Vietnamese People's Air Force
The Air Guard and Air Force is a combat service which comprises the responsibilities of both national anti-aircraft troops and the Air Force. Grown up from small units, the Air Guard and Air Force was an important part of the success of the Dien Bien Phu campaign in 1954. The Air Guard and Air Force has also made a worthy contribution to the tasks of defending the North and liberating the South for national reunification.
The Air Defense-Air Force is responsible for both national air defence and air forces. It is the core force responsible for the control and defense of the airspace, protection of the nation’s key facilities and the people, and participates in safeguarding the Homeland’s seas and islands. The Air Defence - Air Force is able to independently perform its missions, or to take part in joint and combined operations. The service plays the role of a consultative organ for the Ministry of National Defense on matters concerning the building of the air defence of the Ground Forces and the air force of other services, arms and branches. The military air transportation, besides supporting combat and combat readiness, also takes part in natural disaster relief operations and economic development activities.
The PAVN Air Force fixed April 3, 1965, as its tradition day, the day when its pilots supposedly first engaged their United States counterparts in a dogfight over North Vietnam, and celebrates it annually. The Soviet Union increased the PAVN air inventory late in the Second Indochina War and again in 1979 after the Chinese attack. As of 1985 it was estimated that the PAVN Air Force consisted of about 1,600 planes and 20,000 personnel, making it the largest air force in Southeast Asia (somewhere between China's and India's in size).
The operational element of the PAVN Air Force was the air regiment, of which there were seventeen in 1987 grouped into air divisions and headquartered at Noi Bai (Hanoi), Da Nang, Tho Xuan, and Tan Son Nhut (Ho Chi Minh City). The air regiments included 7 attack fighter-plane regiments (450 planes); 4 basic and advanced training regiments (225 trainers); 3 cargo-transport regiments (350 planes); and 3 helicopter regiments (600 helicopters). One light bomber force (60 planes) existed separately from the air regiments. The commander of the Air Force, headquartered at Bac Mai Air Base outside Hanoi, reported to the General Staff Directorate of PAVN.
Strategic use of the Vietnamese Air Force, from its inception until 1979, was entirely defensive. During the Second Indochina War it existed to defend North Vietnam from United States air attack, but after the war, and especially in 1979, it existed to defend Vietnam from attack by China. Although defense remained its primary strategic function, the air force increasingly developed an offensive capability after 1979--chiefly through its attack-helicopter regiments--for use in Cambodia and presumably, should the need arise, against China. The PAVN Air Force made a first tentative venture into space flight in 1981, when Lt. Col. Phan Tuan (son of former defense minister Vo Nguyen Giap) took part in the Soviet Union's Soyuz 37 mission, a linkup with the orbiting Soviet space laboratory, Salyut 6.
In 2000, the Air Guard and Air Force merged into one entity. In 2006, the People's Air Force consisted of about 30,000 personnel organized into three operational front-line divisions. These divisions consisted of nine, or possibly ten, fighter and ground-attack squandrons in addition to two transport and helicopter squadrons, all of which were obtained mostly from the Soviet Union. There are thirteen air force bases in Vietnam, located in the following areas: Bac Mai, Cam Ranh Bay, Da Nang, Gia Lam, Hoa Lac, Kep, Kien An, Nha Trang, Phu Cat, Phuc Yen, Tan Son Nhut, Tho Xuan, and Yen Bai.
The Air Defense - Air Force is organized into the Service Command, combat units, support units, educational institutions and production units. The Service Command has the Commander and Vice Commanders, the Commissar and the Deputy Commissar. It also consists of agencies responsible for military affairs, Party and political work, technical and logistic issues, and affiliated units. The main combat units of the service are air divisions, air defence divisions, and affiliated air units.
The Air Defense - Air Force is gradually equipped with various types of modern combat aircraft, missiles, anti-aircraft artillery and other technical means, including multi-purpose fighters, long-range air defence missiles and new generation radars. The service has performed the training task, maintained the combat readiness and control of the country’s airspace, and taken part in search and rescue and disaster relief operations.
Although once one of the strongest air forces in the region, the Vietnamese Air Force now consists of mainly obsolete or near-obsolete craft, most of which are nearing the end of their serviceable life. Although managing to keep these planes in the air is remarkeable in itself, the Vietnamese Air Force is now way behind neighboring Singapore and Thailand. That said, and given the country's economic struggles and lack of direct threat, it is unlikely that the air force will receive a significant amount of funding for modernization. Any funding it does receive will most likely go to keeping the current air craft operational, while allowing very little for new platforms.
Overall, the People's Air Force is able to provide only limited support and protection to the country's ground and naval forces. In the unlikely event of a conflict with even a moderately strengthed opponent, it is hard to see what kind of contribution the air force will be able to make.
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