with forty aircraft. The PVO cannot, of course, use fighter aircraft built for the Air Forces, any more than the latter can use aircraft built to the designs of the PVO. The Air Forces and the PVO operated under entirely different conditions and have different operational tasks and each Service therefore has its particular requirements from its own aircraft.

The PVO operated from permanent airfields and could therefore use heavy fighter aircraft. The fighter aircraft of the Air Forces are constantly on the move behind the Land Forces and must therefore operate from very poor airfields, sometimes with grass runways or even from sections of road. They were therefore much lighter than the aircraft used by the PVO.

PVO fighters were assisted in their operations by extremely powerful radar and guidance systems, which direct the aircraft to their targets from the ground. These aircraft did not therefore need to be highly maneuverable but every effort was made to increase their speed, their operational ceiling and range. The Air Forces require different qualities from their fighter aircraft, which are lighter, since they had to operate in constantly changing situations, and from their pilots, who had to work unassisted, locating and attacking their targets for themselves. The Air Force fighters therefore needed to be both light and highly maneuverable but they were considerably inferior to those of the PVO in speed, range, payload and ceiling.

The MIG-23 is extremely light and maneuverable and is able to operate from any airfield, including those with grass runways. Clearly, it is an aircraft for the Air Forces. By contrast, the MIG-25, although designed by the same group, at the same time, is extremely heavy and unmanoeuvrable and can operate only from long and very stable concrete runways, but it has gained twelve world records for range, speed, rate of climb and altitude reached. For two decades this was the fastest operational aircraft in the world. It is easy to see that this is an PVO fighter.

Besides the MIG-25, which is a high-altitude interceptor, the PVO had a low-level interceptor, the SU 15, and a long-range interceptor, the TU 128, which is designed to attack enemy aircraft attempting to penetrate Soviet air space across the endless wastes of the Arctic or the deserts of Central Asia.

The Soviet Union's newest interceptors, the MiG-31 and Su-27, deployed in the early 1980s, represented 10 percent of the force in 1989. These new fighter-interceptors had "look-down, shoot-down" radars for engaging aircraft and cruise missiles penetrating Soviet airspace at low altitudes. Since the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union has built four new airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft on an Il-76 airframe. These AWACS aircraft have improved Air Defense Aviation's ability to direct interceptors against enemy bombers, fighters, and cruise missiles in aerial combat.

By the mid-1990s the air defense forces operated twenty Il-76 aircraft configured for airborne early warning and command and control. The air force troops operated their own training program from one training center that included four regiments equipped with more than 380 MiG-23 and L-39 aircraft.

Given the traditional Soviet emphasis on the air defense role for its fighters, the numerically impressive interceptor inventory was not surprising. By 1980 there were about 4600 fighters in Frontal Aviation units, about 40 percent of which are designated primarily counter air. Counting the 1000 or so organic to Soviet forces in East Europe, augmented by an equivalent number in the other Pact nations' inventory and about 500 immediately available in the Western U.S.S.R., the Pact could send over 2500 fighter-interceptors into battle in the first hours of a European conflict. The most widely deployed tactical interceptor was the MiG-21/Fishbed, principally the J, K, and L versions. These Fishbeds are shortrange, delta-winged mach 1.1 all-weather fighters carrying four A-A missiles. The most recent addition is the multipurpose MiG-23/ Flogger, a variable-geometry aircraft deployed in interceptor and ground attack variants. Soon to become the Pact's primary air-to-air tactical weapon system, the Flogger is capable of flying at mach 2.3 while carrying four A-A missiles. The MiG-25/Foxbat was also deployed in the forward area, but in a reconnaissance not an interceptor role.

