Russian Air Force

The Russian Air Force (Russian: Военно-воздушные силы России, tr. Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii, literally "military air forces of Russia") is a branch of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the latter being formed on 1 August 2015 with the merger of the Russian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces.[6] The modern Russian Air Force was originally established on 7 May 1992 following Boris Yeltsin's creation of the Ministry of Defence; however, the Russian Federation's air force can trace its lineage and traditions back to the Imperial Russian Air Service (1912–1917) and the Soviet Air Forces (1918–1991).

Russian Air Force
Военно-воздушные силы России
Voyenno-vozdushnye sily Rossii
Russian Air Force emblem
Active7 May 1992 (1992-05-07)
Country Russia
TypeAir force
Size148,000 personnel (2018) 3,200+ aircraft[1]
Part of Russian Aerospace Forces
HeadquartersMoscow, Russia
March"Air March" (Russian: "Авиамарш")[2][3][4]
Anniversaries12 August
EngagementsFirst Chechen War
War of Dagestan
Second Chechen War
Russo-Georgian War
Syrian Civil War[5]
Chief of the General StaffValery Gerasimov
Commander of the Aerospace ForcesSergei Surovikin
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air ForceAndrey Yudin
Roundel (1991–2010)
Aircraft flown
AttackSu-25SM, Su-24M, Su-34
BomberMiG-31K, Tu-22M3, Tu-95, Tu-160
A-50/A-50U, Il-22PP, Il-80
FighterMiG-29, MiG-35, Su-27, Su-30, Su-35, Su-57
HelicopterKa-60, Mi-8, Mi-17, Mi-26
Attack helicopterMi-24/Mi-35M, Mi-28N, Ka-50, Ka-52
TrainerAero L-39 Albatros, Yak-130
TransportIl-76, Il-112, An-26, An-124, An-140, An-148

The Russian Navy has its own independent air arm, the Russian Naval Aviation, which is the former Soviet Aviatsiya Voyenno-morskogo Flota (lit. "Aviation of the military-sea fleet"), or AVMF.


Air Forces of Russia

Russian Empire

Emperor's Military Air Fleet (1909–1917)

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic

Workers and Peasants Red Air Fleet (1918–1991)

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Military Air Forces of the USSR (1918–1991)

Aviation of the Military Maritime Fleet (1918–1991)

Anti-Air Defence Troops (1948–1991)

Strategic Rocket Forces (1959–1991)

Russian Federation

Military Air Forces of the Russian Federation (1991–present)

Aviation of the Military Maritime Fleet (1991–present)

Strategic Rocket Forces (1991–present)


Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union into its fifteen constituent republics in December 1991, the aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Forces—the VVS were divided among the newly independent states. General Pyotr Deynekin, the former deputy commander-in-chief of the Soviet Air Forces, became the first commander of the new organisation on 24 August 1991. Russia received the majority of the most modern fighters and 65% of the manpower. The major commands of the former Soviet VVS—the Long-Range Aviation, Military Transport Aviation and Frontal Aviation were renamed, with few changes, Russian VVS commands. However, many regiments, aircraft, and personnel were claimed by the republics they were based in, forming the core of the new republics' air forces. Some aircraft in Belarus and Ukraine (such as Tupolev Tu-160s) were returned to Russia, sometimes in return for debt reductions, as well as a long-range aviation division based at Dolon in Kazakhstan.

During the 1990s, the financial stringency felt throughout the armed forces made its mark on the Air Forces as well.[7] Pilots and other personnel could sometimes not get their wages for months, and on occasion resorted to desperate measures: four MiG-31 pilots at Yelizovo in the Far East went on hunger strike in 1996 to demand back pay which was several months overdue, and the problem was only resolved by diverting unit money intended for other tasks.[8] As a result of the cutbacks, infrastructure became degraded as well, and in 1998, 40% of military airfields needed repair.

The VVS participated in the First Chechen War (1994–1996) and the Second Chechen War (1999–2002). These campaigns also presented significant difficulties for the VVS including the terrain, lack of significant fixed targets and insurgents armed with Stinger and Strela-2M surface-to-air missiles.

