It is hard to overestimate the importance of command and control and its influence on combat results and efficiency. But its quality was always dependent on the state of communications, particularly so in the air force, one of the most dynamic components of the armed forces, capable of moving over considerable distances within brief time. Air war experience highlights the immense role of steady and uninterrupted communications, where C-and-C of air units, combined units and large strategic formations is concerned.
It is for this reason that the state of military communications is a focus of particular attention. Throughout the 20th century, Russian and Soviet scientists, designers, engineers and technicians were making an important and original contribution to their development. The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, for one, yielded considerable experience of their organization and maintenance. It saw improvements in signal equipment, TOE structure of signal elements and units, and main principles used in training communications specialists. Despite changes in military affairs due to the scientific revolution in the latter half of the 20th century, this experience is of intransient importance.
Combat air control became difficult shortly before the Great Patriotic War for reason of a dramatic surge in air force capabilities. Communications were crucial to command and control and the quality of mission performance.
Yet the war found front aviation signal units underequipped and undermanned, a state that was aggravated by considerable losses in the early period of the Great Patriotic War.
The most significant factors that influenced progress in front aviation signals during the Great Patriotic War were primarily prewar organizational experience and views on the role and importance of communications current in the Soviet top command echelon.
The views on signals organization were reflected in manuals, regulations and planning instructions that were drawn up to meet the requirements placed on command and control of air force combined units and units. The main tenets in these documents were put to a test during the armed conflict on the Khalkin-Gol river in 1939 and the Soviet-Finnish war in 1939-1940. Combat experience pointed to it being necessary that the Air Force have signal troops in the shape of detached battalions, cable-and-pole companies, and construction companies, capable of securing operation of communications centers.
A most important factor in communications was the state of and deployment conditions the signals enjoyed in the early period of the Great Patriotic War. The operational-strategic situation in the first days of the war made communications difficult for air staffs and C-and-C centers. That was aggravated by massive friendly retreats and relocations of air command centers. For example, Air Force command centers at the Western and Southern Fronts moved to new locations as many as ten times in the course of the first six months of the war, lacking for long wire communications with subordinate units and combined units. Staff-to-staff information exchanges were by road or air, the assignment of missions to combined units taking from 2 to 8-10 hours, and to units, 14-16 hours. This delay was primarily explained by the exceedingly busy state of wire communications and disdain for radio. The latter was frequently caused by "radiophobia" and bad organization of concealed C-and-C. At that time air regiments often lacked tables of flight personnel call signals; there was a shortage of communications clerks too. For example, an Air Force army staff was authorized to have just one such specialist.
There being no documents regulating concealed command and control, clear-text assignment of combat missions occurred from time to time. On July 3, 1941, for example, this en clair radio telegram was sent: "All Air Force combined units at the Western Front shall immediately destroy by all forces in echeloned air groups tanks and crossings in the area Bobruisk, Pavlov, Tagorsky ..." (1) It was hardly realistic to hope for success in this case.
During sorties, flight personnel made practically no use of air communications. Red Army Air Force staff directive of February 27, 1942 said this: "... Eight-month war experience has shown that there are air units which don't use radio communications during flights (130th Pe-2 air regiment) or use them weakly and incompetently (46th Pe-2 air regiment). At fighter units (168th fighter air regiment), pilots do not wish to replace fur helmets by helmets with built-in headset and microphone. Where air regiments jointly use the same base, each organizes radio communication arrangement of its own. With wire communications disrupted, radio communications are not used, nor reports are relayed pending restoration of wire links." (2)
Combined-arms commanders were prone to "radiophobia" as well, so much so that some of them didn't allow air unit radio stations in the vicinity of their command centers. Neither did they let air commanders use their own radio equipment. All of that was responsible for the unsatisfactory state of coordination between front aviation and the Land Forces typical of the first few months of the Great Patriotic War.
For lack of signal equipment, only an insufficient portion of staffs in the front air force--air division echelon--possessed two communications channels, whereas communications between air staffs in main sectors was mostly through one telegraphic or one telephone channel, wire ones to be sure.
Signals organization was affected by weak technical training of specialists and their shortage in signal elements and units. As of September 1941, air units with the army in the field were short of 4,850 communications specialists, including 2,350 junior command personnel and 2,500 enlisted personnel. The shortage of radio operators was 2,600 persons (including 1,100 junior command personnel and 1,500 enlisted personnel), electricians 850 persons, telegraph-teleprinter operators 1,150 persons, and teleprinter mechanics 250 persons. (3)
By the end of the first period of the Great Patriotic War, however, air units, combined units and large strategic formations drew appropriate conclusions and accumulated considerable experience of signals organization in the interests of air C-and-C. This combat experience called for improvements in the signals and demonstrated that radio was to become the main means of communication for front aviation.
