Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Monday, 3 September 2012

ORBAT - Soviet Air Assault Units Part 1, Overview and Lift Assets

The Soviet Army included a number of dedicated Air Assault battalions and Air Assault Brigades at Army and Front level and was capable of generating Air Assault assets from motor rifle units at divisional level with up-to 1 MRB being trained for this purpose in each division.

The Air Assault units were used in support of tactical and operational manoeuvre often in conjunction with Divisional and Army level forward detachments.  Missions were generally tactical in nature and conducted at company or battalion level within 50km of the forward line of own troops often as close as 15km in order to ensure artillery support and rapid link up. Tasks for Air Assault units included:
  • seizing key terrain, dominating features, defiles, crossing points road junctions
  • screening flanks
  • strikes against artillery concentrations, nuclear weapons and head quarters
  • blocking counter attacks
  • ambush of movement in rear areas.

A total of 8 Air Assault Brigades were identified supporting the 4 Fronts in the Western TVD.  This fits an assumption that not only did each Front possess an Air Assault Brigade, but that each of the Tank Armies forming the Operational Manoeuvre Groups of each of the fronts were also given an Air Assault Brigade, the Combined Arms Armies each had an Air Assault Battalion.

Whilst airmobile brigades started being formed in the early 70s, the Air Assault units being to appear from the late 70s early 80s and were largely fully formed by 1990 in the Western TVD. They were another method available to Front and Army commanders of focusing combat power on the main effort and could be supported by a range of Air and Aviation lift and attack assets. The Air Assault Units were capable of insertion by Parachute, Helicopter or Tactical Air Landing but had no lift capability integral to the unit.

Aviation Capability

Significant lift and attack helicopter units were maintained at all levels from Division to Front and these in conjunction with the Front Air Army and Transport Aircraft from the VTA would support Air Assault operations.  Aviation units included:
  • Divisional Fire Sp Squadrons of 4 Hoplite, 6 Hind and 6 Hip.
  • Army Attack Helicopter Regiments of 2 Hind Squadrons of 20 Aircraft and 1 Hip Squadron of 20 Aircraft.
  • Front Transport Helicopter Regiment of 2 Heavy Lift Squadrons of 12 Halo or Hook and 2 Medium lift Squadrons of 16 Hip,  A Front could have upto two such Regiments.

The Total Helicopters of each type available to a Front with 2 CAA and 1 TA and 1 Air Army comprising some 14 ground divisions was potentially:
  • Halo/Hook 48
  • Hip 214
  • Hind 210
  • Hoppolite 60

In addition Air Assault operations would be supported by the Fighter and Fighter Bomber Squadrons of the Fronts Air Army and Aircraft from the VTA (military transport aircraft) could be used to air land or parachute either armour or troops.  Air landing was probably the preferred option due to the reduced mounting time but required a suitable airport/field to be secured.  The Insertion of the Airborne and Air Assault elements in support of 40th Army during the invasion of Afghanistan demonstrated what could be achieved, though clearly in a far less hostile air environment.

I have found nothing that describes how Aviation assets were distributed or task organised between the echelons but could see that some of the policies associated with the distribution of Artillery Assets might apply.
  • 2nd Echelon Armies Attack Helicopter Regiments and divisional fire support squadrons could initially be available to support 1st Echelon Armies within a front.  This would provide an additional Attack Helicopter Regiment to reinforce the main axis along with up to 14 Divisional Aviation Squadrons.
  • If the Front in the 2nd operational echelon could contribute assets to the fronts in the first then an additional transport helicopter regiment, and 3 Attack Helicopter Regiments would be available.
  • This would create significant lift capacity on the main axis of the first operational echelon

Whilst some sources point out that armed Mi-8t in the Army Attack Helicopter Regiments would not be used for troop lift it is clear from records of operations in Afghanistan that they were.  Other tasks placed on aviation assets include resupply of forward elements, obstacle creation and armed action in support of ground units, so whilst a considerable amount of aviation capability could potentially be gathered, it was not for the sole purpose of moving Air Assault Units.


FM 100-2 Specialised Warfare and Rear Area Support, Chapter 3 Heliborn Operations
FM 100-3, Soviet Troop Organisation and Equipment
Reorganisation of Soviet Ground Forces, CIA 1983
Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, Isbey, 1988
Soviet Bloc Elite Forces, Zaloga and Loop, Osprey 1985
Soviet Airborn Operations in Theatre of War, SASO, 1988
16va.be Web Site - Excellent resource for Soviet Air Force in GDR
Wargames Unit - Soviet VDV Regiment


  1. the russians sure like their helis... HUGE ones and powerful ones. what is that massive one, I assue the Halo or Hook, I dont have the Corgi book on soviet war power (1980-81) out from the library and of coarse the US war power book is of no use

    1. the first pic is an Mi 26 Halo and the second an Mi 6 Hook

  2. Interesting read, thanks for posting.