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Soviet Military Industry Overview

The Soviet scientific and technological establishment consisted of a variety of organizations engaged in the research, development, and production of new products or processes. In general, each organization specialized in one phase of the process and in one sector of industry.

Many types of organizations were involved. Western specialists placed them in three broad categories: research institutions, design organizations, and production facilities. The research organizations are the heart of Russian military research and development. They take new weapons and military matriel projects from concept to prototype, then hand them off to the production enterprises. Production enterprises do prototype construction, production runs, and modifications.

In the first category, the most numerous organizations were the scientific research institutes (nauchno-issledovatel'skie instituty-- NIIs), which focused on scientific research, both basic and applied. Each NII was headed by an appointed director, who oversaw a staff of researchers and technical personnel. Another type of research institution, the research laboratory (laboratoriia), operated independently or as a component of a larger NII or a production plant.

  • GSPI: state special-purpose design institute
  • NII: scientific research institute
  • NIP: scientific research polygon
  • TsNII: central scientific research institute

The second category, design organizations, included design bureaus (konstruktorskie biuro--KBs) and technological institutes (tekhnologicheskie instituty). Each of these encompassed a range of facilities with such titles as special design bureau (spetsial'noe konstruktorskoe biuro--SKB), central design bureau (tsentral'noe konstruktorskoe biuro), and project design and technology bureau (proektnokonstruktorskoe i tekhnologicheskoe biuro). Design bureaus planned new products and machines, although some also conducted research. Technological institutes had responsibility for designing new processes, installations, and machinery.

  • KB: design bureau
  • NPO: scientific production association
  • NPP: scientific production enterprise
  • OKB: experimental design bureau
  • SKB: special-purpose design bureau
  • TsKB: central design bureau

The third category included production facilities that manufactured the new product or applied the process developed by the research and design facilities. The output and testing of industrial prototypes, industrial innovation processes, or smallbatch production prior to the stage of mass production occurred in experimental production or pilot plants (various Russian designations, e.g., opytnye zavody, opytnye stantsii). These functioned independently or were attached to production facilities, research institutions, or design organizations.

In addition to their categorization according to the research, development, and production phase in which they were most involved, these facilities were characterized according to their organizational affiliation: industrial ministries, university and higher education, or the Academy of Sciences system.

Industrial ministries controlled the majority of science and technology organizations, including all types of research institutions, design organizations, and production facilities. The precise number of facilities in 1989 was not available because the Soviet press had stopped publishing such statistics about a decade earlier. Western specialists, however, reported that in 1973 there were 944 independent design organizations, and in 1974 there were 2,137 industrial NIIs. The number of production facilities undoubtedly exceeded both those figures.

Industrial science and technology organizations tended to concentrate on one broad area, such as communications equipment, machine tools, or automobiles. They were directly subordinate to the industrial ministry responsible for that sector. Science and technology work in ministries was directed by scientific-technical councils within the ministries; the councils comprised the ministry's leading scientists and engineers.

By the late 1970s, the military industry, i.e., the military-industrial complex, was concentrated into 1,770 enterprises under these nine main ministries, of which 450 were scientific research organizations and 250 experimental-design organizations. A total of 10.45 million individuals worked in the industry. In addition, another approximately 546,000 persons were involved in civilian industries associated with the military-industrial complex (chemical, electrical, textile, automobile, etc.).

In all, in spite of the Cold War, no more than approximately 10 percent of the scientific-technical and industrial potential of the USSR was working in the interests of the military-industrial complex. This is approximately 12 million persons, or around 30 million persons when counting family members. This figure does not count the industrial and construction organizations of the Ministry of Defense, which did not formally enter into the Big Nine of the military-industrial complex.

From the total number of industry personnel involved in defense production, 33.7 percent worked in aerospace; 20.3 percent worked in radio engineering, electronics, and communications; and 9.1 percent worked in shipbuilding. Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex contributed more than 20 percent of the volume of the gross nation product. Thus, rocket technology and cosmonautics were far from being the only concern of the Commission on Military-Industrial Issues.

By 1987 an estimated 450 research and development organizations were working exclusively on military projects. Among top-priority projects were a multiministerial laser program, generation of radio-frequency energy, and particle-beam research--all applicable to future battlefield weapons. In addition, about fifty major weapons design bureaus and thousands of plants were making military items exclusively. Such plants had first priority in resource allocation to ensure that production goals were met. Most defense plants were in the European part of the Soviet Union, were well dispersed, and had duplicate backup plants. Some major aircraft plants were beyond the Urals, in Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Tashkent, Komsomol'sk-na-Amure, and Ulan-Ude.

The Soviet economy suffered from a shortage of supplies that affected even military products. To avoid this, military production ministries and individual production factories tried to keep as much of the manufacturing process as possible within their organizations. The Ministry of Aviation industry included metallurgical plants that roll aluminum and magnesium alloys, stamping and extruding facilities, and plants that manufacture plastic and rubber goods for use in the aircraft industry. The Aviation Ministry produced 90 to 95% of all the thousands of components that are used in aircraft, and was typical of Soviet production ministries, whether civilian or military. In the same way, the chronic unreliability of supplies influences individual Soviet plants to try to be completely self contained in their manufacturing operations, or at least to rely only on known outside suppliers with a proven track record.

A large part of Soviet defense industry was operated at about 50% of capacity for military production, thus leaving a large part of the capacity available for accelerated production in the event of an emergency expansion requirement. However, this did not always mean leaving the plants' excess capacity idle, because the Soviets promoted a policy that they called "military assimilation" (assimiluatsiya). This policy had two dimensions: first, the use of spare capacity at military factories for the production of civilian items technologically related to the basic military products so as to maintain appropriate skills; and secondly, the creation of conditions permitting the manufacture of military material at the many civilian enterprises in the event of war. As a result of assimiluatsiya, most military production facilities in the Soviet Union also produced civilian goods of some type.




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