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Soviet Military Industry

Ever since the establishment of the USSR the Bolsheviks never doubted the inevitability of a protracted war with the whole capitalist world. In 1921 Mikhail Tukhachevskii, the future Soviet Marshal, wrote in Voina klassov (Class War, a collection of articles): "It is quite impossible to imagine that the world, which has been shaken to its foundations by the World War, could suddenly peacefully divide itself into two parts - socialism and capitalism - which could live in peace and concord side by side. It is absolutely clear that this time will not come, and that the socialist war will be continuous until one of the sides is victorious." Stalin created a unique system for the preparation of the economy to mobilise for war; this has proved so powerful and vigorous that even today it has a much stronger influence on Russian economic development than the market.

To refer to defense industry plants, from October 1, 1927, a “mailbox” was entered with its number. In 1935, additional factory numbers were added, which were canceled from July 1, 1949. Mailbox names, but with a new (lettered) designation system, for example, p-box A-1495, remained until mid-1989, after which only open names of enterprises. Since July 1949, the numbers of the factories producing armored vehicles were abolished. Only the so-called “mailboxes” (POB) with a new (letter) designation system, which existed until mid-1989, when the open names of manufacturers were introduced, were saved. In accordance with the joint decision of the State Committee for Defense Engineering and the Main Armored Directorate dated June 13, 1959, each design office was assigned a corresponding range of numbers.

Soviet armaments' production developed very rapidly; between 1932 and the second half of the 1930s the USSR produced more tanks and aircraft than the whole of the rest of the world. This disguised the fact that the main efforts of the Soviet leaders in those years were directed not to the production of armaments and the rapid supply of new technology to the army, but to the development of the basic branches of the economy such as iron and steel, machine-building, and fuel and power, providing the foundation for the expansion of armaments production in the event of war.

In the Soviet era, defense industries were created to arm the Soviet Union, and as such they had the highest national priority in the allocation of technology and talent. By some estimates, the complex regularly consumed 20 percent of the gross national product and 15 percent of the industrial labor force. Almost all defense plants duplicated each other: Uralvagonzavod (Nizhny Tagil) and Transmash (Omsk) in the tank industry, the Irkutsk aircraft plant and the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft plant in the aircraft industry, and the Baltic Plant and Severnaya Verf in the shipbuilding sector.

Even in the "best years" in the Soviet military-industrial complex absolute import substitution was not achieved, although it is constantly sought. Thus, even in 1935, policy documents of People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry talked about the need to take a course to get rid of "import dependence" and "the organization of production in the USSR all the mechanisms that are now bought on imports" (Bystrov IV Soviet military-industrial complex: problems of formation and development (1930 - 1980-ies), Moscow, 2006, p 131).

And it really, ordered a lot, for example, in the field of naval armaments. Here the Soviet Union from the 1920s and up until 22 June, 1941 worked closely with fascist Italy, not interrupting the connection even during the Civil War 1936 - 1939 years in Spain. The Soviet Navy in Italy ordered absolutely everything: warships and their projects, propulsion systems, boilers, ancillary mechanisms, torpedoes - their production, we generally can not adjust until concluded with the Italians contract for assistance in 1932 in the production of 533-mm torpedoes.

The Italians had complete documentation packages for the construction of light cruisers (they went to the Soviet Union in a series under the designation of "Project 26" and "Project 26-bis" - cruisers "Kirov", "Voroshilov", "Molotov", "Maxim Gorky" "Kalinin", "Kaganovich") destroyers type "Maestral" (in the USSR, they went into the series as "project 7"), before the war in the Soviet Navy built went to the USSR in Livorno flotilla leader "Tashkent". The Italians provided invaluable technical assistance for the organization of work stockpile, manufacture of boilers, turbines and auxiliary machinery, the Italian torpedo boats were equipped with engines of type D-5.

The Germans, who after Hitler came to power supplied turbozubchatye main units for Soviet warships. German assistance in the construction of submarines for the Soviet Navy was a separate issue: until 1932 all the major mechanisms submarines generally were imported from abroad, mainly from Germany. And even after Hitler came to power, the German company continued to equip the Soviet submarine fleet. At the head of the Soviet submarine series "D" have been established German diesel engines, purchased under the guise of diesel, imports were also the friction clutches, main bilge pumps, blowers and other equipment of submarines. The same thing happened in the construction of submarines of the type "C", not to mention the fact that in reality it was licensed copies of German submarines projects E-1 and E-2 company "Denimag" in the construction of which the Germans provided the USSR technical assistance at least 1935 until the end of the year.

