The Russian Airborne Troops or VDV (from "Vozdushno-Desantnye Vojska", Russian: Воздушно-десантные войска = ВДВ; Air-landing Forces) is an arm of service of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, on a par with the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Russian Space Forces. First formed before World War II, the force undertook two significant airborne operations and a number of smaller jumps during the war and after 1945 for many years was the largest airborne force in the world.
Troops intended for landing, or which have already landed on enemy-occupied territory for the purpose of conducting combat operations. According to the transportation method used, a landing force may be amphibious, airborne, or combined; and according to its scale and purpose, such a force may be strategic, operational, or tactical.The concept of desant is linked with the Russian doctrinal emphasis on flanking maneuvers.
The Soviet airborne forces were mostly used as 'leg' infantry during the war. Only a few small airborne drops were carried out in the first desperate days of Operation Barbarossa, in the vicinity of Kiev, Odessa, and the Kerch peninsula. The two significant airborne operations of the war were the Vyazma operation of February-March 1942, involving 4th Airborne Corps, and the Dnepr/Kiev operation of September 1943, involving a temporary corps formation consisting of 1st, 3rd, and 5th Airborne Brigades.
HQ 9 Guards Army was redesignated Headquarters Airborne Forces soon after the war ended.
The units of the Army were removed from the order of battle of the Air Forces of USSR and assigned directly to the Ministry of Armed Forces of USSR.
The creation of the post-war Soviet Airborne Forces owe much to the efforts of one man, the General of Army Vasily Filipovich Margelov, so much so that the abbreviation of VDV in the Airborne Forces is sometimes interpreted as "Войска дяди Васи", "Troops of Uncle Vasya".
While the 37th, 38th, and 39th Corps survived for a while, and in 1946 the force consisted of five corps (the 8th and 15th had been added) and ten divisions, the force was eventually reduced to seven Airborne Divisions , with an Independent Airborne regiment and up to sixteen Air Assault Brigades.
Airborne units of two divisions (7th and 31st Guards) were used during Soviet operations in Hungary during 1956, and the 7th Guards division was used again during 1968 operations in Czechoslovakia. The first experimental air assault brigade - the 1st Airborne [Airmobile/Air Assault] Brigade - was apparently activated in 1967/1968 from parts of the 51st Guards Parachute Landing Regiment (PDP) (Tula), after the Russian had been impressed by the American experiences in Vietnam.
By the 1980s there were seven airborne divisions in the VDV (including one training) and several independent brigades, regiments and battalions although only two divisions were capable of being deployed for combat operations in the first wave against NATO employing assets of the Transport Aviation of the Military Air Forces and the Aeroflot.
Confusion was created in NATO sources during the 1970s and 80s over the designation of the active divisions due to differing way they were referenced in Soviet Union. This stemmed from some divisions having a honorific name included in the division title, but also being referred to by the military air base they depended on for airlift assets. These bases were:
There was also a mistaken Western belief, either intentional Soviet deception or stemming from confusion in the West, that an Airborne Division, reported as the 6th, was being maintained in the Far East in the 1980s. This maskirovka division was then 'disbanded' later in the 1980s, causing comment within Western professional journals that another division was likely to be reformed so that the Far East had an airborne presence. The division was not listed in V.I. Feskov et al's The Soviet Army during the period of the Cold War, (2004) and the nearest division ever active, the 99th Guards Airborne Svirsk Red Banner Division based at Ussuriysk, was broken up to form separate air assault brigades (parts of the 11th, 13th, and 83rd Brigades) in 1973.
In 1989, the Airborne Forces consisted of:
With the demise of the Soviet Union, the number of VDV divisions has shrunk from seven to four, as well as one brigade and the brigade-sized training centre:
Two other Air Assault brigades & regiments (the 11th Air Assault Brigade in the Siberian Military District and the 56th Air Assault Regiment in the North Caucasus Military District) are partially infantry formations reporting directly to the military districts they are stationed in. The VDV's training institute is the Ryazan Institute for the Airborne Troops named for General of the Army V.F. Margelov.