The former Soviet Air Defence Forces remained independent for several years under Russian control, only merging with the Air Forces in 1998. The decree merging the two forces was issued by President Boris Yeltsin on 16 July 1997. During 1998 altogether 580 units and formations were disbanded, 134 reorganised, and over 600 given a new jurisdiction.[9] The redistribution of forces affected 95% of aircraft, 98% of helicopters, 93% of anti-aircraft missile complexes, 95% of the equipment of radiotechnical troops, 100% of anti-aircraft missiles and over 60% of aviation armament. More than 600,000 tons of material changed location and 3,500 aircraft changed airfields. Military Transport Aviation planes took more than 40,000 families to new residence areas.

The short-lived operational commands were abolished. Two air armies, 37th Air Army (long-range aviation) and 61st Air Army (former Military Transport Aviation), were established directly under the Supreme Command. The former frontal aviation and anti-aircraft forces were organised as Air Force Armies and Anti-Aircraft Defense Armies under the military district commanders. There were initially four such armies with headquarters in St.Petersburg (Leningrad Military District), Rostov-on-Don (North Caucasus Military District), Khabarovsk (Far East Military District), and Chita (Siberian Military District). Two military districts had separate Air and Air Defence Corps. When the Transbaikal Military District and Siberian Military District were merged, the 14th Air Army was reactivated to serve as the air force formation in the area.

The number of servicemen in the Air Force was reduced to about 185,000 from the former combined number of 318,000. 123,500 positions were abolished, including almost 1,000 colonel positions. The resignation of 3000 other servicemen included 46 generals of which 15 were colonel generals. On 29 December 1998 Colonel General Anatoly Kornukov, a former Air Defence Forces officer and new commander-in-chief of the merged force, succeeding Deynekin, reported to the Russian defence minister that the task had 'in principle been achieved'.[10] General Kornukov established the new headquarters of the force in Zarya (ru:Заря (микрорайон Балашихи)), near Balashikha, 20 km east of the centre of Moscow, in the former PVO central command post, where the CIS common air defence system is directed from.


In 1999 Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister of Russia and then President in 2000; he continued to hold one or the other of these offices through every year since.

In December 2003 the aviation assets of the Russian Ground Forces—mostly helicopters—were transferred to the VVS, following the shooting down of a Mi-26 helicopter in Chechnya on 19 August 2002, that claimed 19 lives. The former Army Aviation was in its previous form intended for the direct support of the Ground Forces, by providing their tactical air support, conducting tactical aerial reconnaissance, transporting airborne troops, providing fire support of their actions, electronic warfare, setting of minefield barriers and other tasks. The former Army Aviation was subsequently managed by the Chief of the Department of Army Aviation.[11] However, by 2010, it was announced that the 2003 decision to transfer Ground Force Aviation to the Air Force was reversed, with the transfer back to the Ground Forces to occur sometime in 2015 or 2016.[12]

During the 2000s, the Air Forces continued to suffer from a lack of resources for pilot training. In the 1990s Russian pilots achieved approximately 10% of the flight hours of the United States Air Force. The 2007 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Military Balance listed pilots of tactical aviation flying 20–25 hours a year, 61st Air Army pilots (former Military Transport Aviation), 60 hours a year, and Army Aviation under VVS control 55 hours a year.[13]

In 2007 the Russian Air Force resumed the Soviet-era practice of deploying its strategic bomber aircraft on long-range patrols. This ended a 15-year unilateral suspension due to fuel costs and other economic difficulties after the collapse of the Soviet Union.[14][15] Patrols towards the North Pole, the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean were reinstated, bringing the planes often close to NATO territory, including in one instance flying over the Irish Sea between the United Kingdom and Ireland.[16]

During the 2008 South Ossetian War, the Russian Air Force suffered losses of between four and seven aircraft due to Georgian anti-aircraft fire. The 2008 Russian military reforms were promptly announced following the war, which according to Western experts were intended to address many inadequacies discovered as a result. The reforms commenced during early 2009, in which air armies were succeeded by commands, and most air regiments becoming air bases.[17] Aviation Week & Space Technology confirmed that the reorganisation would be completed by December 2009 and would see a 40 percent reduction in aircrew numbers.[18]

