Airborne Assault Troops [VDV]

The Russian Airborne Troops or VDV (from "Vozdushno-Desantnye Voiska", Air-landing Forces) is a military branch of service of the Russian Military, on par with the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Russian Space Forces. The word desánt, as used in the Vozdushno-Desantnye Vojska, is a borrowing of the French descente (‘debarkation’ or ‘landing’). The airborne, air-assault, and amphibious troops of all services are referred to as desantniki, which literally means ‘those who land’.

In every respect, the VDV’s institutional power exceeded that of any foreign airborne force and compared favorably with the Marines’ status in the United States. By the end of the Cold War, there were thirteen formations in the world that can be called airborne divisions. The U.S., West Germany, France, China and Poland each had one. The remaining eight belonged to the Soviet Union. at the end of World War II, outstanding American successes in airborne assaults had been accomplished by a mere five airborne divisions, which were soon whittle down to on [the 82nd, the 101st being "airmobile" with helicopters]. By 2015, with four airborne divisions and many separate brigades, Russia retained a larger force than the rest of the world combined [a similar claim may be made for the US Marine Corps].

Of all great powers, the Soviet Union’s record of airborne operations during the Great Patriotic War was so disastrous that rational calculations should have led the High Command to abolish airborne forces. Having begun the Second World War with the world’s largest (10 divisions) airborne force, Soviet generals naturally expected paratroopers to contribute substantially to Red Army operations. However, Soviet airborne operations were particularly unsuccessful. All of the Soviet Union’s three large-scale operations failed catastrophically and the vast majority (75 percent) of participating paratroopers were either killed or wounded.

The Airborne Forces, the highly mobile Arm of the RF Armed Forces, are designed to cover the enemy in the air and conduct combat operations in its rear. The Russian Airborne Forces are the means of the Supreme High Command of the RF Armed Forces and may form the basis for mobile forces. The Airborne Forces report directly to the Commander of the Airborne Forces and consist of the airborne divisions, brigades, units and facilities.

Because of the critical role that pre-war planners hoped paratroops would play, they endowed airborne forces with a special airborne administration, the Vozdushno-Desantnaya Voyska. In an effort to find solutions to the problems of employment, the Soviets switched control of the airborne forces from one command organization to another and increased the available firepower. In 1946, command of the airborne was switched from the Air Forces to the Ministry of Defense, in 1956 to the Soviet Ground Forces, and finally in 1964, back to the Ministry of Defense. Subordinated directly to the Soviet High Command, the VDV enjoyed the status of a separate service, rather than a mere branch of the army or air force.

In the early 1960's airborne units began to practice moving into areas that had just been hit (simulated) by nuclear weapons. The Soviets considered airborne landing forces the sole means for taking immediate advantage of results obtained with nuclear strikes against an enemy.

Marc R. DeVore argues that "Unable to airdrop more than a single division and probably incapable of penetrating NATO airspace, Soviet airborne operations were even less feasible in the 1980s than they had been prior to the VDV’s creation of mechanized airborne divisions. In fact, the VDV’s flair for innovation only solved the narrow problem of giving airborne forces more firepower, but ignored the broader issue of whether mass paratroop combat drops were even possible in high-intensity wars. In this context, the institutional autonomy accorded the VDV produced a sort of bounded rationality whereby the strength and inventiveness of airborne forces was maximized, but the transcendent question of what role these forces would play lay unexamined. As a failed innovation, airborne forces not only soldiered on, but innovatively pursued their organizational essence at great cost to the Soviet Union and the rest of its armed forces."

The mission of the Airborne Assault Troops is to make possible a quick response to national emergencies. The airborne troops are considered an elite force because they are individually selected from volunteers based on physical fitness, intelligence, and loyalty. By traditional military standards, the airborne troops are not a powerful force. Each division is assigned about 6,000 lightly armed troops with lightly armored vehicles. Their value is that they have special training and have operational and strategic mobility provided by long-range aircraft. Their parachute assault capability means that they can be deployed anywhere within airlift range in a matter of hours without the need for an air base in friendly hands. However, resupply and support by heavy ground troop formations are necessary in a matter of days because the airborne troops lack the self-sustaining combat and logistical power of regular ground forces.

As of 1995 the core goal of the Russian Army was to establish a mobile force with two main elements: the Immediate Reaction Force and the Rapid Deployment Force. The Immediate Reaction Force was composed of mostly the VDV. In contrast, the Rapid Deployment Forces were the heavy portion, based on tanks, motorized rifle, and heavy artillery.

During the Cold War each Soviet Airborne Division normally comprised nearly 8500 men, including artillery and combat support elements. Since 1930, the Soviet Army maintained the world's largest airborne force. As of 1980 the USSR was believed to have eight active-duty airborne divisions. Today's Russian airborne is still the world's largest. As of 2003, the Russian Army had four airborne divisions, and three independent airborne brigades. Each division is assigned about 6,000 lightly armed troops with lightly armored vehicles. Their value is operational and strategic mobility provided by long-range aircraft in a matter of hours.

The Soviet Union was the first state to constitute airborne forces, the first to drop airborne forces into battle, the first to include a major airborne drop in a major field exercise, and the first to totally mechanize its airborne forces. Yet, when Westerners think of the great airborne operations of history, they think of the German drops on Crete and Fort Eban Emael, the Anglo-American drops at Normandy and Eindhoeven-Nijmegan-Arnhem and the American drop at Corregidor. The large Soviet airborne operations are largely unknown or ignored in the West.

While problem areas in training and support of airborne units did exist, the Soviet Union possessed a considerable potential to employ airborne forces in a variety of missions. Soviet military doctrine stressed the primacy of offensive operations aimed at stunning and preventing organized resistance by opponents. While the offensive role of Soviet airborne forces was of paramount importance, defensive antiarmor operations and associated problems in forces training and employment remained issues of continued close interest and concern.

