The Readiness of Soviet Air Forces
CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM RELEASE AS SANITIZED
THE READINESS OF SOVIET AIR FORCES
This Interagency Intelligence Memorandum was commissioned by tbc Ducctor of Central Intelligence in responseequest by tin-Secretary of Defense for an in-depth analysis of the readiness of Soviet air forces. This memorandum assesses readiness byumber of issues including the quality of personnel and equipment and the effectiveness of training. It focuses on those air force elements that would support theater operations.
Thc memorandumumber of comparisons of Soviet and US air forces toramework for reference in viewing Soviet readiness. Thc reader should not conclude from these comparisons superiority on either side in meeting wartime requirements. The study also speculates on thc relative effectiveness of Soviet and opposition air forces in several scenarios. These judgments are intended toerspective on the impact of readiness in its broadest sense on the Soviet air forces as they face differing foes under differing conditions. The judgments, however, are not based on detailed operational analysis or gaming.
The memorandum was produced under the auspices ofIntelligence Officer for Ccneral Purpose Forces^ was directorate of Intelligence. CIA, with
y the flense Intelligence Agency and the'WAir Force. It was coordi-
componenls o- Department of Defense
and the Directorate of Intelligence. CIA.
0 Moscow has underwritten an ambitious modernization program that is transforming the Soviet air forcesargely defensive arm into one with significant offensive potential, particularly for operations on the Soviet periphery. Thc forces have been equipped with new aircraft that possess substantially greater combat range, more lethal firepower, and more versatile support systems. Nevertheless, personnel and equipment defttiendes impose constraints on theof Soviet air forces.
US and Soviet definitions of readiness are similar, focusing on the abilityorce to perform the missions for which it is organized. In its most basic sense, readiness consists of two essential elements: the aoailabilitu of combat forces as determined by such factors as alert rates, operational readiness rates, and peacetime basing; and the preparedness of combat forces including such factors as maintenance, training, logistics, and weapon system capabilities. This study addresses readiness in its broadest sense, taking into account both availability and preparedness.
In this memorandum we assess readiness in two steps First we review five factors that contribute to readiness: the availability of qualified manpower, equipment performance and readiness, the air forces maintenance system, training, and logistics. Second, wc assess Soviet air force readinessunction of the ability of the forces to:
Cencrate combat.-ready aircraft by converting their forceseacetime statusartime fooling.
Deploy or move combat-ready forces into or within combat areas.
Sustain combat operations over lime.
Employ and manage atr forces in combat operations
Soviet air forces are noi maintained at full wartime strength in peacetime. Bather. Soviet doctrine on theater war assumes thatwould be precedederiod of crisis during which military forces would be mobilized. Soviet planners generally anticipate having sufficient warning to allow the forces several daysew weeks tofull readiness and to picdeploy some units. By the opening of hostilities, the Soviets expect their air forces to be ready toassive, coordinated air campaign.
The Soviets assign their air forces three general tasks for theater war: to gain and maintain air superiority, to destroy the nuclear delivery capability of the enemy, and to support the ground forces. They believe that, to accomplish the latter two tasks, thc chief initial task of tho air forcesonventional war is to achieve air superiority. Thc first several days of combat appear to be critical. During this period the Soviets would commit thc bulk of their air forcesheatcrwide. air operation against enemy airfields and air defense iristallations. During and subsequent to thb air operation, attacks on enemy nuclear delivery systems wouldriority equal to the air superiority effort In nuclear combat, air forces wouldesser air superiority role since missiles would be thc primary means of destroying enemy airfields and air defense installations.
eriod of escalating tension, after which NATO attacks first with conventional weapons. After containing the initial attack, Warsaw Pact forces go over to the offensive. Escalation to the nuclear level generally occurs when NATO, faced with defeat, attempts to salvage the situation by using nuclear weapons. Once the nuclear nSreshold is crossed, the conflict evolves through successive exchanges of nuclear strikes and brief pauses. The Soviets have optimized their forceshort, intense campaign, but they recognize tlie possibilityrotracted conflict in Europe. They credit manpower and material reserves, therefore, as critical to the ultimate outcome.
Soviet air forces for (healer operations totalircraft. Alxjut three-fourths of these are stationed in areas west of the Urals; tbe rest arc in thc eastern USSR.nterceptor airciaft have a
primary mission of lerrilorial air defense; some of llicsc, however, could be used to support tactical operations outside the USSR. Soviet air forces have no organized reserves but can call on iheir training establishment for reinf oi cements. We believe ihat these forces, withircraft, could provide anodem aircraft with trained crews. Mobilization of even ihis small part of the training establish men! would disrupt its training program, however.