After the Pact 1939, Germany supplied the Soviet Union heavy cruiser "Lutzow" and a lot of other weapons, including 88 mm gun for submarines, 211-mm field howitzers, 105-mm anti-aircraft guns, anti-submarine mortars, naval mines.

The purchase from the Czechoslovak "Skoda" artillery systems was important, and the pre-war co-operation with the United States included the purchase from the firm "Consolidated" in 1937, "flying boat", known as the "Catalina", produced then in the Soviet Union under the license, about purchase US aircraft DC-3 on the basis of which launched licensed production of the SS-84, also known as Li-2.

For the 1418 days of the Great Patriotic War, the lives of innumerable Soviet soldiers and sailors depended on the engines, armor and weapons of these combat vehicles, on the courage and skill of their crews. Severe, covered with smoke and ashes of fighting, the faces of our soldiers brightened when red star machines appeared in the sky, when the firey ramparts of Soviet artillery - this god of war - swept away enemy fortifications from the face of the earth.

Evaluating the advantages of weapons created by Soviet designers, one of the German generals who lost tanks, aircraft, cannons built on factories in Germany and the occupied countries in the plains of Russia, observed “... The Russians had the advantage that in the production of weapons and ammunition they took into account all the features of warfare in Russia and ensured the simplicity of technology to the maximum. As a result of all this, the Russian plants produced a huge amount of weapons, which were distinguished by their great simplicity of design.”

The military equipment of the Soviet Army surpassed the Germans not only in quantity but also in quality.

Indeed, the maximum simplicity, cost-effectiveness and manufacturability of Soviet structures made it possible to quickly establish the production of military equipment in factories evacuated inland, to do without scarce materials, machine tools and instruments, to widely use unskilled workers. The terrible, inexorably rising tide was going to the front from Siberia and the Urals military equipment: since 1943, since the great battle of Kursk, Soviet aircraft, tanks and guns began to dominate the battlefields.

In the battles of the Great Patriotic War, not only two ideologies clashed, not only the courage and bravery of soldiers, not only the art and the will of military leaders. This war was one of experienced and talented designers - the creators of military equipment. In these illustrious models of airplanes, tanks, guns, ships, it seems that the path traversed by the country during the pre-war and war years is concentrated. In them, the titanic organizing activities of the party and the government, which at one time took the course of industrializing the country. In them the heroic work of the heroes of the first five-year plans - of Magnitka and Karaganda, Gorky and Volgograd. The educational programs gave cadres of skilled workers talented designers and production managers. They contain personal courage and combat skills of warriors who skillfully owned these weapons on the battlefield. It is worthy to remain forever in the memory of the heart of the Soviet people, who stood in the most terrible, in the most merciless war in the history of humanity.

Cooperation in military-technical sphere was established immediately after the creation of the Warsaw Pact, because it was a sin not to use, for example, "the gloomy German genius" or the unique opportunities the industry of Czechoslovakia. So, components and assemblies for the Soviet countries of Eastern Europe producing weapons very much. For example, the share of East German and Czechoslovak "stuffing" of the Soviet Missiles and missile defense facilities exceeded 30% and reached 20% in the technical equipment of Soviet tank units and the Navy. A number of weapons systems in general it was impossible to imagine without the electronics from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic.

Produced in these countries were components in systems and means of telecommunications and space exploration, warning and protection against missile weapons, submarines and long-range aviation aircraft, in guidance systems - etc., etc. But in the Soviet Union were not only parts and accessories. For example, Czechoslovakia was the only manufacturer of training aircraft L-29 Delfin and L-39 Albatros for the Air Force of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. It is the "Dolphin" from the beginning of the 1960s, and then on the "Albatross" - since the early 1970s - were trained everything Soviet military pilots. Incidentally, although the L-39 is already out of date, still continues to be "flying a desk" Russian military pilots.

After World War II the titles of some engineering ministries ceased to mean what they said. The term “medium engineering” meant uranium and plutonium processing, nuclear power and nuclear bombs; “transport engineering” meant armored vehicles; “agricultural engineering” included short-range missiles as well as tractors and combine harvesters.

