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Ministry of Electronic Industry
(Minelektronprom / MEP)

The Ministry of Radio Industry traditionally managed military radar and missile defense programs. The separate Ministry of Electronic Industry managed other non-radar electronics programs. Deputy Minister of Radio Engineering Industry of the USSR in 1955-57 was Alexander Ivanovich Shokin, who later became Minister of Electronic Industry.

The radio engineering industry was an industry vital to the armed forces. The Soviets defined this industry as that branch of industry producing equipment and apparatus for wireless telephone and telegraphic communications -- radio broadcasting, television, radar, radio navigation, automation, telemetering instruments, electronic computers, tubes, semiconductors, radio parts, and so forth. In other words, it is what would be call the electronics industry in the United States.

Since time immemorial, Russians have been used to criticize electronics and dump all the shortcomings in the creation of weapons systems. At the philistine level, by brisk journalists, the "low quality of domestic household radio equipment" is firmly embedded in people's minds. However, successes in any branch of the modern economy are inconceivable without advances in electronics.

The radio engineering industry of the Soviet Union was essentially a post-World-War-II development, its history covering a brief but active period. Prior to World War II, the various 5-year plans laid the scientific research and industrial basis for the manufacture of radio equipment; but actual production was insignificant. During the war the Soviet Union received huge quantities of radio equipment from the West, principally the United States. Much of the radio industry was uprooted during the war and moved to the eastern regions of the Soviet Union, where it was reestablished and grew rapidly. Realizing her shortcomings in electronics, the Soviet Union following the war assigned high priority to the development of a radio engineering industry.

Soon significant advances in the production of equipment and parts were being claimed by the Soviet radio industry. For example, by 1955 the growth in output of radio equipment had increased, they said, by 1,080 percent over 1940, compared with an overall industrial growth of 300 percent. Yet, in spite of this rapid progress, the radio equipment industry apparently had fallen short of meeting the Soviet Union's booming needs in this vital field. Soviet radio, technical, and general publications, particularly during the first half of 1956 and since, were replete with pleas, exhortations, criticisms, and admonitions urging the industry to increase its output and to improve the quality of all types of radio equipment.

Since the latter half of 1956, there were increasing indications that the Soviets were developing significant production capabilities in electronics. New plants for the production of specialized electronic devices, such as special tubes, ceramic and other radio parts, were constructed during the fifth 5-year plan. All radio plants reportedly are operating on a continuous-line assembly basis. Automatic processes used in the radio components industry had made it possible to produce approximately 1 million capacitators and nearly as many resistors every 24 hours, according to Soviet figures from 1957. The production of advanced electronic devices -- magnetrons, persynetrons, tristrons, travellng wave tubes, and image translators was reported at that time. These were specialized items, required for the further development of radar, navigational aids, missile guidance, and communications. Evidence of Soviet advanced electronics capability was shown by their ability to operate an all-weather strategic bomber force in considerable numbers over great distances into the Arctic, launch an ICBM, and orbit earth satellites.

In the defense sector, the transformation of existing state committees into line ministries with the transfer to their subordination to profile factories was carried out early in 1965, long before the September plenum of the Central Committee, in which, in fact, the decisions on economic reform as a whole were taken. So, as a result of these changes, on March 2, 1965, the Ministry of Electronic Industry of the USSR appeared, which was tasked to create a scientific and technical and production base as soon as possible, capable of quickly eliminating a huge deficit in all electronic products, ensuring the development and production of new, increasingly complex electronic devices, components and radio parts. The Minister of the new industry was appointed A.I.Shokin.

The electronic industry in Europe, the United States and Japan, no matter how tough the competition between firms, developed in the context of a widely developed exchange of achievements through international trade in licenses and patents, documentation for technological processes, the latest technological, control and measuring and optico-mechanical equipment, materials etc.

The electronic industry of the Soviet Union was completely deprived of such an opportunity. The United States established a special international committee (COCOM), which controls all scientific, technical, trade and economic relations with the USSR. COCOM has developed a position and a huge - 250 pages - a set of rules by which the USSR could not be sold not only advanced technologies and products belonging to the field of any high technology and primarily to microelectronics and computer technology, but technological and measuring equipment, materials, precision machine tools, etc.

A.I.Shokin closely followed the trends in the development of electronics, especially microelectronics, in the United States, Japan, Western Europe, which invested huge funds in its development, realizing that it is (microelectronics) that is the key to progress in the scientific, technical and industrial component of economic development. As soon as he could strive to draw the attention of the country's top leadership and subcontractors to the problems of the industry, trying to prove to them that the development of microelectronics by the forces of the electronics industry alone was impossible, that it required the efforts of the whole country. Moreover, the world practice testified that even the most developed and rich countries alone could not solve all electronics problems alone.