Interceptor Aircraft - 1945-1955

In the first post war decade, Soviet air defense was dominated by a concerted program to equip fighter forces with jet aircraft. A major commitment was made early in 1946 to focus on advanced jet engine development while using foreign technology to support intermediate aircraft development. The plan breaks down into three stages:

  1. The development of interim aircraft based on captured German engines. This stage resulted in the YAK-15 and MiG-9 aircraft which were first flown on April 24, 1947. These were produced in limited quantities-some 800 MiG-9's and 265 YAK-15's and 610 YAK-17's (an improved version of the YAK-15).
  2. The development of combat capabilities based on imported British technology, namely the Rolls Royce Nene and Derwent engines. This stage was to result in the YAK-23, the La-15, and the ubiquitous MiG-15. Altogether some 120 Lavochkin and 930 YAK-23 aircraft would be produced. Ultimately, approximately 12,500 MiG-15's would be produced in four variants: a day interceptor, an improved performance day interceptor, a limited all-weather interceptor, and a reconnaissance attack version.
  3. The development of advanced interceptors on the basis of native engine technology derived from the efforts of the Klimov, Lyulka, Mikhulin, and Zumansky engine design bureaus: Of the development efforts Klimov's V K-1 engine was the first and was used to power the MiG-15bis the improved day interceptor.
Soviet aircraft development in the immediate post war period quickly sought a jet fighter responsive to Stalin's reported injunction to the Soviet aircraft industry to build aircraft that would fly higher, faster and further than any in the world. With a high priority, three or four competing programs were established to meet interceptor requirements. The context of Soviet immediate post war interceptor development indicates that the aircraft were not specifically designed against the early U.S. bomber threat. The prime impression of the development effort is that it appears to have been viewed as a technological competition with foreign fighters.

In 1948, a requirement for an all-weather interceptor resulted in development of three different two-engine, radar-equipped prototypes-the Su-15, the La 200A, and the MiG-310. These were awkward designs which attempted to incorporate two centrifugal flow engines and a radar in the same fuselage. They were dropped in favor of a radar modification of the MiG-15 - a short-range interim expedient. Stalin personally was interested and, twenty months after the first Soviet jet fighters, the MiG-15 was displayed and quickly put into production. It is noteworthy that this decision took place soon after the establishment of a national air defense component in 1948.

As the 1946 plan was nearing fruition, the pattern of hectic development slowed. Instead of three or four prototypes being constructed in response to each established requirement, a strategy which focused on modification of the MiG-15 evolved. This strategy coincided with the Fifth Five-Year Plan which extended from 1951-1955. Only the MiG-17, a major redesign of the MiG-15, was committed to series production between 1950 and 1954. It was not until 1951, with the development of the Mikhulin AM-5 small, efficient, axial-flow engine that a long-range, all-weather interceptor became technically convenient. Such an engine made practical an alternate aircraft configuration which would accommodate the large radome associated with Soviet air intercept radars of that era.

There is sufficient evidence to believe that the aircraft which would eventually accommodate the "requirement" for an all-weather area interceptor, the YAK-25, arose outside of the normal process of Soviet research and development decision-making. The YAK-25 appears to have been the result of an initiative of the designer taken up directly with Stalin. Thus, the aircraft that was wanted concurrently with the formation of PVO in 1948 was not available until 1954.

In the early 1950's the predominant fighter in Soviet air defense was the MiG-15. By mid-1954, a trend had begun to employ fighters with airborne intercept (AI) radar capabilities. This had a marked effect on the character of the air defense system by providing an all-weather capability. Introduction of the YAK-25, MiG-17, and MiG-19 aircraft were evidence of the Soviet effort for improved interceptors with some electronic capability and improved armament.

Interceptor Aircraft - 1945-1955 - Design Bureaus

The division of two categories of aircraft, bombers and fighters, was reinforced by the structure of the Ministry of Aviation. Of ten bureaus, three design-oriented bureaus were devoted to fighters, bombers, and engines. Thus, categories of aviation were conceived in this manner. This division parallels the 1930's institutionalization of bomber design activities in the Zhukovski Academy under Tupolev and of fighter design activities in TsAGI under Polikarpov. Main Designers schooled under either of these two men basically remained working in either one category or the other. Sukhoi was the exception of a Tupolev protégé who worked in fighters. But the exception supports the rule somewhat. His aircraft tended to be heavy fighters more appropriate to ground attack and he mixed fighter and light bomber design activities with a lack of success. Only in the late 1950's did his heavy aircraft come into vogue.