Defense industry suffered from many of the features -- the Tyranny of the Producers -- that characterized the centrally planned Soviet economy generally. Each enterprise had an annual plan that specified what and how much it was to produce and where to send its product. Similarly, its supply problem was solved centrally. The centralized, fairly rigid, long term allocation of supplies may have worked reasonably well for the production of simple commodities, such as wheat or steel. But it did not cope well with the unanticipated problems associated with design changes and the correction of errors that are an inherent part of the quality control process for non-commodity products, such as aircraft.

Incentives and bonuses were based on overfulfillment of a quantitative quota, and one year's successful output ran the risk of becoming the next year's quota. Bonuses were calculated in ways that an enterprise director often prefered to remain with the same technology and to produce only a little more than the assigned quantity. Quality control was often poor, and most complaints disappeared into bureaucratic oblivion. The time scale for resolving complaint was long compared to the planning periods. So a manufacturer could find itself the recipient of poor quality inputs from suppliers over which it had little control.

Until Kosygin’s reform in 1965, Soviet factories had to reduce the cost of their products by 15% annually. Every year, the factory received less money from its customer, and unless the factory’s products were regularly refreshed, the factory could begin losing money. Since the factories were working on a limited budget, they could not reward its workers and motivate them with holiday packages, build recreational facilities, etc. The management could not expect awards and career growth. A new tank would mean that a margin could be built into its price to be lowered as the years went on. The government would receive a new tank with improved characteristics (the cost of the T-54, T-55, and T-62 was almost the same) and the factory would be rewarded with a few years of wealth.

In making military equipment, the primary goals were simplicity and reliability; parts were standardized and kept to a minimum. New designs used as many existing parts as possible to maximize performance predictability. Because of these practices, the least experienced Soviet troops and troops of countries to which the equipment was sold could operate it. But the practices also caused the Soviet military-industrial complex, despite having top priority, to suffer from outmoded equipment, much of which by the 1980s was left over from World War II. Western observers suggested that the dated "keep-it-simple" philosophy had been a psychological obstacle to introducing the sophisticated production systems needed for high-technology military equipment. Western experts assumed that without substantial overall economic expansion, this huge military-industrial complex would remain a serious resource drain on civilian industry -- although the degree of that drain was difficult to establish.

During the Soviet era the various institutional components of military research and development interacted in a way that generally was more productive than that of the civilian sector. The defense sector more often succeeded in seeing a scientific idea through the various development stages into production. Many of those ideas may not have represented a leading-edge technology (Soviet military research and development were thought to be more evolutionary than revolutionary), but at least they were carried through into production.

One of the reasons Soviet military research and development fared better than the non-military sector was the high priority given to it by the state and party. The defense sector received not only more funds but also better resources and the best personnel. Perhaps most important in terms of priority was the level of political commitment. Maintaining a strong military capable of matching United States military strength was a high priority for Soviet political leaders. This translated into a strong commitment to ensure that military science and technology developed and functioned to support the Soviet military. High priority was not the only factor explaining the military sector's superior performance. Another factor was that the defense sector had better access to development facilities. Research projects in the military tended not to "die" because of lack of research facilities' access to development facilities.

Another factor affecting military research and development was that the defense sector was not so heavily attuned to production quantity rather than quality. Civilian production enterprises often were reluctant to innovate because of the time needed to adjust a plant's operations to the production of the new item or use of the new process. Such adjustments have been viewed in the civilian sector as interruptions because they cut into the time needed to meet a plant's production quotas. Military production facilities, which had rigorous quality-control measures, faced less pressure to meet a specified production goal.

Finally, coordination among military research and development establishments, while problematic, was more effective than that in the civilian sector. Facilities involved in the various phases of the military researchto -production cycle were more inclined to interact with one another. Furthermore, design facilities in the defense establishment tended to be larger and more capable of developing a research idea further through the research-to-production cycle. Design organizations in the military also tended to generate better design documentation for production plants to implement. Some of the administrative barriers encountered in the civilian sector were overcome in the military sector, in part by giving lead institutes the power to coordinate efforts for specific programs.

During the Brezhnev era, the Soviet government turned to its defense plants for production of needed civilian products. During the Gorbachev era, specific defense sectors were directed to focus on commercial sectors. For example, biological weapons plants were told to focus on medicines, and enterprises of the space complex started producing sailboats, microwaves and other consumer goods. Beginning in the late Gorbachev era, planners mistakenly expected to achieve conversion by a Soviet-style centralized program and without additional funding to support the lengthy, stagewise conversion process.

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Page last modified: 20-04-2019 18:52:00 ZULU