Войска ПВО

Voyska ProtivoVozdushnoy Oborony

Soviet Air Defense Forces

Flag of the Soviet Air Defense Forces

Active 1932-Present
Country USSR

Main Staff



5,000,000 aircraft

The Soviet Air Defence Forces (Russian: Войска ПВО, Voyska ProtivoVozdushnoy Oborony, Voyska PVO, V-PVO, lit. Anti-Air Defense Troops; and formerly ProtivoVozdushnaya Oborona Strany, PVO Strany, lit. Anti-Air Defense of the Nation) is the air defense branch of the Soviet Armed Forces. Unlike Western air defense forces, V-PVO was a branch of the military unto itself, separate from the Soviet Air Forces (VVS) and Air Defense Troops of Ground Forces. During the Soviet period it was generally ranked third in importance of the Soviet services´, behind the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and the Ground Forces (Red Army and Soviet Army).

It is one of the the largest self-defense air forces in the world and the second largest air force in the Soviet Union.


World War IIEdit

While the preparations for creation of the air defense forces started in 1932, and by the start of the World War II 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 organized as PVO Fronts, Air Armies of PVO, and PVO of military district, such as the Baku Air Defence Army. The largest of these, the PVO Fronts (Russian: Фронты ПВО), had the following service history:

  • Western Front PVO
    • 1st formation 29 June 1943 - 20 April 1944 renamed to Headquarters, Northern PVO Front
    • 2nd formation 24 December 1944 - 9 May 1945 formed from Headquarters, Northern PVO Front
  • Moscow Front PVO 6 April 1942 - 10 July 1943 formed from Headquarters, Moscow PVO Corps Region; re-flagged as Headquarters, Special Moscow PVO Army
  • Northern Front PVO 21 April 1944 - 23 December 1944 formed from Headquarters, Western PVO Front (1st formation); re-flagged as Headquarters, Western PVO Front (2nd formation)
  • Southwestern Front PVO 24 December 1944 - 9 May 1945 formed from Headquarters, Southern PVO Front
  • Southern Front PVO 21 April 1944 - 24 December 1944 formed from Headquarters, Eastern PVO Front; re-flagged as Headquarters, Southwestern PVO Front

PVO Fronts normally covered airspace over several ground Army Fronts; these should not be confused with each other.

Cold WarEdit

All the possible air components were divided (as of 1945, before the 1949 reforms of the Soviet Armed Forces) into:

  • Active Army (Russian: Действующая армия) air forces assigned to fighting Fronts, known as Frontal Aviation
  • PVO Territorial Defence Forces (PVO-TDF) (Russian: Войска ПВО территории страны; Voiska PVO territoriy Strany)
  • PVO Army on sovereign territory (Russian: армия ПВО территории страны, Armiy PVO Territorii Strany')
  • STAVKA High Command Forces Reserve PVO (Russian: Резерв Ставки ВГК)
  • Military Districts' PVO (Russian: Военные округа, Voennyi Okruga)
  • Inactive Fronts' PVO (Russian: недействующие фронты)

The PVO Strany has been separated from the other services of the Soviet Army since 1949. In May 1954, it was established as equal to the other branches of the Soviet Armed Forces, receiving its first commander-in-chief: Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov, Commanding General-in-Chief, PVO-S.

PVO's principal role was to shoot down United States Strategic Air Command bombers if they penetrated Soviet airspace. Secondary target were the U.S. air reconnaissance aircraft. There were a number of such 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 under PVO leadership and its high command, eventually forming the basis for the now-Soviet 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 like in Belarus, the Ukraine and the Baltics.

In a 1981 reorganization, the now Voyska PVO was stripped of many command and control and training assets, which were moved to the Air Force.

On 1 September 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. It even resulted in the forced and sudden resignation of the then Armed Forces Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, in the following year by the CPSU General Secretary and President of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium Konstantin Chernenko.

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 Marshal A. I. Koldunov was only among the first to be removed from his position. Over 150 officers, mostly from the PVO, were tried in court and removed from their posts. A large-scale changeover of senior officers of the force more generally followed as well.