In February 2009, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that 200 of the 291 MiG-29s currently in service across all Russian air arms were unsafe and would have to be permanently grounded.[19] This action would remove from service about a third of Russia's total fighter force, some 650 aircraft. On 5 June 2009, the Chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Makarov said of the Russian Air Force that "They can run bombing missions only in daytime with the sun shining, but they miss their targets anyway".[20] Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov said that Russia's long-range bombers would be upgraded in 2009 with the aim of being able to hit within 20 meters of their targets.[21]

Also in September 2009 it was reported that an East European network of the Joint CIS Air Defense System was to be set up by Russia and Belarus.[22] This network was intended to protect the airspace of the two countries as defined in the supranational 1999 Union State treaty. Its planned composition was to include five Air Force units, 10 anti-aircraft units, five technical service and support units and one electronic warfare unit. It was to be placed under the command of a Russian or Belarusian Air Force or Air Defence Force senior commander.

In July 2010, Russian jet fighters made the first nonstop flights from European Russia to the Russian Far East.[23] By August 2010, according to the commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force Aleksandr Zelin (interview to the Ekho Moskvy radio station, 14 August 2010), the average flight hours of a pilot in Russian tactical aviation had reached 80 hours a year, while in army aviation and military transport aviation it exceeded 100 hours a year.[24] On 15 August 2010, the Russian Air Force temporarily grounded its fleet of Su-25 ground attack aircraft to conduct an investigation into a crash that happened during a training mission. The Russian Defence Ministry said that the plane crashed on 6 August 2010, 60 km to the north-west of Step air base in Siberia, according to RIA Novosti.


According to the instructions of the General Staff of the Armed Forces on 1 September 2011, the unmanned aircraft of the RuAF and the personnel operating them moved under the command structure of the Russian Ground Forces.[25]

As of 2012, the Russian Air Force operated a total of 61 air bases, including 26 air bases with tactical aircraft, of which 14 are equipped with fighter aircraft. In terms of flight hours, pilots in the Western Military District averaged 125 hours over the 2012 training year. Pilots from the Kursk air base achieved an average of 150 hours, with transport aviation averaging 170 hours.[26]

On 1 August 2015, the Russian Air Force, along with the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces and the Air Defense Troops, were merged into a new branch of the Armed Forces, now officially called the Russian Aerospace Forces.[6]

On 30 September 2015 the Russian Air Force launched a military intervention in Syria, in Syria's Homs region.[27] On 24 November 2015, during this intervention, the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 that Turkey claimed had violated its airspace.[28][29]


Previous highest military office, pre-2015 merger.

Commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force Years
General Pyotr Deynekin(1991–1998)
General Anatoly Kornukov(1998– January 2002)
General Vladimir Mikhaylov(January 2002 – 9 May 2007)
Colonel General Aleksandr Zelin(9 May 2007 – 27 April 2012)
Colonel General Viktor Bondarev(6 May 2012 – 1 August 2015)

Since the merger between the Russian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces on 1 August 2015, the commander of the Russian Air Force as part of the new Russian Aerospace Forces is titled Deputy Commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces and Commander of the Russian Air Force.[6] Lieutenant General Andrey Yudin became the first holder of the position.[30]


In 2009 the Russian Air Forces' structure was completely changed to a command-air base structure from the previous structure of air army-air division or corps-air regiment. The VVS is now divided to 4 operational commands, the Aerospace Defense Operational Strategic Command (seemingly primarily made up of the former Special Purpose Command), the Military Transport Aviation Command, and the Long-Range Aviation Command.[32] This listing is a composite; the available new information covers frontline forces, and the forces of central subordination are as of approximately August 2008. maintains what appears to be a reasonably up to date listing, and Combat Aircraft magazine in June 2010 listed their organisation's estimate of the new order of battle.