Aboutercent of the air forces tactical aircraft are assigned air-to-air roles andsercenl have ground attack missions; the rest serve In reconnaissance or otber support roles. Most of these aircraft are relatively modern models. Conversely, the Isombcr forceood deal older; only aboutercent of thc force is equipped with the Backfire, the Soviets' newest model The military transport fleet is well equipped for its primary mission of supporting operations in areas adjacent to Soviet territory. Onlyhird of the force. Isowever, consists of long-range transports, and the transport fleetimited ability to support operations in more distant locations without access to airfields cn roulc.
Doterminants of Air Force Readiness
Manpower. The availability of manpower docs not appear toarrier to readiness in the air forces. Soviet air forces appear to have enough qualified men in units immediately opposite NATO and China toigh degree of personnel readiness. Moreover, they have accessell-developed mobilization system that is able to build the forces to wartime manning levels rapidly. There is evidence, however, of uJidennanning in some units in the Soviet interior. The most critical shortfall appears lo be in maintenance positions. Although we would expect ihem to have some difficulty in achieving full readiness rapidly, the location of these units would rule out their immediate use in theater war.
Personnel problems, such as low morale and poor discipline within thc enlisted ranks, alcohol abuse, friction bclween ethnic groups, and animosity lsctween first- and second-year conscripts also affect air force readiness Thc air force seems to be able to control these problems, however, in pait through screening of conscripts lo eliminate or reducehe percentage ofropeans and those with low technical skills
Equipment. The quality of Soviet combal equipmentey contributoi to the air forces generally good readiness posture. Although
Soviel aircraft lend lo be inferior in performance to Ihcir USthey are much more reliable and more easily maintained by conscripts with relatively low technical skills. The most seriousof Soviet aircraft is iheir overall vulnerability lo battle damage compared lo US counterparts.
Maintenance. The Soviet maintenance system is well matched to Soviet weapons and personnel. Thc system emphasizes regularmaintenance; replacement, rather than repair, of defectiveand conservaiive scheduling of maintenance. Il appears to operate well enough in peacetime to guarantee the high operational readiness rales called for by Soviet standards. Thc system probably would be overloaded in combat, however, by high sortie rates and the lack of battle damage repair capability at regimental level, thus creating sustainability problems.
Training. The Soviet air force training system appears lo be quite good at preparing qualified commissioned officers but is of limited value for the lower ranks. Since conscripts and junior NCOs usually perform little more than menial tasks, air readiness has not yet beenaffected. Soviet air crew training, however, has limitations that impact directly on pilot proficiency. Although the pilot training program is sufficient in teaching basic skills and flight operations, it lacks some of thc realism of NATO pilot training and does not give the Soviet pilot as much traJrung for operatingigh threat environment as his NATO counterpart. However, thc Soviets appear to be aware of these problems and are attempting to correct them with advanced training programs. Although their training still Ls not as sophisticated as that of NATO, the gap appears to be narrowing.
The pilot training problem also is offset by the tendency to require less of pilots in combat operations and to leave them in combat units for much longer tours than their US counterparts Nonetheless,oviet forces not be able toubstantial numerical advantage, pilot training could be an imitortant limitation in combatcll-Irained adversary.
Logistics. Soviet forces maintain large, dispersed stocks ofand POL along with the means to move ihem to combat units. Once mobilized, the logistic system appears lo be well-manned and fully capable ol supporting sustained operations.
Assessment of Soviot Air Readiness
We believe that Soviet air regiments could conduct effective and sustained operations, but manpower, airbase logistics, and systemic constraints may be greater than Soviet planners anticipate. These difficulties plus higher-than-planned attrition may make it veryfor Soviet air commanders to generate the required numbers of sorties against well-equipped and well-trained forces like those of NATO.
Force Generation. Wc estimate that Soviet air forces can be fully combat ready seven toaysecision to mobilize. Soviet interceptor units are at the highest level of readiness and couldully coordinated air defense operationew minutes of alert. Offensive forces are at lower levels of alert, and extensive preparations of their command and control net and their logistic support structure would be necessary. We believe these forces would require aboutours toommand and control structure for front-level operations andours for theater-level operations. Seven toays would be needed to fully mobilize the logistic system. Although some rambat operations would be possible before mobilization werewe would not expect Soviet forces to begin major operations unprovoked without completing full preparations. We believe that aircraft and crewse Soviet training establishment would need at leastays to mobilize and might still have limited combatwithout additional time for training.
Force Deployment. We believe that Soviet forces have sufficient mobility to meet their wartime requirements. Soviet transport forces have demonstrated their ability in extended, peacetime operations from remote bases with little support The bomber force, although inherently less mobile, has no need to redeploy to reach its targets from peacetime bases but has sufficient capability to icdcploy in order to enhance ils survivability.
Soviet tactical air units are expected to be mobile. They mini redeploy both to enhance survivability and to reach target areas. Wethat regimental-size movementsm or less can be completedtours if fully supported by air transport, and in up to seven lo eight days if given limited transport support. Movesm are complicated by tlie lack of air-to-air refueling and probably would require seven to eight days, even if fully supixirted by air transport.