The state of front aviation and conditions for its combat operations in the course of the Great Patriotic War formed a most important factor influencing progress in communications. Effective combat strength of front air force was not permanent. In the first period of the Great Patriotic War each air force counted three or four air divisions numbering from 200 to 1,000 planes. In second and third periods, air armies, depending on the importance of their tasks, could have as many as eight or nine air corps and possess from 2,000 to 3,000 planes. Group air engagements (battles) or massed air strikes involving simultaneously hundreds of aircraft drawn from several air large strategic formations were impossible without good organization of communications, smooth functioning of main communication system elements, and continuous coordination with ground troops.
The course of the Great Patriotic War saw continued accumulation of experience in the area of communications, and the effort to improve them followed these vectors: quantitative and qualitative changes in communications equipment; improvements in the training of signal staff; development of TOE structure of signal units and elements; development of methods of organization and maintenance of communications at air units, combined units and large strategic formations.
Improving communications systems was via modernization of communications equipment used in controlling front aviation, development of fundamentally new devices, and combination of communications equipment.
PC[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]-3, the onboard radio station, saw three modernizations during the war, which improved reception quality and extended operational range to 100 kilometers. Crystal vibrators reduced working frequency error to 0.3-0.4%, thus enhancing operational stability. (4) Modernized PC[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]-2 improved reception in telephonic mode from 70 to 120 kilometers.
By 1943, domestic instrument-making and radio industry were able not only to modernize the existing equipment models but also to create new ones. A case in point is DNE-6, onboard radio station developed in 1943. A telephonic simplex transceiver, it secured two-way communications for fighter and ground assault planes in the range of up to 150 kilometers. Its transmitter's frequency instability was reduced 1.5-2 times by comparison with 1939-1941 makes, something that considerably increased its noise immunity.
To progress, air communications required improvements in technical characteristics of ground radio stations (11-AK, PAT, PA[PHI]-KB-3), whose range averaged 300 kilometers, and development of new models. PA[PHI]-KB-4 was developed on the basis of PA[PHI]-KB-3, assuring better quality of radio exchanges and a longer range. PYK-42, mobile radio center, was adopted in late 1943; it consisted of a transmitter, six class one receivers, and a set of equipment for speed of response and an air traffic control point, all mounted on one [GAMMA]A3-AAA truck.
Antennas that improved reception quality and were less susceptible to noise were designed. Specialized remote control microphone for ground C-and-C centers was developed as well. To help air representatives and forward air controllers attached to large strategic formations and combined units of the Land Forces, truck-mounted or portable DAO radio stations taken from PC[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] planes or lend-leased SCR-284 and SCR-399 were used.
New and modernized radio equipment considerably increased radio communication stability: it was 80-90% in 1943 and 95-97% in 1945. That made radio the principal command and control tool. Published in June 1943, Instructions on the Organization of Communications at Air Combined Units and Units said this: "Radio communications is the main means of air control both on the ground and in the air, and the lack of wire communications must not serve as an excuse for the loss of control." (5)
An important trend in communications was improving the training of specialists for signal units and elements. From the start of the Great Patriotic War, two higher educational establishments, seven military schools and nine advanced training courses for command personnel trained signal element and unit commanders for front aviation.
Kharkov Military Air Communications School was the main educational establishment engaged in training command and engineer personnel for signal elements and units. During the entire war period it graduated a total of 17 batches of specialists. Signalmen from among enlisted and junior command personnel were trained directly in units, their number adding up to a total of 3,875. Moscow School for NCO Radiotelegraph Operators under 1st Moscow Red Banner Air Communications School of the Red Army Air Force trained radio facility chiefs and other junior specialists. Signalmen improved their skills by participating in command training, training courses and conferences, as well as by perusing generalized advanced experience, orders and directives issuing from Supreme High Command Headquarters and Red Army Air Force Headquarters, information bulletins and instructions of the General Staff and Red Army Air Force staff.
A specialized agency--section for war experience studies organized within the Red Army's Main Communications Directorate in April 1944--engaged in generalizing communications experience and putting it through to line units, educational establishments and military communications outfits.
Next vector in communication improvements was streamlining organizational structure of signal units and elements. Marked by the formation of air armies in 1942, the transition from decentralized to centralized aviation control on the front scale changed aviation command and control system. Air army communications chief was directly in charge of a detached signal battalion, a radio company for air surveillance, early warning and communications, and signal companies of air divisions withdrawn from air force staffs of combined-arms armies. Detached signal regiments were formed within air armies in fall 1942.
A crucial vector in communications was improving their organization and maintenance for the benefit of front aviation.
Combat experience made signalmen constantly adjust their views on how to develop the communications system. Between 1943 and 1945, combined units and large strategic formations established radio nets which often embraced from 50 to 70 operators.
In the third period of the Great Patriotic War, the number of air army radio nets doubled by comparison with the first period. Command net, net for coordination with the Land Forces, early warning net, and radio net for fighter control and guidance persisted till the end of the Great Patriotic War.