This listing appears to be as of June 2009

Forces of central subordination of the Russian Air Force 2008

  • 8th Air Division for Special Purposes – Chkalovsky Airport
  • 929th State Flight Test Centre – Akhtubinsk
  • 4th Centre for Combat Training and Flight Personnel Training – Lipetsk Air BaseSu-34, Su-24M2, Su-30, Su-27SM, MiG-29, L-39C.
  • 344th Centre for Combat Training and Flight Personnel Training – Torzhok – ground forces helicopters
    • 696th Research and Instruction Helicopter Regiment – TorzhokKa-50, Ka-52, Mi-35M, Mi-8AMTSh, Mi-24PN, Mi-26, has used Mi-28N.
    • 92nd Research and Instruction Helicopter Squadron – Sokol-Vladimir – Mi-8TM(MTV-5) and Mi-24PN
  • 2881st Reserve Helicopter Base – TotskoyeMi-24P
  • 924th Centre for Combat Training and Flight Personnel Training – Yegoryevsk – UAVs
  • Russian State Scientific-Research Institute Centre for Cosmonaut Training – Star City (Zvyozdniy Gorodok)
  • 2457th Air Base of Long-Range Radiolocation Detection Aircraft – Ivanovo Severny – A-50(U)
  • 1st Fighter-Bomber Aviation Regiment – Lebyazhye – Su-24M
  • 764th Fighter Aviation Regiment – Bolshoye Savino Airport (Sokol) – MiG-31BM
  • 5th Independent Long-Range Reconnaissance Aviation Detachment – Voronezh (CFE and INF verification)
  • 185th Centre for Combat Training and Flight Personnel Training – Astrakhan
  • 118th Independent Helicopter Squadron – Chebenki (Dmitriyevka), Orenburg Oblast
  • 4020th Base for Reserve Aircraft – Lipetsk
  • 4215th Base for Reserve Aircraft – Chebenki
  • 15th Army Aviation Brigade of the Western Military District at the airport Ostrov, Pskov Oblast

Training units

  • Krasnodar Military Aviation Institute – L-39C
  • Syzran Military Aviation Institute – Syzran – Mi-2, Mi-8T and Mi-24V, Ansat, Ka-226T[33]
  • 783rd Training Centre – Armavir – MiG-29UB and L-39C
  • 786th Training Centre – BorisoglebskYak-130

The List of Soviet Air Force bases shows a number which are still active with the Russian Air Force.

With the Air Force now fusing into one joint service branch the personnel from the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces and their respective facilities, the following now report to the Aerospace Forces HQ:

Early warning of missile attack:

Voronezh radar at Lekhtusi, Armavir, Kaliningrad, Mileshevka, Yeniseysk, Barnaul[34]
Daryal radar at Pechora
Volga radar at Hantsavichy
Dnepr radar at Balkhash, Irkutsk and Olenegorsk
Oko early warning satellites

Space surveillance:

Okno in Tajikistan
Krona in Zelenchukskaya and Nakhodka
RT-70 in Yevpatoria (since the 2014 Crimean crisis, the status of Crimea, and thus of the city of Yevpatoria which is located on Crimea, is under dispute between Russia and Ukraine; Ukraine and the majority of the international community considers Crimea and Yevpatoria an integral part of Ukraine, while Russia, on the other hand, considers Crimea and Yevpatoria an integral part of Russia[35]) and Galenki (together with Roscosmos)

Missile defence:

A-135 anti-ballistic missile system
Don-2N radar
A-235 anti-ballistic missile system (future; after 2020)

Satellite systems:

Liana space reconnaissance and target designation system (2 satellites electronic reconnaissance 14F145 "Lotus-C1")[36]


The precise quantitative and qualitative composition of the Russian Air Force is unknown and figures include both serviceable and unserviceable aircraft as well as those placed into storage or sitting in reserve. Flightglobal estimated that there were about 3,947 aircraft in inventory in 2015.[38] According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the share of modern armament in the Air Force had reached about 35% during 2014.[39][40] The figure was raised to 66% by late 2016[41] and to 72% by late 2017.[42]

Estimates provided by the IISS show that RuAF combat pilots average 60 to 100 flight hours per year and pilots flying transport aircraft average 120 flight hours per year.[43]


As of 2014:[43]

  • 8 × bomber squadrons (4 operating Tu-22M3/MR; 3 operating Tu-95MS; 1 operating Tu-160)
  • 37 × fighter squadrons (8 operating MiG-29; 3 operating MiG-29SMT; 11 operating the MiG-31/MiG-31BM; 10 operating Su-27; 4 operating Su-27SM1/Su-30M2; 1 operating Su-27SM3/Su-30M2)
  • 27 × attack squadrons (11 operating the Su-24M/Su-24M2; 13 operating Su-25/Su-25SM; 3 operating Su-34)
  • 10 × attack & reconnaissance squadrons (1 operating Su-24M/MR; 8 operating Su-24MR; 1 operating Mig-25RB)
  • 1 × aew&c squadron (1 operating A-50/A50-U)
  • 1 × tanker squadron (1 operating Il-78/Il-78M)

Ranks and insignia

The independent Russian Air Force inherited the ranks of the Soviet Union, although the insignia and uniform was altered a little and the old Tsarist crown and double-headed eagle were re-introduced. The Russian Air Force uses the same rank structure as the Russian Ground Forces.

