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T-34, one tank to rule them all.

"I hate Communism, but I love Russian weapons."
Viktor Suvorov

The military of the USSR. It underwent some changes during the history of the Soviet Union. If you're looking for an article about their space program, you're in the wrong place.

Largely a conscript force, unlike the USA's more volunteer force, or at at least apart from exceptions when America needed more men during the KoreanWar and the Vietnam War (The US still technically has conscription, but it is so vestigial as to be nearly nonexistant), though much of western Europe kept up conscription programs, too. The Soviet military pretty much ran around being able to somehow rope enough conscripts into reenlisting so as to have a core of veterans and professionals who could be bolstered by citizen soldiers if the need arose. Pretty much everything about Soviet armed forces was designed around reliability, from durable-but-simple vehicles, to every distinct form of weapon having a distinctly named ammo (even if two different weapons had, say, rounds 40mm in diameter, the Soviets would call one of them a 38mm round, just so idiots in the supply chain would be less likely to make mistakes if the two rounds were not interchangeable, and the Soviets loved hanging onto proven concepts, which was why it took all the way until 1974 for them to finally get a rifle that wasn't 30cal). The durable-but-simple philosophy also made it possible for the Soviets to have a remarkably successful foreign arms trade, even with lower productivity in their electronics sector; versions of vehicles made for export simply left out the bits that were tricky to manufacture. Thus, say, the BMP-2 that Egypt operated was a much different beast than the BMP-2 that the Soviets themselves had.

While the Soviet Union was not as powerful as often thought at the time, it was still very powerful, making up for qualitative inferiority with things like superior numbers - which were further exaggerated by propaganda and Western "ten feet tall" threat perceptions (that, or the belief that the Soviets would overrun Western Europe with thousands of crappy tanks). To give an idea, in 1979 the Soviet Union had more than twice as many MiG-21 fighters than the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm's combat aircraft combined. Whatever its other problems, the Soviet Army was still vastly superior to the dreadful armies fielded by the Russian Empire in World War One, who were badly equipped, even more badly trained and even more badly led. Make no mistake, the USSR was definitely *not* a boastful paper tiger as asserted by some shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Make no mistake, the USSR could have likely won a land war in Europe. Their equipment, while not able to 100% match equipment made by far wealthier nations, was still fearsome. And in wars, the side with the greater population and more industry generally wins. The Soviet Union alone had more people and industry than all of western Europe. Add in the Warsaw Pact, and that number just a bit more than doubles. NATO's strongest member, America, had the vast majority of its might and ocean away, and France, one of Western Europe's richest and strongest countries (yes, really GaulsWithGrenades), left NATO (After never really having been a great team player) and likely would have either not been an effective ally or would have negotiated its own settlement in the East.

It is generally accepted that from c.1972 to end of the '80s, NATO would not have been able to defend Western Europe militarily from a Soviet assault without using Superior Firepower...although Soviet documents from the time seem to disagree. What's more, for much of this period tensions between the two powers were at a low, with the situation only escalating in the "Second Cold War", post-1979. By the post-Cold War era, conventional high technology weapons and equipment were being deployed which worked against the Soviets' large mechanized forces to the point that they were becoming a decided vulnerability.

