The organizational structure of a nation’s air forces is a revealing guide to its strategic doctrines, and the Soviets are no exception.
But before examining Soviet Air Forces organization, let’s examine their Defense Ministry, their over-all armed forces agency. The basic organizational structure of the Soviet armed forces is their unity in a single powerful Ministry of Defense, now under Marshal R. Ya. Malinovsky. The army and navy have previously alternated between separate and unified ministerial representation; the Air Forces have never had cabinet representation. Under the Minister of Defense are a series of “administrations” and “chief administrations.” Among these are six major operational commands: the chief administrations of the Air Forces, the Ground Forces, the Naval Forces, the Air Defense Forces, the Long-Range Aviation, and the Airborne Troops. Among the first deputy and deputy ministers of defense are the commanders in chief of the Ground Forces, the Air Forces, the Naval Forces, and the Air Defense Forces. Their functions, however, vary; the commanders in chief of the Naval Forces and air Defense Forces have a direct operational command relationship over all their component forces, including respectively the naval aviation and interceptor aviation components of these commands.
As these charts illustrate, the Chief Administration of the Air Forces (GU-VVS-SA or GU-VVS-VS) and its commander in chief, Marshal of Aviation Vershinin, have very far-reaching administrative responsibilities for the various aviation components of the military establishment, but no operational command over any of the five military air forces. Nonetheless, direct responsibility for the tactical air forces extends directly down to the field level subordination of these forces to Front and Military District ground force commanders. Also, a degree of command over the Long-range Air Forces may be exercised in practice. Finally, Vershinin represents the air forces in highest-level general decisions taken by the Minister of Defense with his Military Council.
The present commander in chief of the soviet Air Forces is Marshal of Aviation Konstantin A. Vershinin, in the post since January 1957. This is the second tour in office for Vershinin, who occupied the post from March 1946 to July 1949. Chief Marshal of Aviation Pavel F. Zhigarev served in the interim period from 1949 until 1957 (the second tour for him also; he had briefly and unsuccessfully he’d the office from July 1941 to May 1942). Zhigarev now heads the Civil Air Fleet, and in listings of governmental officials is usually accorded a place higher than his successor despite the evidently lesser real importance of his new post. Chief Marshal of Aviation Aleksander A. Novikov, wartime chief of the air force (from August 1942 until March 1946) was imprisoned, after his sudden relief by Stalin in 1946, until 1953. For a time in 1954 he served as a deputy to Zhigarev, but he is now in retirement. Marshal of Aviation Sergei I. Rudenko has been first deputy commander in chief since 1949, and chief of staff of the Air Force Staff for most of this period.
The other five deputies to Vershinin head responsible services of the air forces. One is the inevitable chief of the Aviation A. G. Rytov. The incumbent chief of the Rear Services is unknown to the author. Colonel General of Aviation Engineering Service I. V. Markov is chief of the Aviation Engineering Service. The chief Inspector, probably Colonel General of Aviation N. S. Shimanov (once chief of the political administration in the air forces), and the chief of Training are the other two deputies.
Gone from the scene, retired, are many of the World War II chiefs who rose, and fell, meteorically. In addition to Chief Marshal of Aviation Novikov, his wartime deputies, marshals of Aviation Vorozheikin, Kudiakov, and Astakhov are all in retirement (as was Falaleev, who died in 1955). Chief Marshal of Aviation Aleksander Ye. Golovanov, head of the Long-Range Aviation from its establishment in 1942 until 1948, is ill. The chief of the Engineering Service during the war, Colonel General A. K. Repin, and the wartime Intelligence Chief, Colonel General D. D. Grendal, are now retired. Several of these men—Novikov, Repin, and possibly Grendal and Khudiakov—fell victim to Stalin’s irritations, but they have now at least been rehabilitated into honorable retirement. Chief Marshal of Aviation Zhigarev and Marshal of Aviation S. F. Zhavoronkov, wartime chief of the naval air forces, are now in a sense “retired” from the air forces, as the two chiefs of the Civil Air Fleet, Aeroflot, which has received so much attention throughout the world lately.