Aircraft procurement

Production of Russian aerospace industry for Russian Armed Forces, by year of manufacture (first flight).

Fixed-wing aircraft
Type Prev. 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total Total ordered
An-140-100 2 3 2 1[44] 1[45] 9
An-148-100E 2 2 4 3 2 3 15 15
A-100 1[46] 1
Diamond DA42T 35[47]
Il-76MD-90A 1 0 1[48] 2[49] 1[50] 5 39
L-410UVP 3[51] 18[51]
MiG-29KR/KUBR 2/2 8/2 10/0 20/4 24
MiG29SMT/UBT 28/6 3/2 11/0 42/8 50
MiG-35S/UB 1/1[52] 2/1[53][54] 3/2
Su-27SM3 4 8 12 12
Su-30M2 2 2 3 8 3 2 20 20
Su-30SM 2 14 21 27 19 17 14 114
Su-34 3 4 6 10 14 18 18 16 16 12 11 132
Su-35S 2 8 24 12 12 10 10 10[55] 88 98
Tu-154M 2
Tu-214R/ON/PU-SBUS 1/0/0 0/1/0 0/1/0 1/0/0 0/0/2[56] 2/2/2 6
Yak-130 3 6 3 15 18 20 14 10 6 14 109
Total 41 16 20 36 67 109 89 76 56 57 579
Sources: [57][58][59][60][61][62][63]
Ansat-U 6 2 5 6 6 6 6 3 10 50[64] 80[65]
Ka-31 1-2 1-2
Ka-52[66] 3 4 12 21 14 12 66
Ka-226 10-11 10-11
Mi-8/Mi-17 10 9[67] 19
Mi-26T 4 7 4 4 0 1 3 23
Mi-28N/UB/NM 13/0/0 11/0/0 12/0/0 15-18/0/0 14/1/0 3/4/2 65-68
Mi-24/Mi-35M 6 10-29 28 16 4/6[68] 70-89
Total 250-274
Sources: [69][70][71][72][73][74][75][76][77]

Future of the Russian Air Force

Aircraft Origin Class Role Status Notes
Beriev A-100RussiaJetAWACS1 prototypeReplacement for A-50[46]
Ilyushin Il-78MD-90ARussiaJetTanker1 prototypeReplacement for Il-78[78]
Ilyushin Il-112VRussiaPropellerTransport2 prototypesReplacement for An-26 & An-72
Ilyushin Il-276RussiaJetTransportIn developmentReplacement for An-12
Ilyushin Il-106 PAK VTARussiaJetTransportIn developmentFuture super-heavy transport airplane[79][80][81]
Kamov Ka-60/62RussiaRotorcraftTransport2 prototypesCertification of the Ka-62 expected to begin until the end of 2018[82]
Mikoyan MiG-41RussiaJetInterceptorIn studyNew long-range interceptor, to replace the MiG-31 after 2025[83]
Mil Mi-38TRussiaRotorcraftTransport4 prototypesSerial production expected after 2020[84]
Sukhoi OkhotnikRussiaJetStealth UCAV1 prototypeStealth UCAV, encompassing some technologies of the Su-57[85]
Sukhoi PAK ShARussiaJetGround attackIn studyProject for a combat aviation complex to replace the Su-25 after 2030[86]
Sukhoi Su-57RussiaJetStealth multiroleIn production78 on order for GVP 2018-2027[87][88]
Tupolev PAK DARussiaJetStealth bomberIn developmentFuture stealth strategic bomber, first flight expected in mid-2020s[89]
Tupolev Tu-160M2RussiaJetBomber1 prototype10 on order[90]
RussiaJetTransportIn studyMedium-size jet freighter to replace An-12[91]
Yakovlev Yak-152RussiaPropellerTrainer4 prototypes150 on order for GVP 2018-2027[92][93]

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