Long Range Aviation (Russian: Дальняя Авиация, Dalnaya Aviatsiya, or ДА, DA) was the branch of the Soviet Air Forces tasked with long-range bombardment of strategic targets with nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, it was the counterpart to the Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force.
The first three Air Armies, designated Air Armies of Special Purpose were created between 1936 and 1938. On 5 November 1940 these were reformed as the Long Range Bombardment Aviation of the High Command of the Red Army (until February 1942) due to lack of combat performance during the conflict with Finland.
Strategic bombers initially a part of the Long Range Aviation divisions of the reserve of High Command, but were reformed as the 18th Air Army (Vozdushnaya Armiya VA) in December 1944, and were grouped within the Long Range Aviation of the Armed Forces (DA VS) in April 1946. The DA VS (Dal'naya Aviatsiya Vozdushnikh Syl - Longrange Aviation of Air Forces) consisted of the 1st Air Army DA in Smolensk, which was reorganised as the 50th Air Army in Jan 1949, the 2nd Air Army DA in Vinnitsa reorganised as the 43rd Air Army in Jan 1949, and the 3rd Air Army DA in Khabarovsk reorganised as the 65th Air Army in Jan 1949. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Air Armies had previously been active providing direct support the land forces during the Second World War, and thus the new DA air armies with shorter lineages were renumbered as the 50th, 43rd, and 65th.
As the 1940s closed and the Cold War dawned, the Soviet Union scrambled to develop an instrument of deterrence against the United States. The only substantial aircraft it was equipped with was the Tupolev Tu-4 (Bull), an exact copy of the B-29 Superfortress. This was fielded in 1949 and brought the first threat of war to the United States, as missile technology at this time was still a decade away. However the Tu-4 was incapable of returning to the Soviet Union, and the establishment worked to develop an aircraft capable of a round trip operation.
The outcome of this competition was the highly successful Tupolev Tu-95, which entered service in the 1955-1956 period, and remained the backbone of power against the NATO for many decades, and continues in service with the Russian Federation. Myasischev's contribution was the Myasishchev M-4, but this aircraft fell below expectations. Surprisingly went on to serve an unexpected but vital role as the 3M aerial refueling tanker, which extended the reach of the strategic air fleet. Other aircraft in service with the DA during this period included the Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger) and the Tupolev Tu-22 (Blinder).
In 1957 the 65th Air Army was renamed 5th Air Army and was relocated to Blagoveshchensk. In 1960 the DA was reorganised into Separate Heavy Bomber Air Corps (OTBAK - Otdel'niy tyazhely bombandirovochniy aviatsionniy korpus) instead of Air Armies due to increase in the ordnance capacity and use of nuclear weapons as part of the ordnance selection.
A classified Central Intelligence Agency report indicated that at least during the early 1970s there was no evidence of a quick-reaction posture; in other words, no airborne alert force and no quick-reaction crews on the ground. This stood in stark contrast to the United States, which was always at a high state of readiness. Furthermore, the 195 bombers belonging to Strategic Aviation were concentrated at only five primary airfields and spent most of their time there. This suggested that the Soviet Union had discounted the possibility of any first strike by the United States.
Until 1980 the DA VS existed as a separate service. In January 1980 the DA was disbanded and the heavy bomber units divided between three air armies, the 37th Air Army of the Supreme High Command (Strategic Purpose), 37 VA VGK (SN) with its headquarters in Moscow, the 46 VA VGK (SN) at Smolensk and the 30 VA VGK (SN) at Irkutsk. During the 1980s, DA introduced the Tupolev Tu-160 (Blackjack) high-performance bomber, similar to and slightly larger than the American B-1 Lancer.
The three long-range air armies also flew the Tu-22M. On 1 January 1991 the 46th Air Army's forces included the:
In 1988 the three air armies were again reunified to form the Long Range Aviation Command.
In the event of a nuclear war with the United States, the Soviet Union would likely have committed its entire heavy bomber force to attacks against United States targets. Medium-sized bombers would have been used in a peripheral role.
However elements of all of the Soviet Union's strategic forces would have been available to participate in Warsaw Pact operations. The Central Intelligence Agency in 1975 estimated that 530 intermediate-range bombers west of the Urals, possibly augmented by Soviet Navy aircraft, were intended for European strikes in the NATO rear area that required large conventional or nuclear payloads.
Long Range Aviation's aircraft was based at about a dozen key bases around the Soviet Union: Ryazan Dyagilevo near Moscow; Priluki and Uzyn in Ukraine; Engels-2 near Saratov; Mozdok near Chechnya; Dolon near Semipalitinsk; and Belaya, Ukrainka, and Vozdvizhenka in the Far East.
Though basing forces in the Arctic would have posed more of a threat to North America, the hostile climate, poor logistical network, and weak defense network precluded such a plan. Therefore the Soviet Union created a network of standby Arctic staging bases under the control of OGA (Arctic Control Group), which would have been activated in wartime. These bases primarily included Olenegorsk and Vorkuta Sovetskiy in the northwest; and Tiksi Airport, Anadyr Ugolny Airport, and Mys Shmidta in the northeast. High-Arctic bases such as Nagurskoye and Greem-Bell may have been available to smaller aircraft, and the staging airfields Sredniy Ostrov, Dresba, Chekurovka, and Tiksi North were probably never completed. Though the Tu-95 could operate without the use of staging bases, nearly all other aircraft would have required the facilities in order to reach the United States .
Bomber crews were trained to be proficient in all basic aspects of strategic operations, including navigation, inflight refueling, air-to-surface missile strike procedures, Arctic staging, penetration tactics, and electronic countermeasures.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Long Range Aviation entered a period of decline, along with the other former components of the Soviet Armed Forces. This culminated when the command was formally disbanded in 1998 as part of the amalgamation of the Russian Air Defence Force and the Air Forces. It was replaced by the 37th Air Army of the Supreme High Command, which now numbers one regiment of around 15 Tupolev Tu-160, three regiments of Tu-95s, four regiments of Tupolev Tu-22Ms, and an air refueling regiment. Total aircraft strength is around 15 Tu-160s, 64 Tu-95MSs, 116 Tu-22M3s, and about 20 Il-78 refueling aircraft. Since the 2006 edition of the Military Balance, an additional Tu-160 has joined the force, raising the active number to 16 aircraft.