Speculations in the Wet that Zhigarev had personally favored greater stress on long-range missiles seem ill founded in view of evident Soviet emphasis and achievement in this field, and Vershinin’s own comment that strategic aviation is inferior to missiles. But it remains possible that Zhigarev had tried, and failed, to get for the Long-Range Air Force operational subordination of the long-range ballistic missiles (intermediate or IRBM, and intercontinental or ICBM). For the indications are strong that a separate ballistic missile force will be created, since the Soviets consider ballistic rockets to be an advanced artillery weapon. It may be that Marshal Vershinin’s deputy, Marshal Sudets, will be given a combined on including both ballistic missile artillery and his present strategic bombers; but it is more likely that a combined force will be established in the next year or two under a senior Marshal of the soviet Union (perhaps the one who is both politically close to Khrushchev and an artillerist, Marshal Moskalenko). This solution would parallel that which has occurred with the other major arm of increased significance: the Air Defense Forces.
In 1954 or early 1955, in keeping with the rising importance of the command, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. S. Biriuzov was named its head, and the Air Defense Forces (PVO) came to occupy a position of rough equality with the ground forces, naval forces, and air forces. The PVO embraces all the components of the active air defense system; the radar and other warning system, the fighter aviation component, the conventional antiaircraft artillery (still retained on a wide scale, in marked contrast to recent US and UK practice), and the new rocket and missile antiaircraft artillery introduced in recent years. Colonel General of Aviation Klimov, commander of the Aviation Vershinin and simultaneously a deputy to Marshal Biriuzov. The interceptors are organized in Fighter Air Armies (IVA-PVO), and are assigned to joint air defense districts. These districts overlap and ignore military established only in key areas to be defended. The commander of each district is the direct superior for all air defense installations and forces in his district and is directly under Marshal Biriuzov, who in turn is under the Defense Minister. The commander of the key Moscow air Defense District is Colonel General P. R. Batisty (for much of the period form 1946 to 1953 the commander was Lieutenant General of Aviation Vassily Stalin. Information as to Stalin’s son’s present role is unavailable).
Airborne ForcesThe Aviation of the Airborne Troops (A-VDV) has been under Marshal of Aviation Skripko since 1950. It is exclusively transport aviation, recently including large helicopters as well as airplanes. The 500 or so aircraft assigned provide a substantial airlift, though they are at present still of relatively small (twin-engine piston) types. They are organized in air transport regiments.
The fleet air forces are each subordinate to the corresponding fleet commanders (Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet, Black Sea fleet, North Pacific Fleet, Pacific Fleet), and under the naval aviation chief in Moscow.
Headquarters of the Air ForcesThe Chief Administration of the air Forces (GU-VVS) is composed of the commander in chief, the military council (composed of his senior deputies), the main staff or general staff, the inspector, the chief administrations of engineering service, and rear services, and a host of other subordinate administrations for personnel, aircraft, engines, armament, aviation academies, maintenance, management, navigation, meteorology, strategy and tactics, aerial photographs, airfield servicing, industrial orders, training, communications, medical services, and still others.
Thus, the intelligence section is closely tied to the intelligence division of the general staff for many of its sources of information and for coordination. The operations section is responsible for tactical air forces and training forces operations—but within the framework of the joint service program established in the operations division of the general staff (under General of the Army M. S. Malinin). The other sections are more autonomous in their relation to the superiors staff by virtue of their duties, although liaison is of course necessary.
The chief political administration has dual subordination. Lieutenant General of Aviation Rytov is a deputy to Marshal of Aviation Vershinin, and a deputy to Colonel General A. S. Zheltov, head of the chief political administration for the whole armed forces (who, in turn, has dual subordination to Marshal Malinovsky and to the military section of the central committee of the Party). Also, a Ministry of Defense is the “special section,” which is staffed by secret police counterintelligence officers, ad phenomenon indicative of Party influence.
The headquarters of the VVS has occupied approximately the same place, and performed the same functions, throughout the postwar period. Its’ importance has increased as the importance of the air forces in general have risen in the Soviet military establishment, but it also has reflected the continuing dominance of the ground forces marshals in the Ministry of Defense. — End
The Air Force Association is closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The next Daily Report will be Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news about the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news about the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag