Key point: Moscow's crack paratroopers need more military transports if they are to do their job.
Russia has the largest paratrooper force in the world. Well-trained and equipped with air-droppable armored vehicles for mobility and firepower on the ground, the Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska (“airborne forces,” or VDV) are the Kremlin’s expeditionary assault troops, leading the invasions of Afghanistan in 1979 and Crimea in 2014.
But are there too many Russian paratroopers and not enough transport planes to carry them all? That idea has been mooted by a Russian commentator, who suggests the Russian airborne forces—a separate branch of the Russian military—are too politically powerful to be trimmed. Interestingly, those comments appeared in the pro-government newspaper Izvestia.
“At the present time, two airborne and two air assault divisions, four air assault brigades, a separate Spetsnaz [commando] brigade, and a number of support and training units are in the Russian Airborne Troops’ composition,” writes Ilya Kramnik, according to a translation in the September issue of OE Watch, the magazine of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office.
Yet the Russian Air Force currently has about 120 Il-76 transport aircraft, Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 transport. “Let’s recall that 45 aircraft were involved in the exercises that recently occurred, which were enough for the paradrop of less than a VDV regiment, including two battalions with armored vehicles,” Kramnik writes. “So, the entire available fleet of Il-76 military transport aircraft is enough to paradrop less than two regiments with a standard set of weapons and military equipment using one sortie.”
In other words, despite maintaining a multi-division airborne force, Russia only has lift capacity to drop less than a division at a time. This problem was even recognized back in the days of the Soviet Union.