Russian Aviation and Air power

BOOK REVIEW

RUSSIAN AVIATION AND AIR POWER IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-ROBIN HIGHAM, JOHN T GREENWOOD AND VON HARDESTY (Published by Frank Cass, London, 1998) pp 320, £ 18.50

INTRODUCTION

1. In 1990 with the breakup of USSR, original Russian documents related to Russian aviation were available. With the availability of the new documents, the authors have explored at Russian aviation in the twentieth century. The book has presented a holistic view of Russian aviation, from its origin in the late czarist period to the present era. The approach is sequential with major emphasis on the evolution of military aviation. Analysing the Russian aviation in the twentieth century through Russian point of view provides reader an opportunity to compare aviation developments with the world. A number of books have been written to bring out and analyse the rise and consolidation of Russian Air Power but this book traces the roots of Russian Aviation over the last century.

2. The contributors of this book have gained from the partial lifting of the Iron Curtain and the subsequent increased access to original documents on the Soviet regime. The book has been co-authored by Robin Higham, John T Greenwood, and Von Hardesty. Important contributions in the book are also by Thomas M. Alison, Christopher C Lovett, Dennis J. Marshall-Hasdell, Mark AO Neill and Reina Pennington. Robin Higham has been the Professor of Military History at Kansas State University from 1963 to 1998 and has authored three books in Aviation related books including one on Soviet Aviation and Air Power.

GIST OF THE BOOK

3. The book brings out the evolutionary years of Russian Air Power, role of Russian aviation in two world wars, transformation of aviation, naval aviation, aviation industry, their design bureau, defence of Russian Aerospace, Soviet Air Force in action during the cold war and the civil aviation in the Soviet Union including Aeroflot. During the two world wars, the Russian air power suffered from the effects of re-structuring and re-equipping arising out of rapid changes in leadership that directly contributed to the disastrous effects. Reader's attention is also drawn to the fact that the Soviet Air Power was by the end of World War-II was best honed and most effective tactical air power in the world. History demonstrates the remarkable way in which the Soviet Air Force triumphed over the Luftwaffe, a prediction only few could have dreamt. The hard-won knowledge and the experience gained during the Great Patriotic War significantly shaped the Doctrine and organisation of the post war Soviet Air Forces. It moulded the leaders who would direct the Air Forces throughout the entire Cold War Era.

4. The other important facet of the Soviet Air Power was the Naval Aviation which was born in a period of revolutionary technological innovation in Great Britain, Japan and the United States. During the Soviet Era, its Naval Air Power became a victim to the State's technological failings; still they found way to compensate for their technological weakness. The Russian aircraft designers and manufacturers have taken scientific, technological and organisational approaches to the development of their aircraft that were very different from those adopted in the west. The Russian aircraft designers and their design bureau have overcome many challenges in the past, and today face daunting new challenges that are testing them as never before.

5. The dispersal of facilities, equipment and personnel in various states across the Former Soviet Union has directed Russian attention towards the creation of a new integrated AD system. The lack of training, low morale and prospect of a workable Russian/ CIS AD setup implies complexity of the entire problem. In the present scenario and foreseeable future, the ability of forces to protect the integrity of Russian aerospace remains highly questionable. Soviet systems seemed always to have been a generation or two behind in technology due to the fact that the scientific advances could not overcome the mistakes committed by the Soviet leadership. ‘Aeroflot', the civil aviation facet of Russian Air Power came into being on 26 March 1932. Apart from cargo carrying and passenger services, the other services like aerial photography, map making, other special duties and propaganda flights were also dovetailed in its charter of duties. It was surely an important instrument in spreading the air mindedness in a country with great land distances. The chapter on Aeroflot brings out relevant facts that marked the end to a long lived monopoly and finally the fall of Aeroflot. One consequence of the breakup of the USSR was that Aeroflot lost its monopoly of civil aviation and birth of ‘Babyflots'.

CONCLUSION

7. The book is well written; in the light of new archival material, the authors take a fresh look at Russian aviation in the twentieth century, presenting a comprehensive view of Russian aviation, from its genesis in the late czarist period to the present era. The approach is essentially chronological with a major emphasis on the evolution of military aviation. The book also brings out the fact that, as compared to the western countries, the Russian aircraft were designed and produced for an operational purpose. The book addresses important components of Russian Air Power which still makes it a formidable force. Overall, the book brings out the golden era of Russian aviation from the time it defeated the Luftwaffe in the world war to the fall of Russian Aviation. The book also throws light on the revival of Russian aviation after removal of the iron curtain.

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