Voyska PVO (Russian: Войска ПВО, or PVO Strany until 1981) was the air defense branch of the Soviet military. It continued being a service branch of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1998. PVO is short for ProtivoVozdushnaya Oborona or "Anti-Air Defense". Unlike Western air defense forces, PVO National Air Defence Troops was a branch of the military unto itself, separate from the Soviet Air Force (VVS). During the Soviet period it was generally ranked third in importance of the Soviet services, behind the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Ground Troops.
While the preparations for creation of the Air-Defence forces commenced in 1932, and by the start of WWII there were 13 PVO zones located within the military districts, the real growth of the Service was during the four years of the Second World War. During World War II its formations were organised as PVO Fronts, Air Armies of PVO and forces of the PVO of military district, such as the Baku Air Defence Army. The largest of these, the PVO Fronts (Фронты ПВО), had the following service history:
These are not to be confused with their surface namesakes, and often covered airspace over several ground Fronts.
Until the 1949 reforms of the Soviet Armed Forces, the air component was divided (as of 1945) into:
The Service's first commander-in-chief was Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov, appointed in 1954.
From the 1950s the PVO's principal role was to be ready to intercept United States Strategic Air Command bombers and reconnaissance aircraft if they penetrated Soviet airspace. There were a number of U.S. aircraft shot down while operating around the Soviet borders, but the PVO gained an important victory on May 1, 1960, when a S-75 Dvina missile downed Gary Powers' U-2, causing the short U-2 crisis of 1960. The PVO had its own chain of command, schools, radar and sound director sites. From the mid 1960s however, PRO, anti-rocket defence, and PKO, anti-space defence, troops began gaining strength, eventually forming the basis for now-Russian Space Forces. Organisationally there were two main PVO districts for most of the USSR's postwar history, Moscow and Baku, and the rest of the country was divided into PVO regions.
In a 1981 reorganization, Voyska PVO was stripped of many command and control and training assets, which were given to the Air Force.
On September 1, 1983 the PVO shot down Korean Air Flight 007 after they correctly believed that the civilian airliner had illegally crossed into restricted Soviet airspace but mistook it for a spy plane. Previously Korean Air Flight 902 had once crossed into Murmansk airspace, and had to make an emergency landing when a Soviet Air Force Su-15 fired on it. Soviet government officials finally admitted their mistake much to the anger of the South Korean and the United States governments.
Mathias Rust's flight to Moscow in May 1987 caused a massive shakeup within the PVO. It seems that after the KAL 007 shootdown of 1983, no one was willing to give an order to bring Rust's tiny Cessna down, and modernisation programmes within the PVO had led to the installation of radar and communications systems at the state border that could not effectively pass tracking data to systems closer to Moscow. PVO Commander-in-Chief General A.I. Koldunov was only among the first to be removed. Over 150 officers, mostly from the PVO, were tried in court and removed from their posts. A large-scale changeover of senior officers more generally followed as well.
In 1998, the force groupings and headquarters of the PVO that had remained within Russia were merged with the Russian Air Force. The Day of Troops of Country Air Defense (Den' Voysk PVO Strany) was celebrated on 10 April in the USSR.
The post was then disestablished with the merger of the PVO and VVS.
19th PVO Army was disbanded 1 April 1993, with much equipment handed over to Georgian Ministry of Defence.
Surface to air missiles on strength in 1990 included: