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Inside Russia’s Special Forces Aviation Training Squadron

Inside Russia's Special Forces Aviation School

Most of the world is very familiar with the movie ‘Black Hawk Down’, which told the story in exquisite detail of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, where American Special Operations Forces (SOF) fought criminal war lords which resulted in the death of multiple elite soldiers.

Even more famous is the raid on the Pakistani compound of Osama Bin Laden by SEAL Team 6 and the 160th Special Operations Regiment out of Fort Bragg, NC. The 160th was the aviation unit involved in Mogadishu as well.

The Russian armed forces are developing their own version of SOF aviation

The 344th State Center for Combat Application and Retraining of Flight Personnel of the Russian Ministry of Defense is a unique military unit, which includes various components. The squadron performs tasks for the benefit of special forces units, writes Russian news entity Izvestia.

The unit celebrated its first anniversary this year.

“We must covertly get out to the designated area as soon as possible. By special means, not visible to the eye of the person, to find a group of special forces and evacuate it. Or, having received from the group of targeting, to strike the enemy accurately,” the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Vladimir Salyov, told Izvestia.

“Almost all army aviation pilots are able to fly with night vision devices, as well as in difficult weather conditions,” explains Lt. Col. Vladimir Salyov. “But this is not enough to effectively support special forces. Therefore, the flight crew of the army aviation is trained by our squadron.”

Inside Russia's Special Forces Aviation School

In the first stage, the pilots of army aviation from the military regiments arrive in Torzhok. There, on the basis of the 344th State Center for Combat Application and Retraining of the Ministry of Defense flight personnel, theoretical courses are held, during which the most trained and capable pilots are selected. They are sent to a separate instructor-research squadron for further practical training, writes Izvestia.

“The main feature of the PNV (night vision goggles) is that the image relayed to the pilot does not convey depth, – explains the pilot-operator of the helicopter, Lieutenant B. – Therefore, without the developed skills, it is very difficult to determine the real distance to objects on the ground. At the same time, the helicopter flies at a very low altitude at a very high speed. And there may be rain or snow around.”

“The main thing is to comply with flight laws, not to violate safety measures, to preserve the life and health of flight crews, ensuring the safety of reliable, expensive Russian aviation equipment,” explained Vladimir Salyov.

“The Mi-8 helicopter is equipped with two winches, which allow to evacuate personnel from heights up to 60 m,” said Vladimir Salyov. “This vehicle also has two sliding doors, which allows special operations teams to disembark or evacuate as soon as possible.

“For example, how can we evacuate a SWAT team under enemy fire,” explains Captain I. “In this case, our soldiers and enemy fighters are close to each other. They are firing small arms. It is necessary to act quickly, smoothly, skillfully.”

It always takes a couple of helicopters to perform the combat task: usually the Mi-35 strike and the Mi-8 transport. While the “eight” evacuates or disembarks special forces, the attack helicopter covers it from the air.

Another important task of the squadron is to work with new combat equipment, which is just entering service with the Air and Space Forces. According to Vladimir Salyov, new helicopters are expected to arrive soon, modified to perform tasks with special forces units.

As the author is a former SOF aviation helicopter pilot for the USAF, the development of a Russian special forces aviation component is watched with great interest. With the prospect of extremists creeping into southern Russia from the Middle East, a well-developed SOF aviation capability will be critical.

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