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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.




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