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Soviet Defense Industry - Evolutionary Development

Soviet design bureaus, like everything else in the Soviet Union's planned economy, worked on the basis of the plan that they were required to fulfill. If an enterprise failed to meet its plan requirement, even by a small margin, the enterprise's work force and management didn't get their bonuses for meeting the plan. In the case of an R&D facility, the bonuses were sometimes equivalent to 50% of the annual salary of the entire work force of the organization for the period of the plan.

In weapon-design bureaus, the plan normally encompassed a 2-year period and required that the design bureau submit a prototype model for state testing at the end of that period. Since the bonus involved is equivalent to year's salary for everyone involved in producing the new prototype, no one ever failed to submit-his prototype to state testing. It may be the old model with a new coat of paint, but it was always submitted. Failure to deliver a new-model for state-testing could cause a bureau's chief designer serious morale problems (since his employees did not get their bonuses) or worse.

The system of continuously producing prototypes had a number of advantages for the-Soviets: technological advances can be assimilated in small increments, thus-avoiding the uncertainties of large jumps in technology. The design risks associated with the introduction of new technologies were significantly reduced. At the same time, the prototype construction and operational testing provide information on the costs of producing and operating the new weapon, in turn reducing the cost risks inherent in the decision to put the new system into production.

The multiplicity of prototypes also enabled the Soviets to take a long-range view of defense equipment deveiopment. There was no urgent reason to incorporate a given new technology or capability in the present model; they can instead wait and add the latest technological bells and-whistles to the next prototype model.

The Soviet designer could design each model to single mission requirements; the complications of incorporating growth capacity and multiple-mission capability were not required in the initial production models. He knew that he will be able to add these features latei. Seldom was more than one new technology used in a new or upgraded system. This model-based system helped to keep changes to a minimum to avoid disrupting production lines, a strong point from the perspective of the Soviets' production bureaucracy.

This system of continuous, evolutionary, prototypedevelopment had two beneficial effects on the Soviet R&D bureaucracy. First, it left the defense industries' research institutes and design bureaus relatively independent of production trends and much less affected by cyclical ups and downs than their American counterparts.

This institutional stability resulted in a regular progression of designs and prototypes, as well as in a level and quality of experience that only comes from the the actual creation and test of new ideas in working hardware. Second, it permitted development to be run as a business unto itself rather than for the short-term objective of getting a follow-on production program, as was often done in the US.

A noteworthy aspect of the Soviet prototype-development process is that it was done competitively. In the Soviet consumer economy, people were seldom given more than one choice, and there is no product competition. The Soviet military, however, liked to have a choice of models to pick from, so they often introduced competition at the design level by assigning two or more design bureaus to develop essentially the same equipment in competition with each other.

The development of military equipment was usually assigned to a design bureau that was a specialist in that type of equipment. The Soviets generally kept at least two design bureaus in each major weapons field (in some of the more exotic fields there was only one), and competition between bureaus often resulted in a good deal of friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) rivalry.

Competition was often carried through the prototype-development stage and into actual competitive trials in state testirg. This practice results in a spirit of competition between the design teams, a spirit that might be described as professional rivalry and that acted as a significant motivating force to the technical personnel involved.

Parallel development of equipment through competition between design-bureaus, when combined with evolutionary development through prototyping, gave the Soviet military-equipment buyers a much greater choice than was customary in the Soviet economy, or probably than is available to their counterparts in the West. The wide availability of models to choose from also increased the probability that the Soviet military will find a highly functional piece of equipment that meets its needs and requirements and increased the likelihood that an acceptable version becomes available for deployment. When coupled with the relatively stable budgets of R&D organizations, this approach produced a continuous stream of new weapons embodying current technology and increased performance.

The Soviets emphasized an evolutionary approach to weapon system and equipment development, whereas the US (and the-other Western nations) prefer a revolutionary design approach. This was even-truer at the component level, as the West tends to start afresh with an "all-new" weapon system that includes an all-new set of specialized components. Such an-approach was quite rare in the Soviet system (though the Soviets have done it). The Soviet approach was characterized by "common use of subsystems, components and parts using off-the-shelf components and subsystems of proven reliability that were already in the supply and production system. The Soviets developed components by the same evolutionary methodology used for weapons as a whole.

In the draft-design phase the research institutes' handbooks come into play; the designers must use only tested and proven technology that is contained in the handbooks. In this way, the design bureau, when it starts work on a new system, draws on state-of-the-art technology as it is defined by the handbooks. These handbooks prevent the design bureaus from incorporating into their design new technologies that have not yet been tested, proved, and approved. Special permission must be obtained to incorporate new and unproven technology into a design. The Soviets view design as the application of existing technology to meet a given requirement, and in this light the Soviet designers turn to the research institutes and take what is available, rather than wait for something new.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2016 20:06:18 ZULU