The Blue Berets of the airborne played a political role of praetorian guards and imperial storm troopers as they squashed rebellions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, invaded and fought for ten years in Afghanistan and then returned home to counter the civil turmoil unleashed by Gorbachev's perestroika. In Afghanistan in 1979, as in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviets used the surprise landing of airborne units at strategic centers, particularly around the capital, in conjunction with the speedy movement of ground units along strategic routes toward vital centers to gain the initiative.

The airborne's political role of praetorian guards and imperial storm troopers evolved as they squashed rebellions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, invaded and fought for ten years in Afghanistan and then returned home to counter the civil turmoil unleashed by Gorbachev's perestroika.

The VDV participated in the rapid deployment of Russian forces stationed in Bosnian city Ugljevik, in and around Pristina airport during the Kosovo War. Streaming into Kosovo's capital, NATO found itself face-to-face with the Russian troops. American officials did, for their own reasons, publicly downplayed the significance of the confrontation, but it is impossible to deny that, this event points dramatically to an exacerbation of tensions between the major powers. About 370 Russian paratroopers in BTR-80 armored personnel carriers prevented the US from seizing control of Kosovo's key airport.

When the motherland calls, the VDV answers! VDV units were some of the first elements of the Russian retaliation in South Ossetia against Georgia In August 2008, the VDV troops participated in an operation to force Georgia to peace, acting in the Ossetian and Abkhazian directions. In particular, the two VDV divisions- 98th Ivanovo Guards Airborne Division, which in May of the same year was named the best in the winter training period, and the 31-th separate Ulyanovsk Guards Air Assault Brigade, which is part of the collective forces of operative response of the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO CFOR), were brought to the operation on the border with Georgia. The 76th "Chernigov" Airborne, and 98th "Ivanovo" Airborne division's took place in the liberation of Tskhinvalli and eventually pushed into Georgia itself, defeating every line of opposition until Georgia finally surrendered days later.

The troops retain the status of a reserve of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. Generally, their mission is to protect the interests of Russia and lives of its citizens both within and outside the country. The airborne troops fulfill their objectives under combined strategic command both independently and as part of ground force formations. These missions include: covering flanks and gaps in ground offensives, fighting tactical enemy landing parties, landing its own parties behind enemy lines and on the flanks, and discharging any tasks calling for high mobility and speed of deployment, particularly in local conflicts.

The Airborne Troops is a combat arm in the Armed Forces, subordinated to the Supreme Command. Their task is to envelop the enemy in the air and to conduct missions behind enemy lines aimed at disrupting command and control functions, seizing and destroying ground-based precision weapons, disrupting the advance and deployment of enemy reserves, and disrupting enemy logistics and communications, to provide cover for assigned areas and open flanks, to block and destroy landed airborne assault forces and enemy forces which have passed through friendly defense, and to perform other tasks. In peacetime, the Airborne Troops perform missions aimed at maintaining the combat and mobilization readiness at the level necessary for the successful fulfillment of their tasks.

The Airborne Troops are considered the most capable mobile assault forces in Russia. Various estimates put the personnel at about 48,000 troops as of 2009, deployed in four divisions and a brigade. The airborne troops numbered 35,000 men in 2010. In the course of the reform, the officer corps was trimmed by 40%, with 4,000 serving officers left, of whom 400 held sergeant posts due to a shortage of regular sergeants and to cuts in officers' posts.

According to Russia's military reform plans as of 2007, the Airborne Troops were to be fully manned with professional soldiers by 2011. "Priority tasks for the development of the Russian Airborne Troops include the improvement of their combat potential, upgrading of the current arsenal to advanced weaponry, and the introduction of automated battlefield command-and-control systems," defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov said at a meeting with senior Airborne Troops staff on 22 March 2007.

As of 2009, according to Russia's military reform plans, the Airborne Troops were to be fully manned with professional soldiers by 2011. As of August 2012 the number of professional servicemen in the Russian Airborne Forces was expected to reach 20,000 in the next five or seven years, more than double the current 9,500 troops, the airborne troops chief commander, Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov, said.

By 2010 there were 7,000 contract personnel with soldiers' and sergeants' duties, while the rest were conscripts. Later on, the number of contract servicemen will be doubled. It was planned to fill all junior commander and specialist posts with contract men - posts that are most demanding and require more education and training. The shortage of contract men is explained by the low pay: 12,000 to 18,000 rubles a month. Given bonuses and travel allowances, they can receive up to 18,000 or 25,000 rubles.

The airborne was seeing a rebirth in the institution of non-commissioned officers who made up the core of the old army. From 2012, a sergeant was drawing no less than 30,000 rubles, and with bonuses and travel money can earn more: 40,000 to 45,000 rubles. These wages were well over the average pay in the regions and will attract more and better-trained people. The standards sought are highly trained officers and sergeants and well-trained and hand picked soldiers - both contract and draftees able to act with daring and initiative.

In August 2010 the largest airborne military exercises since the collapse of the Soviet Union kicked off in central Russia. The exercises were held in the Kostroma, Yaroslavl and Ivanovo regions until August 28, featured over 4,000 servicemen and 300 hardware items. The exercises included airborne assault landings, assault river-crossings and the use of automated command and control systems.

According to resolution of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the first open contest "Your choice" related to attraction of citizens to the Armed Forces was dedicated to professional service in the Airborne Forces. It was organized May 19, 2014 in the garrisons of the 98th (Ivanovo), seventh (Novorossiysk), 76th (Pskov) and 106th (Tula) divisions of the Airborne Forces. In a single day 1,500 people asked for contract service in the Airborne Forces.

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