Although the pre-war centralization of basic research in the TsAGI infers a common downward flow of basic aerodynamic findings, it is clear that the sharing of information did not work very well. Somehow, during the development of the MiG-15, Mikoyan and Gurevich knew much more about swept wings than did Lavochkin. One suspects that the MiG bureau had better access to wind tunnels and to German test results. Alternately, the MiG team might have acquired its own test facilities. Likewise, Lavochkin appears to have been ill-informed about the capabilities of the Derwent engines he was to work with. Although a partial explanation of the MiG-15 success can be attributed to the theoretical talents of Gurevich, better information also seemed to support the MiG collective's single-minded pursuit of a bold design. The system includes competition for information.

One is struck by the manner in which engine allocations prejudiced the success of a particular prototype. The double JuMO configuration had an obvious power advantage over a single-engine BMW-powered design. Likewise the Nene engine's greater thrust and smaller frontal area offered advantages of a similar magnitude over the Derwent engine. Both allocations favored Mikoyan and Gurevich. A great deal was at stake for the Soviets to base their long-range planning for aviation on the assumption that British engines could be obtained. To be sure, back-up programs were under way, but the weight of development effort appears to have been committed to third-generation engines while lengthy negotiations were ongoing. This is risky policy behavior, but the payoff was enormous. In light of the outcome, it was quite a reasonable risk based on good intelligence about British commercial procedures and about British Labor Government politics.

There was a competition among design bureaus for personnel, equipment, and facilities. There was also a system of materialistic rewards in the form of overtime pay, bonuses, and state prizes which operated in the aviation industry. All of these things flowed from "successful" designs. Successful designs were those which were committed to serial production. There was also a system of negative rewards. It can be represented by Hangar Seven of the internal prison which operated during the 1930's. In the post war years it was represented by the fate of the Sukhoi bureau.

Between the Stalinist criteria which prevailed until 1950 ("the winner will be the one who gives us the best fighter . . . and also deliver first") is a very real conflict. One with a mathematical bent will point out that either delivery time or performance can be optimized. Yakovlev made his reputation by delivering first; Mikoyan made his by delivering best. In the post war period, Mikoyan and Gurevich played the better mixed strategy between these two objectives. Lavochkin also played a mixed strategy, but his timing appears to have been out of cycle.

Soviet wartime and post war fighter aviation was dominated by two men: Alexander Yakovlev and Artem Mikoyan. These two represented the foremost among a very small group of heroes, the Design Bureau Chiefs, after whom aircraft were named. These men were literally "Heroes of Socialist Labor." Among this group was a collegial relationship supported by a similar education, the same mentors, common work experience, and intramural competition. These men shared a common ethic with the Aviation Engineering Service of the air forces.

One of these men - Yakovlev then Mikoyan - was Stalin's personal advisor on aviation. Their influence extended beyond fighter aviation matters. Yakovlev held a favored position because of his two-hat assignment as Deputy Commissar (later Minister) of Aviation. Mikoyan held a favored position because he was the brother of Anastas Mikoyan, an even closer associate of Stalin generally in charge of the consumer goods area in the post war period. An active area of Anastas' interest was foreign trade; he had been charged with responsibility for foreign aid during the war, and he was later to be foreign policy advisor to Khrushchev.

The Mikoyan relationship worked in at least two ways during post war aviation development. First it clarified the opportunities inherent in British technology to both the design and trade portions of the government. Second it allowed Artem Mikoyan a separate channel to the Politbureau-one that he used for political relief on behalf of others in the aviation establishment as early as 1937. Stalin's preference among designers changed in 1946 after the success of the MiG-9, when Yakovlev resigned his position as Deputy Minister. Thus Mikoyan was in a favored position in the competition for information and resources from the time of the first jet prototypes on. In addition, he used his favored position well. His were the best of the post war designs. Thus, securing himself in this favored position, his design objectives, which emphasized speed and altitude, predominated over alternate design approaches which might have favored range or improved supporting systems. Personal politics helps explain why the MiG-15 was a success and how Stalin came to be committed to improvement of the MiG as the route of aviation development.