Foroe Susta inability. We believe that Sovicl planning calls (or ait units, particularly tactical units, tu generate high sortie rates, especially during the initial phase of combat. We do not believe, however, that the offensive tactical force could meet its heavy requirements (two sorties per day per aircraft over the firstays or so of combat) forended period, especially given the prospects of substantial attrition.
Air forces at front level should have enough consumables to sustain about three weeks of combat before needing additional supplies from central depots. Air units, when mobilized, also have sufficient personnel to support high sortie rates and are at hardened airfields with sufficient protection lo support operations even in thc face of enemy attacks. Nonetheless, we suspect that high-intensity operations against well-developed air defenses would lead to high attrition nates. Thus it is unlikely that tactical forces would be able to maintain thc sortie rates expected of them for moreew days. After aboutays, the sortie rate could fall to as low as half that required in Soviet planning.
Force Employment. Soviet air forces are well suited for defensive counter air operations- Their weapons and control systems are good and their aircrews are adequately trained. We believe, however, that they are less well prepared for offensive air-to-air missions. Their biggest limitation is aircrew training, although weapon system performance and command and control deficiencies also detract from overall capability. We believe Soviet capabilities in long-range ground attack,and short-range alilift operations are generally good. Their weapon systems and command and control range from adequate to good. Aircrew proficiency may limit overall effectiveness, however. Direct support and long-range airlift capabilities are more limited, largely because of equipment deficiencies and. in the case of airlift operations, the small number of experienced crews.
Implications for Effectiveness, The combat effectiveness of Soviet air forces is not absolute and will depend in large part on theof their opponent andesser degree the location of the conflict. We believe the air forces could meet the goals set by Soviet planners in operations against China or other bordering,nations. Training, aircrafl quality,againstgeography lend lo favor the Soviets. Air superiority would be won quickly and Soviet air forces would be able to shift lo ground support and other missions rapidly. The Soviets would be in aadvantageous situation if tbe conflict remained regional in scope and ihey could draw on forces throughout the Soviet Union.
Op-nations in more distant regions such as the Middleparticularlyell-equipped foe like the Israelis--would be much more difficult to support, and the chance of success would be lower. The speed with which Soviet air forces could be introduced into the region would depend on the availability of overflight routes. With direct routing, Soviet airlift forces would be able toorce ofombat aircraft into the areaay or two Indirect routing, as used in past airlifts to the Middle East, probably would increase the actual movement time to four days. Preparation time for any Middle East deployment couldeek or more
Soviet air units would face, in the Israelis, an aggressive foe with better aircraft and superior tactics and training. We believe that the Soviets could mount air defense operations, allhough their success would depend on lhc availabilityeliable command and control system. Conversely, thc Soviets would require numerical superiority to achieve success against Israel in large-scale offensive air operations, largely because of the inferiority of Soviet pilot training.
Operations against NATO's Central Region would present similarly challenging problems. Although sustained, coordinated air operations probably could be mounted earlier by some Soviet forces, we believe the Soviets would prefer thc seven toays of preparation we estimate necessary for sustained operations. In addition lo the steps necessary lo prepare iti-placc forces, the Soviets probably wouldwo-phase reinforcement with units from the western USSB. The first step, involving only one or two air divisions, could be completed within aboutours if supported fully by Military Transport Aviationlic second, considerably larger, probably would have more limited support and might require some seven or eight days
We expect the Soviet air force lo acquit itself well in air defense operations However, in offensive operations these forces havethat wc believe could deny ihem an early victory. If NATO's air and air defense forces could slave ofl an early defeal, high Sovicl attrition could resultharply declining number of sorties and lhe distinct possibility of eventual failure for lite air offensive.
The outlook for Soviel air force readiness throughs mixed. On Ihe one hand, the Soviets ap|>car to be in lhe midslriti-
cal examination of ibeir air forces thai could resultore effective approach to the employment of these forces. The Soviets also will continue to give their air forces new weapon systems, in part responding to US technology embodied in4ombat training will continue lo improve, so that Soviet pilots wil! be able to operate more independently and more fully utilize new weapon systems. We also expect some limited growth in the overall size of the force and believe there is some potential for much larger growth in offensive forces.
In contrast to these developments (hat will strengthen the air forces, pressure on their potentially weakest link, iheir manpower, could increase. New weapon systems and possible force increases are likely to exacerbate Soviet personnel shortages These should not be significant in (hc commissioned officer force where selectivity and education tend lo overcome problems of availability. The current enlisted force, however, is marginally adequate. Soviet demographic trends, requirements for greater conscript technical ability, and thc possibility of force expansion could strain the system. Wc believe, however, that thc Soviets have the means to deal with these challenges.Original document.