The airborne divisions are undoubtedly the most impressive formations within the Russian army. The troops of the airborne forces (VDV) are the best trained and most professional in the army. Unlike their Western airborne counterparts, they are capable of fielding both armored personnel carriers and artillery assets. That affords them additional battlefield protection and firepower. VDV forces also have shown themselves — as in the 2008 war with Georgia — able to respond very quickly in crisis situations. Indeed, the airborne troops performed very creditably overall in Georgia. Such disciplined and professional airborne forces will likely form the vanguard of any interventionary operation beyond Russia's borders. Other than Georgia, the last time VDV forces were employed operationally abroad was in Kosovo in 1999. It was there at Pristina International Airport that VDV troops had a potentially explosive showdown with British paratroopers. That may not be the last time lead elements of U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces come face-to-face with the VDV. Given that such confrontations cannot be ruled out in the future, Russia's current airborne forces need to be understood.
This monograph examines the VDV and seeks to highlight what makes its formations such noteworthy potential allies or opponents. In particular, the monograph looks at the process of organizational change that the VDV has undergone since the war with Georgia.
Some topics covered include: Russian VDV, Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Shamanov, Chechnya, IL-76 aircraft, AN-124 Ruslan, Spetsnaz, paratroopers, formations and units in Russian airborne forces.
This monograph considers the recent history of organizational change in the Russian airborne forces (VDV). In particular, it looks at how the VDV has changed since the end of Russia's conflict with Georgia in 2008. The VDV, a force much admired in the Russian news media and society, has, in fact, escaped fairly unscathed during the comprehensive reform of the Russian army more generally over the last few years. In large part this has been because of the personality of the current head of the VDV, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov. Close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Shamanov—a "maverick" — has used his political connections to help ward off many of the cuts and reforms that the rest of the army has been subject to. He has managed to keep the basic structure of the VDV intact, while also dealing with a number of problematic issues related to manning, equipment, and training regimes within his organization. This monograph points out the level of professionalism in the VDV (shown during the Georgian war). But it also highlights the fact that, while some battalions within the VDV will be very effective and well-trained, other battalions will not. Thus it is difficult to judge precisely how battle-ready the VDV divisions now are. Ultimately, this monograph seeks to establish just what sort of Russian airborne forces U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops may one day have to either work alongside of or, indeed, face in some sort of confrontation.
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