Interceptor Aircraft - 1945-1955 - Requirements

From the outset, it is essential to disregard the contemporary U.S.-conceived dichotomy between strategic and theater defense. It seems clear that the Soviet aviation establishment in the early post war period conceived of fighters and bombers. Fighters were further broken down into interceptors and ground attack. Among interceptors there was a separate category of "barrage" or area defense aircraft. Otherwise, an interceptor was an interceptor whether it was assigned to PVO Strany or to the forward area. As is conveyed in the strategy chapter, PVO Strany and the integrating concept of air defense operations evolved some 15 years and a world war after the patterns of weapons creation were established. A dichotomy between frontal and defense aircraft evolved as PVO Strany evolved, but that was well after the program of post war aviation modernization was well under way.

It is clear that there was a plan which governed the development of jet aircraft. Such a plan would have coincided with the decision cycle of the Fourth Five-Year Plan. Despite what may seem to Westerners to be virtual obeisance to "the Communist Party's and Soviet Government's concern and attention for aviation," a high priority was set for aviation development and a political consensus supported it. Throughout the period of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1946-1950), either three or four programs were instituted to compete against each interceptor requirement. In addition, a multitude of prototypes continued to be developed in the course of ongoing design bureau activities - these aside from the formalized requirements cycle. It is no coincidence that Stalin's attitude changed to "no intention of creating new fighters in the immediate future" at the same time as the Fifth Five-Year Plan.

It is clear also that this type of long-range plan evolved in the industrial and design establishment. Military participation was negligible except within the Central Committee. Military participation came in the formal requirements cycle which gave priority to certain specific types of aircraft already being developed. In the case of the MiG-19, La-200B, and YAK-25, it is evident that the requirements were formalized between Stalin and the designers, with pernicious participation by Beria and separate perfunctory staffing by the air force.

A Soviet text for industrial engineers in the aviation industry states the following: "The basic task of the technical preparation of production is the creation of designs . . . whose quality is not worse than the best world models, and the period of their development and introduction into series production is minimum" (emphasis added). Yakovlev's personal motto was "Be Ahead." Mikoyan's Bureau slogan is said to be, "Speed and Altitude." Stalin, at the 1947 Tushino Show enjoined the aviation industry to create aircraft which would "fly higher, faster, and farther" than any in the world. This slogan harks back to a speech to the Eighteenth Party Congress (1939) which stated: "We will henceforth fight to increase quantity, improve quality and decrease the cost of our aircraft so that our pilots can fly higher, farther, and faster than anyone in the world." An even earlier precedent is a July 1929 Party Central Committee Decree which includes: "We consider the greatest challenge in building the Red Air Force to be the improvement of its quality as fast as possible to the level of the foremost bourgeois countries . . . " While the list of these slogans can be extended, it is evident that throughout postwar interceptor decisions they represent a set of lenses through which the Soviet aviation industry sees the world and which "color" their perceptions. These perceptions profoundly influenced the menu of weapons from which Soviet planners built their post war strategic defensive force. Such a contention goes a long way toward explaining that Soviet interceptor aircraft were not designed against the early U.S. bomber threat. Instead, they were designed in technological competition with foreign interceptors.

On the other hand, the 1948 attempt at an all-weather prototype confirms that there was a perceived need among the air forces for an all-weather interceptor and that it had matured to the point of a "requirement." That the requirement resulted in a less-than-satisfactory weapon is evident. An interim solution was arranged, the MiG-15P, and the design process continued without regard to the night and all-weather threat. A more appropriate weapon awaited an engine design breakthrough and Yakovlev's initiative. The 1948 requirement also coincides with the emergence of PVO Strany as an independent force. It is inferred that this type of two-engine, long-range aircraft is what the PVO wanted. Instead, it got the short-range MiG-15P. Either aircraft would have been equipped with a short-range radar. Thus, planning attention in aviation was directed to the engine and the airframe; other element of a weapons system were added on-if it was technically convenient.

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