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Military Transport Aviation
(Voyennaya Transportnaya Aviatsiya - VTA)

The Soviet Air Force was delegated the responsibility of carrying out independent operations as well as support missions in conjunction with other branches of the armed forces. It consisted of three components: Frontal Aviation, Long-Range Aviation, and Military Transport Aviation. The Soviet Air Forces Military Transport Aviation (VTA) provides airlift service for Soviet airborne units and air assault brigades. Military Transport Aviation provided rapid strategic mobility for the armed forces. Its missions were to transport the Airborne Troops for rapid intervention by parachute and to supply and resupply Soviet forces abroad, and deliver arms and military equipment to Soviet allies around the world.

The Soviet Air Forces Military Transport Aviation (VTA) provided airlift service for Soviet airborne units and air assault brigades. By one estimate, in the 1990s the VTA had a fleet of over 600 medium-and long-range cargo transport planes assigned full-time use. This fleet included about 370 AN-12/CUBs (similar to the US C-130/Hercules), over 170 IL-76/CANDIDs (similar to the US C-141/Starlifter), and over 50 AN-22/COCKs (similar to the US C-5A). By another estimate, in 1989 Military Transport Aviation had five air divisions, including 200 An-12, 55 An-22, 340 Il-76, and 5 An-124 transport aircraft.

Military air transport maintained its combat readiness and at the same time had the equipment resources it needs. As of 2010 it could parachute down and support one regiment, and in the future, one division. New planes must be added. In particular, the state rearmament program provided for the purchase of 40 An-70 planes, the resumption of Ruslan aircraft production and an order for 20 such planes for Russia's Air Force. The VDV would also relocate the production facilities of one of the main workhorses, the Il-76 known as the Il-476, in its refurbished form, from Tashkent to Ulyanovsk.

The older, medium-range AN-12 is the main stay of the VTA. This four-engineturbo-prop aircraft can airlift 90 troops or can drop 60 paratroopers from two exits. It can carry up to 20 metric tons of cargo, but some large items such as engineer equipment will not fit in its cargo area. Each AN-12 can carry two BMDs. Transporting a BMD-equipped airborne regiment requires 90 to 115 AN-12s. The AN-12 can operate on unimproved runways. Its range with maximum payload is 1400 kilometers.

The AN-12 aircraft are being replaced by IL-76 long-range, four-engine jet transports. The IL-76 can carry 120 paratroopers who can jump from four exits, one exit on each side and two exits in the rear. The IL-76, with a cargo capacity of 40 metric tons, can carry all combat equipment normally assigned to airborne forces. Each IL-76 can carry three BMDs. Transporting a BMD equipped airborne regiment requires 50 to 65 IL-76s. The IL-76 can operate from unimproved runways. Its range with maximum payload is 5300 kilometers.

The AN-22 is a long-range, turbo-prop, heavy transport aircraft used mainly for airlandings, as opposed to airdrops. The AN-22 can carry 175 troops or 80 metric tons of cargo, to a range of 4200 kilometers. Each AN-22 can carry four BMDs. This aircraft is used mainly to transport large items such as self-propelled artillery, medium tanks, surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers, or engineer equipment. It is well suited for strategic operations.

Having entered service only in 1987, the An-124 was the first Soviet transport that could lift outsized equipment such as main battle tanks.

Most VTA aircraft were based in the western USSR. Some AN-12 units were based along the southern and far eastern borders of the Soviet Union. The concentration of aircraft in the western USSR placed the main VTA assets near the airborne divisions they would support, as well as positions the force opposite NATO. Nevertheless, the VTA was capable of quickly concentrating its aircraft to support an operation anywhere along the Soviet borders.

During times of military emergency, aircraft of Soviet civil aviation, Aeroflot can augment VTA capabilities. The civil fleet is equipped with about 1,100 medium-and long-range passenger transports, about 200 AN-12s and IL-76s, and several thousand short-range transports and helicopters. Aeroflot aircraft could be used extensively for the airlanding of troops once airheads were established. Civil aviation in Russia remained closely tied to the military. For example, Aeroflot was considered to be a reserve for the Air Force's Military Transport Aviation. Through most of its existence, a military officer was the chief of Aeroflot. For this reason, the Ministry of Civil Aviation closely coordinated its activities with the General Staff and the Air Forces. Aeroflot flight crews, for example, were reserve officers of the Air Forces. Moreover, in 1989 the Soviet minister of civil aviation was an active-duty general officer.

