Soviet strategic air defense: a long past and an uncertain future

by James T. Quinlivan

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Many Western analysts perceive the Soviet air defense (PVO) as an anachronistic organization incapable of dealing with the advanced weapons now under development in the United States. PVO is not as irrelevant as such a statement may suggest. The new American development programs are not yet grounds for dismissing the Soviet air defense or its place in Soviet military strategy. Over the last thirty years, the air defense developed high technology systems that have good prospects of engaging the low-altitude, but not particularly low-radar-cross-section, penetrators that have been the basis of the U.S. bomber threat. During the same period, the conventional role of the strategic air defense has become more important in Soviet concepts of war in Europe. More pressing current challenges to PVO include doctrinal arguments on the role of strategic air defense in Soviet doctrine and resource allocations. The advent of civilian analysts in Gorbachev's inner circle has produced some recent frontal attacks on the idea of strategic air defense. The resource allocations required for immediate research into counters to low-observable bombers and cruise missiles are not necessarily large. More serious resource allocations to acquire any products of such research will have to be made only if the United States actually deploys the systems now under development.

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