The best lathe and milling machines in the country were produced by the Ministry of Aviation Industry - naturally, primarily for their own needs - but they also lagged far behind the highest requirements of electronic engineers. Sometimes it was possible to transfer the technology of a product for mass production to another agency, which had already been worked out by enterprises of the Ministry of Economic Development, but this did not happen often, and the terms of development of new products were delayed for years.

In the development of the achieved successes and proceeding from the forecast for the further development of microelectronics, by the end of 1977 the MEP also prepared proposals on measures to ensure the development and production in the country of ultra-large integrated circuits in which the boundaries for the development and production of new generations of VLSI materials , equipment, CAD systems, both in the Ministry of Electronics and in other ministries responsible for the creation of various materials (Minhimprom, Minsvetmet, Mincermet, and others.).

Although electronics has always developed in all countries with state support, but the scale of these national programs was unprecedented due to a sharp increase in the capital intensity of semiconductor devices. The manufacture of silicon cells that are part of integrated circuits has always required extremely expensive equipment, but if in 1965 the world price of a typical production line was $ 1 million, by 1980 it was more than $ 50 million. Moreover, the lines had to be placed in new buildings, since it was already impossible to provide the required conditions in the existing ones, and the cost of an electronic plant of a new type increased no less than tenfold.

Just like in other countries, it was about creating in the USSR practically another and much more expensive electronic industry, at least in semiconductor electronics. Before 1985, it was proposed to build in Zelenograd a number of new research institutes, OKB and plants, reconstruct existing enterprises, expand social construction for the city. The moment was favorable, as it was precisely during these years, thanks to the "energy crisis" in the West, the sharp rise in oil prices, and the expansion of the USSR's export potential in the field of oil and gas that flowed through pipelines from new Siberian deposits to the country in ever more noticeable amounts flowed "petrodollars."

The secretary of the Central Committee K.U. Chernenko spoke at the June plenum (1983), devoted to ideology issues, and in his report mentioned that the poor quality of TV sets impedes the successful resolution of propaganda issues. In August, the issue on television was considered by the Politburo and decided to switch completely to the production of third generation TVs - on integrated circuits - from the beginning of the new year. The work went frantically, meetings were held in the Central Committee, in the military-industrial complex, and in the ministries. To verify the implementation of the Decision of the military-industrial complex, on which the program was going, a People's Control Committee was connected, reprimands and organizational conclusions, and so on.

By 1988, the volume of capital investments in the US electronics industry was about four times higher than the Soviet one, while the Japanese level was six times higher, and the semiconductor sector was almost eight. This can still be understood (but not justified), since the output of Soviet industry was about as much less, but the costs of research and development (R & D) in the USSR were on the same nomenclature of products and it would seem, that it was impossible to skimp on them to match the current achievements of science.

Ustinov understood and still supported the requirements of electronic engineers to the extent possible, and with his help managed to issue a government decree and begin construction of a complex of enterprises in Kaluga on electronic materials, but Gorbachev's "perestroika" prevented this project. As new people joined the industry, the geography of the location of enterprises was expanding, generating not only the problem of the growth of the average level of quality of personnel required in connection with the complication of products and the technology of their production, but also its retention. The initiative in this expansion belonged to the State Planning Committee, the leaders of the regions and republics. In placing the enterprises of the electronic industry at home, the latter saw an attractive solution from the point of view of ecology and enhancement of culture of problems of employment of the population.

Although on the initiative of A.I.Shokin and with the support of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Defense developed the necessary documents for the introduction of new principles for the joint creation of equipment with the Ministry of Radio Industry and the Ministry of Electronics Industry. But instead of introducing them, they started creating their own microelectronic productions, often without a full understanding of their specifics and the complexity of the infrastructure. It was more than unreasonable, fantastically expensive and certainly doomed to failure. However, branch ambitions, backed by party-corporate solidarity, were stronger than the state approach, stronger than common sense.

As a rule, specialists from the middle level, mainly microelectronic production techniques, were enticed from the electronics industry for this purpose. These few specialists usually quickly understood the irrationality of attempts to create several parallel microelectronic industries, since these attempts only multiplied a multitude of problems. Even if, for example, microelectronics were created inside the radio industry, it would still have to be completely re-trained by its traditional designers in order to design microelectronic equipment.

Because of the drive for automation and modernization of production processes, the electronics industry increasingly supported many other industrial branches. Special emphasis was given to improving cooperation between electronics plants and the machine-building and metallurgy branches--a partnership severely hindered in many cases by the industrial bureaucracy. In official progress reports, all industries listed process automation and robotization as standards for efficiency and expansion, and conversion from manual processes has been a prime indicator of progress in heavy industry. At the same time, government policy has relied heavily on the electronics industry for televisions, recording equipment, and radios for the consumer market. None of those items came close to planned production quotas for 1987, however.




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