In addition, there appeared: an air reconnaissance radio net (first tested by 8th air army off Stalingrad); a unified radio net catering to fighter and ground assault aviation (renamed bomber and assault tracking net); air army staff net; air call net.
In the third period of the Great Patriotic War, there were a total of eight radio nets within an air army.
A new development in signals organization was establishing radio interception centers to listen in to enemy radio traffic. The centers operated tank (YKB-E) or captured (FUG-10) receivers that were installed at communications centers in air armies and air corps. Corps and division signal centers were created, which maintained links with higher- and lower-level commanders and staffs and with their own staff.
At his command post, an air army commander had a direct radio and wire links with front command post, command posts of combined-arms armies, air army's rear services and auxiliary control points, command posts and staffs of air corps.
While at their command posts, air corps commanders enjoyed radio links with their staffs, command posts and staffs of air divisions, wire links with command post and auxiliary control post of an air army, and command posts of cooperating large strategic formations of the Land Forces.
To increase survivability and stability of the communications system, dispersion was practiced with regard to main elements of communications centers with the use of natural irregularities of terrain and TOE camouflage gear. A reception center with four or five radio receivers was located separately from transmitting center possessing from five to seven radio stations.
Thus, successes of the front aviation in the second and third periods of the Great Patriotic War, improved coordination between its component services, as well as between combined units and units of the Land Forces and aviation were in no small measure due to perfect communications which got improved via better employment of new and existing signal equipment and selection of more efficient forms and methods of its use.
Consequently, the experience and lessons of the Great Patriotic War demonstrate that we can and must borrow only the things that preserve their practical value or grow in importance under the present-day conditions. In this connection, the following conclusions are in order.
First. Combat experience demonstrated that a well-developed communications system is necessary if firm control of air combined units, units and crews at air large strategic formations is to be secured.
Second. Communications system should correspond to air control tasks and capabilities and assure integration with different-purpose systems.
Third. Prompt aviation control can be achieved on the basis of comprehensive use of different communications equipment possessing high technical characteristics (noise immunity, range, speed of response, reconnaissance protection, and other parameters).
Fourth. Peacetime development and introduction of basic systems is necessary, systems capable of meeting air control needs in the face of an unexpected enemy attack.
Fifth. Peacetime reserves of materiel and military signal specialists should be created to ensure immediate replacement of losses and formation of new air units following the start of hostilities.
Sixth. At the start and in the course of a war, it is necessary, while considering sources of communications specialists for the Air Force, to take into account not only air universities but also educational establishments run by other Armed Forces services and combat arms.
Seventh. The studied experience of improvements in front aviation communications underscores its present-day topicality, while the recent experience of combat operations in the Chechen Republic confirms its importance. Comprehensive provision of air control agencies and centers with different communications equipment, concealed command and control of troops, and close coordination with troops of other RF Armed Forces services, ministries and agencies will enable front aviation to tackle its combat tasks with good quality.
One cannot fail saying in conclusion that in the course of the Great Patriotic War front aviation elements and units gained rich and versatile experience organizing communications to assure control of air units, combined units and large strategic formations. As shown by the war, the more perfect communications organization methods in use were, the greater the success in air engagements and air battles for the benefit of a front. Contrariwise, tactical and technical miscalculations in information exchanges within command and control system and a loss of continuity of control usually entailed unjustified losses. Thus, combat training of Air Force communications elements and units should be pursued with an eye to securing guaranteed continuity of air control, and with account taken of new trends in the character of warfare, methods of actions by troops (forces), and specifics of a TO and a potential adversary.
1. Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense (TsAMO), reg. group 290, inv. 3284. f. 1, sheet 327.
2. TsAMO, reg. group 302, inv. 4199, f. 1, sheet 40.
3. TsAMO, reg. group 35, inv. 11346, f. 6, sheet 15.
4. Russia State Military Archive (RGVA), reg. group 24699, inv. 1, f. 347, sheet 138.
5. Instruktsiya po organizatsii svyazi v. aviatsionnykh soyedineniyakh i chastyakh, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1943, p. 1.
Col. V.I. MEDVEDEV
Candidate of Historical Sciences
Valery Ivanovich MEDVEDEV was born at the village of Kalmanka, Altai Territory, on May 13, 1967. Graduated from Signal Troops Marshal I.T. Peresypkin Kemerovo Higher Military Command Communications School (1988), Marshal of the Soviet Union G.K. Zhukov Military Air Defense Academy (1996). Held different command and staff positions geared to personnel training. Since 2000, teacher, later senior teacher--signal chief at a branch of Prof. N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineer Academy.
Currently: chief, tactics and combined-arms disciplines cycle, Air Marshal V.A. Sudets Stavropol Higher Military Air Engineer School (Military Institute).
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