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Soviet Army Equipment Maintenance

The echelon-based combat-personnel and -supply-system led the Soviets into weapon-replacement and -maintenance philosophies quite different than those-followed by any Western army. The Soviets operated on a whole-weapon replacement system based on their experiences during World-War II. During that conflict, the Soviets found that the combat life of a piece of equipment on a modern battlefield was terribly short.

Not only was the wastage of equipment in modern battle high, but also the type of damage and abuse it received in a combat environment was generally so severe that it could not be repaired and maintained under field conditions. This led the Soviets to adopt a philosophy whereby they expected to send a tank or other piece of military equipment into battle, have it blown up, and then have it replaced with a new one. The Soviets believed that the life expectancy of equipment on a modem battlefield was so short that it was easier for a modern industrial scciety to build new equipment than to repair that which gets damaged and worn out.

Soviet planners and weapon designers thought of a pieces of equipment as short-term disposable items rather than pieces of long-term capital equipment (as Western military thinkers consider their equipment). Because the Soviets treat weapons as consumables, they had not built a massive field-level maintenance-and-support organization to support their troops in combat.

The lack of a complex logistics and materials tail along with the lack of a large-dedicated training base in the maintenance area, were often noted in Western literature as examples of the low technical competence of entry-level Soviet military personnel. The analysis is probably incorrect. There was little doubt that if the Soviets wanted to, they could develop a more comprehensive logistics and maintenance support-structure. The lack of such a structure was a result of the whole-weapon replacement doctrine.

The doctrine of whole-weapon replacement raised the question of how the Soviets planned to support the equipment they did have in the field. The answer was first by design, and then by cannibalization. The Soviet weapon-replacement and -use philosophy placed a premium on ruggedness and simplicity in design. Soviet equipment was designed for limited field maintenance by relatively unskilled personnel. The design position is that if you make it rugged enough, it won't break and, therefore, you won't have to repair it.

All advanced Russian armored vehicles will be protected from modern tandem weapons with the help of slat armor, according to the newspaper Izvestia in august 2016. The newspaper Izvestia quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source as saying that all sophisticated Russian wheeled and tracked armored vehicles will be equipped with slat armor. Also known as bar armor, cage armor and standoff armor, slat armor is specifically designed to protect armored vehicles against anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade attacks.

"The decision on the development and subsequent use of slat armor has already been made", the source said, adding that the Russian Defense Ministry is currently considering what type of slat armor is needed for certain new generation armored vehicles being produced for the Russian Armed Forces. In addition to the T-14 Armata tank, a whole array of state-of-the-art Russian armored vehicles is expected to be equipped with slat armor. These include the Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicle, the Bumerang armored personnel carrier, the Platforma-M multi-purpose robotic system, the Dragun infantry combat vehicle, the Taifun wheeled armored vehicle, the Ural-VV wheeled armored vehicle and the Tornado multiple launch rocket system.

The second support methodology, cannibalization, was facilitated by the Soviet policy of using standard components and parts wherever possible. The Soviets expect the battlefield to be littered with damaged and broken-down equipment that has been discarded or abandoned by their troops. This equipment can-be easily cannibalized by the troops to provide the spare parts needed to keep their equipment running. The cannibalization operation is largely a major-component change-out operation that can be performed by the "diverse mechanic" (voditel'-mekkanik) with minimal training, so high levels of maintenance skills need not be taught to the troops.

The Soviet industrial and consumer economy suffered from a chronic famine of spare parts for machinery (the Soviet military may actually be better off than the civilian economy, even though the military's plight would send a Western logistician into convulsions). The lack of spare parts in the Soviet Union is a result of an industrial incentive system that gave bonuses to factories and their managers and workers based on how many whole units they produce. The Soviet system actually counted spare parts negatively: how many whole units-were not produced that could have been made from the spare parts that the factory shipped? This industrial-incentive system resulted in a spare-parts famine throughout the Soviet economy.

The Soviets expected to abandon their "worn-out" training equipment upon mobilization and drive to war in brand-new equipment. The training equipment would be either left to the reserve units that will follow the d departing mobilized troops in their cantonments, or will be sent to the staff organization involved in forming replacement units from the combat wreckage of war-under the echelon-replacement system. It could be expected, in accordance with Soviet troop practice, that much of the abandoned training equipment would have been-stripped of usable spare parts to make up the unofficial forward maintenance inventory of the advancing combat units. Thus it could be anticipated that one of the reserve units' most urgent tasks on mobilization will be to get the abandoned training equipment back into some semblance of working order.

Soviet designers knew that their military system was based on a large conscripticn army which had relatively low technical and combat operational skills because of their relatively short period of enlistment and training. Therefore, Soviet weapon designers worked diligently at building simple, soldier-proof equipment, far more so than their Western counterparts. As an Israeli general, a user of both American and Soviet equipment, observed: "American weapons are designed by engineers for other engineers; whereas, Soviet weapons are developed for the combat soldier."

Sophisticated maintenance and repair responsibilities were assigned to Soviet officers who were "hands-on" engineers and not managers (unlike the US armed forces, where maintenance and repair are performed by enlisted personnel). This maintenance scheme had a definite impact on Soviet designers. It is one thing to send a private out to repair a broken bearing in a tank's oil pump; it is quite another to make a colonel get his hands greasy for 2 days doing that.

Soviet policy called for training army personnel on a small portion of a unit's equipment, leaving the majority of the equipment in storage. In this way operational vehicles and spares held for replacement can be maintained in good condition against the outbreak of war. These stores were enormous by Western standards. Their size results from the Soviet preference for quantity over quality and the Soviet policy of keeping older equipment.

Though some Western observers contend that the Soviet military establishment never throws anything away, the Soviets do in fact have a precise method for determining when to throw away old equipment and when to put it in deep long-term reserve storage (mothballed). This method is driven by the Soviets' state accounting system, under which military equipment and armaments are treated as capital stock and are depreciated at a high rate over 15 years, at which point the equipment's "book value" is totally depreciated and the equipment is declared worn out for accounting purposes.

This equipment may have moved from unit to unit during its life, being passed from front-line units when it was new to Category C reserve units at the end of its life. Most of the equipment had been little used and therefore has a high residual (or scrap) value in Western terms. The Soviets put the equipment in mothballs for the rest of its "useable life," which was considered to be 30 years.

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Page last modified: 22-08-2016 18:36:50 ZULU