Thursday, 6 December 2012

ORBAT - Soviet Air Assault Capability, Part 2 Army Air Assault Battalion

Each Soviet Combined Arms Army in the forward deployed groups of forces included an Air Assault Battalion in its make up by the mid 1980s.  The Army level Air Assault Battalion deployed a mix of BMD equiped and Infantry sub units all of which were parachute trained and part of the wider Desantno-ShturmoviyVoyska (DSHV) rather than the Vozdushno desantnye voyska (VDV) both of which were characterised by the term Desant. By 1986 the strength of the DSHV was assessed to be 16 Air Assault Brigades, 2 Regiments and 20 Battalions.

Prior to the deployment of Army Air Assault Battalions Soviet divisions would have a battalion of Motor Rifle troops trained as Heliborne Air Assault.  I assume these would be drawn from BTR units with dismounted Anti Tank platoons. Sources indicate that the 3 Companies might be drawn from different Units (Regiments) which would allow them all to be strongly task organised as in the illustration bellow.  I am not clear if this capability persisted once the Air Assault Battalions were available to the Armies of a Front but assume it would be.


The Air Assault units at each level were quite different, this post concentrates on the Army, Air Assault Battalion.

In broad terms the Army Air Assault Battalion consisted of a BMD Company, 2 Parachute Infantry Companies, a Mortar Battery, Air Defence platoon, Recce platoon and an AGL platoon.  I am choosing to represent it as follows:
  • 1 BMD Coy  4 AKM, 1 PKM, 1 RPG 16, 2 BMD
  • 2 Parachute Coy each, 5 AKM, 1PKM, 1 RPG 16, 1 AT-7
  • Mortar Battery 2 82mm Mtr 1 x MOP
  • Air Defence Platoon 3 AKM 3 SA7
  • Recce Platoon 1 BRDM2
  • AGL Platoon 2 AGS 17
  • AT Pl 2 AT4 1 SPG9
The items in red are not supported well with hard evidence, they would normally be left out of BMD/BMP equipped infantry units.  In this particular case this makes little sense as the Companies would deploy independently and the two parachute companies would lack anti armour assets that would be available to them if they were in the Parachute Infantry Battalions of Air Assault Brigades of the DSHV, I have threfore included them where others have not.

Task Organisation

The companies were quite heavily task organised on operations as they tended to be deployed on company level operations and therefore each company deployed a slice of the battalion support assets.  The company level deployments would be made in support of operations by forward detachments in order to speed up the rate of manoeuvre through the seizing of key terrain such as river crossings mountain passes and key cross roads. Other Missions included Raids ambushes and blocks. These battalions would be used within 15km of the forward line of own troops to allow for rapid link up and fire support from artillery throughout the mission.

for the wargames table this will create an infantry company group that could contain:

  • Parachute Infantry Company 4 AKM, 1PKM, 1 RPG 16, 1 AT-7
  • Attached Support elements:
    • Anti Aircraft detachment (1AKM 1SA7)
    • Anti Tank detachment (1 AT4 1 SPG 9) 
    • Mortar detachment (1 82mm Mor, I OP) 
    • Direct Fire Support detachment (1 AGS17)

There is evidence to support this level of task organisation and it fits with the articulated doctrine of Air Assault elements being used in Company and Battalion groupings.  Depending on missions the battalion might choose a less even split. Use of BTR D is not clear if any were available to add Mobility to Mortars or if light trucks were used.


A BMD equipped Company required a lift of approximately 12 Hook or 7 Halo. I estimated this based on a figure of 37 to lift a Battalion with 3 BMD Companies.  This breaks down to:

  • 30 Hooks carrying BMDs (15 Halo)
  • 2 per Company Group for the remainder of the personel and equipment including HQ and support (either aircraft)
With out vehicles a battalion required 13 Hip about 4 per Company group.

Given a flight of 4 Hips could lift a Company of Infantry and 5 Halos 10 BMDs the lift assets available to an Army in the Mid 80s together with the support of One + flights from the Heavy lift squadron from the Front Transport regiment could move the 3 Divisional Rifle companies, the two air assault parachute companies and the BMD company simultaneously.

The regrouping of 2nd Echelon Army Aviation assets and Front aviation assets would remove the lift constraint to the deployment of Army and Front Air Assault assets simultaneously, which provides an interesting concept of manoeuvre support on the main axis of advance, a bit like Operation Market Garden on steroids but much more viral.

I am still unraveling the story of the evolution of Helicopter support but will explain the organisational evolution of this force in a future post, if your interested the storey is well told on the 16 Air Army site

For Game purposes at a vehicle scale of 1:3 I'll be using 1 Halo and 1 Mi 8 for the BMD Company group and 2 Hip, or  a Hook for the Parachute Infantry company groups.


There is plenty of evidence to suggest that missions would be supported by Artillery and it is feasible that this artillery could be grouped under command on such missions and operate from behind the Forward Line of Own Troops. This could provide suppression of the LS and Route as well as support during any fighting.  Route suppression would require careful planning in order to avoid friendly fire.  examples of both these approaches as well as on call tasks in more direct support are provided from analysis operations in Afghanistan.  Given the Soviet concepts of the forward grouping of Artillery from the second echelon the impact of this could be significant this is outlined in more detail in the Orbat Post on Soviet Artillery.


It is highly likely that Air Assault operations would be accompanied by Air support both on insertion and during the attack.  This would be increasingly likely if taking place beyond the range of own artillery. Forward Air Controllers were provided to battalions for this purpose.  Air Units would be drawn from the Fronts Air Army.  This would likely include both Ground attack, Fighter and Air Defence suppression assets who would be part of a comprehensive insertion and suppression plan in line with  operations in Afghanistan

Attack Helicopters

Transport Helicopters would be supported by Attack Helicopters as well as carrying some suppression capabilities of their own.  These would provide additional Anti Armour capability to the Air Assault force prior to the link up with the ground force.  Whilst the Afghan experience highlights the escourt role of the Gunships, the differences in the operational environment on the central front would call for these assets to play a wider variety of roles during air assault operations. Both divisional and Army aviation assets would be available, likly missions include fire support into the DZ on landing and blocking and engagement of counter attacks against the Air Assault force

PerestroikaGlasnost and Air Assault Capability Evolution

Some of this capability was deployed late into Air Assault units, post 1989 and by then they were being removed or pushed back into the Soviet Union along with critical Engineer assets such as assault bridging units and long range fighter ground attack.  This was done in order to underline Soviet Political policy, they were adopting a less aggressive and more traditional defensive posture, where forward defence had moved from France all the way back to the IGB. It was probably also underpinned by the economics of the Cold War.  This creates a degree of confusion in trying to interpret Orbat evolution in the Cold War as in train changes were stopped as the cold war came to a close.

When we start considering how we get to war fighting positions at the end of the Cold War these may have come from different political agendas so it is reasonable to hypothesise events unfolding where some of the restructuring at the very end of the Cold War may not have been followed through. As ever with the cold war when your scrapping on the central front you have moved into the realm of alternate histories or fantasy.


ORBAT - Soviet Air Assault Capability, Part 1 Overview and Lift
ORBAT- 1980's MRR and TRR, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Red Thrust, 1989,  S Zalouga
The Soviet Afghan War, 2002, L Grau
The Bear went over the Mountain
FM 100-60 OPFOR


  1. Great post there Andy, very interesting. I'm working my way through your reading list as well.

    Good show!

  2. That will keep you busy over Christmas,