Military Transport Aviation assumed a high-profile role in foreign policy in the 1970s when it airlifted weapons to such allies as Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, and Angola. In December 1979, its transport aircraft flew 150 sorties to drop and land an Airborne Troops division and its equipment into Afghanistan. Since Afghanistan has no railroads, all troop movement and resupply had to be conducted initially by motor transport or air. Hundreds of sorties were flown by An-12, I1-76 and An-22 Military Transport Aviation (VTA) aircraft to introduce the initial assault force in the first days of the invasion. After this surge effort, however, sustained VTA flights continued at periodically high rates.

While a number of these sorties brought in reinforcing and support elements together with their supplies, it soon became clear that the Soviets were continuing to rely heavily on VTA for the routine introduction of military materiel ordinarily transported by road. In addition, helicopters were being used extensively to move supplies within the country, an undertaking that in many cases seemed a wasteful employment of helicopter resources that, as the Soviets themselves note, have their useful loads decreased by 25 percent in a mountainous environment.

Western analysts estimated that Soviet Military Transport Aviation could lift one Airborne Troops division a distance of 4,000 kilometers. With Aeroflot transports and passenger aircraft, three divisions could be lifted at once.

Russian Military transport aviation was in short supply, mainly because it was based in a non-Russian state of the former USSR at the time of Soviet dissolution.

The conscript-based Russian Army that entered the break-away Republic of Chechnya in December 1994 was not prepared for the fight. Russian experience in fighting for the Chechen capital city of Grozny in January/February 1995 demonstrated that ammunition resupply was not the only problem. Demands on maintenance, supply, transport and medical support surpassed the capabilities of TO&E logistics units. Logistics demands were further increased by the requirement to provide humanitarian relief during the course of the fighting. Primary heavy-lift long-haul into the theater was on rail. Railroad troops had to restore 260 kilometers of track, clear mines from another 70 kilometers, repair switches and restore electric power to electric rail lines. Trains had to be protected as they came under mortar, artillery and sniper fire. Air transport played a significant role in the long-haul of men and supplies. High demand items were almost always shipped by air. Practically the entire Russian Military Transport Aviation (VTA), plus some commercial aviation was involved in supporting the effort.

By 2012 it was absolutely impossible to figure out what would become of the Russian military transportation aviation a decade hence. Run-down plants and design bureaus that remained without work orders for the previous 20 years (in stark contrast with the manufacturers of tactical aircraft, especially helicopters), precluded any chance of making plans for the future. The foreign market for transportation aviation is much tougher than that of combat aviation; therefore, the manufacture of military transportation aviation had no future in Russia without a properly thought-out strategy of government procurement and production upgrading programs.

By mid-2013 the Russian Defense Ministry was considering two possible designs for a replacement for the obsolete Antonov An-26 military transport aircraft. The ministry was considering development of a light military transport plane based on the Antonov An-140 turboprop airliner made by Aviakor in Samara, or the rival Ilyushin Il-112V transport aircraft to be made by the Voronezh aircraft plant (VASO), Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said 24 June 2013.

The Ilyushin aircraft maker announced plans in 2013 to build over 60 Il-112V light transport planes for the Russian military, with first deliveries also scheduled for 2017. Russias Aviakor aircraft plant on 13 December 2013 announced plans to begin assembly of An-140 light cargo planes for the Russian military in 2017. The announcements indicate that the Russian military had apparently chosen both the An-140 and the Il-112 as the replacement for its aging fleet of about 300 An-26 and An-24 cargo planes.

In 2019, for the first time in recent history, the engineering staff of military transport aviation (VTA) was able to increase the share of serviceable aircraft fleet to 90%. This was reported by Lieutenant-General Vladimir Benediktov, in an interview with the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper 22 November 2019. According to him, these indicators were achieved in September. "In advance, measures were taken to increase the serviceability of the aircraft fleet, and at the time the Center-2019 exercises began, serviceability was more than 90%, which happened for the first time in the recent history of military transport aviation." - said the commander.

During the exercises, the VTA forces carried out mass landing. A total of 71 Il-76 aircraft operated in tight battle formations in two parallel streams with minimal lateral separation (about 3 km between the aircraft columns). This made it possible to halve the landing time and the depth of battle formation, as well as increase the concentration of landing troops. As a result, 216 units of equipment and 2805 airborne troops were dropped.




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