In the early 1990s, General Pavel Grachev, the first Russian Defence Minister, planned for the VDV to form the core of the planned Mobile Forces. This was announced in Krasnaya Zvezda ('Red Star,') the Ministry of Defence's daily newspaper, in July 1992. However, the Mobile Forces plan never eventuated. The number of formations available for the force was far less than anticipated, since much of the Airborne Forces had been 'nationalised' by the republics their units had been previously based in, and other arms of service, such as the GRU and Military Transport Aviation, who were to provide the airlift component, were adamantly opposed to ceding control of their forces.
After an experimental period, the 104th Parachute Regiment of 76th Airborne Division became the first Russian ground forces regiment that was fully composed of professional soldiers (and not of "srochniki" - the conscripted soldiers aged eighteen). It should be noted, however, that an additional major conversion of many many units across the Russian armed forces to contract manning is now under way. It was announced that the 98th Airborne Division is also earmarked for contract manning, and by September 2006, it was confirmed that 95% of the units of the 98th Division had shifted to contract manning.
Unlike western airborne units, which must walk when they arrive at their destination, the VDV divisions are equipped with armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft guns, trucks and jeeps. Thus VDV units possess superior mobility and firepower with these vehicles. Each division has both regiments equipped with them and their derivatives. (Each division used to have three regiments, but the 106th was the last, and lost its third regiment in 2006.) With the reduction in forces after 1991, the 61st Air Army, Russia's military air transport force, has enough operational heavy transport aircraft to move one airborne division, manned at peacetime standards, in two-and-a-half lifts. The single independent brigade, the 31st at Ulyanovsk, however, is not equipped with its own armor or artillery and may be equivalent to Western airborne troops, in that it functions as light infantry and must walk when reaching their destination. The 31st was the former 104th Guards Airborne Division.
VDV troops participated in the rapid deployment of Russian forces in and around Pristina airport during the Kosovo War, surprising NATO. They also were deployed in Chechnya as an active bridgehead for other forces to follow.
A VDV unit, the 45th ORPSN (Independent Special Reconnaissance Regiment), that reportedly performed brilliantly in Chechnya during the second campaign, was said to actually represent a Spetsnaz GRU unit, which was later proven untrue.
Notable former Airborne Forces officers include Aleksandr Lebed, who was involved in responses to disorder in the Caucasus republics in the last years of the Soviet Union, and Pavel Grachev who went on to become the first Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation. PRIDE heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter Sergei Kharitonov, went to the Airborne Troops academy in Ryazan', and remains on active duty with the Russian Airborne Troops.
As of 2007, and for decades before that, the VDV were armed with following equipment.
Unlike the rest of the mechanized units, which use variety of APCs and IFVs, the VDV uses exclusively BMD family. There are over 1800 armored fighting vehicles, mostly BMD-1 and BMD-2. There were also over 100 BMD-3, but it is unknown if they were upgraded to BMD-4 level, as the Russian military spokesman stated in 2006 that: “over 100 BMD-4 are currently in service with VDV”. If not, all of them will be upgraded by 2010. All of them are amphibious, moving at around 10km/h in water. BMD-4 is also capable of full, continuous fire safely while in the deep water, unlike any other vehicle with such heavy weaponry (100mm gun and 30mm auto canon).
Hulls of BMD and of other airborne capable, armour vehicles are configured and modified to act as search and rescue, medical, communication and other special purposes vehicles to allow specialists to operate in battle more safely and with much higher mobility.
Other Vehicles The VDV is equipped with numerous types of airborne capable trucks and jeeps: Ural, GAZ, KamAZ and UAZ for transporting cargo, specialist crews and equipment (e.g. mortars, ammunitions), but not infantry (all fighting paratroopers are transported in armoured vehicles).
In January 2007, VDV commander-in-chief General Colonel Aleksander Kolmakov announced that within next 3 years, the VDV will be re-equipped with the new types of equipment. It includes the new BMD-4 “Bahcha-U” airborne fighting vehicles, also approximate 100 BMD-3 vehicles will be upgraded to BMD-4 level. , 125mm self-propelled anti-tank/artillery gun 2C25 “Sprut”, new anti-aircraft self-propelled gun/(missile?) vehicle BTR-D3 “Rakushka”, airborne truck “KamAZ-43501” as well as new parachutes “D-10” and new firearms and other personal equipment for conventional and special purposes.