The Key Components

  • Strategic Rocket Forces - the people with Mnogo Nukes, who controlled the USSR's intercontinental ballistic missiles. The name "Rocket" comes from the fact that the Russians, by and large, use the same word (raketa) to mean "missile" and "rocket"- which is also why this entry is called Reds with Rockets.
  • Ground Forces AKA The Red Army (or the Soviet Army after WWII, there were actually a lot of "armies", the Soviet equivalent to NATO "corps") - The people with Kalashnikovs. Had Mnogo Nukes in the form of tactical ballistic missiles and artillery. You wouldn't believe how many tactical (non-nuclear) rockets they had; some units in the past had more rockets than gun-style artillery.
  • Air Defence Forces (PVO Strany until 1981, Voyska PVO after that until 1991) - The people responsible for the air defence of the USSR against civilian 747s that wander off course, among other things. Famously managed to let in a microlight through a casacde of fails including denying permission to a fighter pilot who requested to engage, which got a lot of 'generals' in deep shit, and leading to jokes that Red Square was Sheremetevo-3 (Sheremetevo is the big Moscow airport. He didn't land in Red Square, but on a bridge just outside it.) Had Mnogo Nukes in the form of nuclear surface-to-air missiles.
  • Air Force (VVS) - The people with the bombers and therefore Mnogo Nukes.
    • The VVS was divided into the Long Range Aviation which was the actual organization responsible for the air-delivered Mnogo Nukes, and the Frontal Aviation organized to serve as the tactical air arm of fronts. Long Range Aviation was disbanded in 1980 and its assets were divided between five strategic air armies.
  • Soviet Navy (name in Russian, Voyenno-morskoy flot SSSR - Naval-Military Forces of the USSR) AKA The Red Fleet - The people with the many submarines and ships (so Mnogo Nukes), including four VTOL aircraft carriers with the useless piece of junk that was the Yak-38 "Forger". Acquired a full-size carrier before the end of the USSR. A second ended up unfinished and sold to China (who appear to be using it to prepare for a carrier of their own), while another was scrapped at 40% complete. Also had the Naval Infantry, the Soviet equivalent of the Marine Corps.
    • Broken down into the Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet, Pacific Fleet, Black Sea Fleet, Indian Ocean Squadron and the Caspian Flotilla.
    • The Soviet Naval Infantry had a different mission than the U.S. Marines. They were intended as shock troops used to seize the beachheads as part of the first landing echelon and once follow-on units from the Soviet Army arrived to take over the battle they would withdraw to spearhead other additional landings. Being a sort of elite in the Soviet military, they're more like MARSOC or MEU's than regular US Marines. Though BloodKnight EliteMooks, they are still outshone by a group who could be described as being composed of guys good enough to be Rangers — the VDV.
  • Airborne Troops (VDV) - Eight divisions of paratroopers (one training) which was (and still is) directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defence. Yup, Russian paratroopers are their own service. Had their own version of the BMP-series Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the BMD-series. They also wore the signature blue berets. They're also deployed inland and used to fight important missions. The war in Georgia that was won in 8 days? The battle of Tskhinvali where all Georgia threw everything it had at what should have been a LastStand? The VDV held the line there. In spite of being outnumbered by an enemy with new NATO equipment and training by American advisers, the VDV steamrolled Georgia and inflicted casualties at nearly a 3:1 ratio.
    • There were also several Air Assault brigades and battalions assigned to front and army level, respectively. They were airmobile troops using helicopters to be used as one of a Soviet commander's tactical or operational maneuver forces in securing vital targets in NATO's rear, and sometimes had the VDV's BMDs.
  • Spetsnaz (spetsialnogo naznacheniya- "Special Purpose Units") - refers to a large collection of units, including Spetsnaz GRU (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije - Main Intelligence Directorate), the KGB's counter-terrorist Alfa Group and internal security forces. Most of these groups still exist in some form among the modern Russian military. Much of what is known about them comes from a controversial defector.

Battle Balalaikas: Their Notable Hand Weapons

  • Mosin-Nagant - actually entered service in 1891 long before Red October. Designed by Captain Sergei Nosin and Belgian Léon Nagant, c.37 million were built, making it the world's 2'nd most abundant family of weapons after the AK, and the vast majority of Mosins are 91/30's, making the 91/30 the 2'nd most abundant gun in the world, period. It may look outdated when compared with semi-auto rifles of 1930s, and it was, but it's also powerful and precise. More impressively, these guns were manufactured almost exclusively during wartime, meaning that the bulk of production ocurred during just a few years! Mosin-Nagant rifle (of another design branch) with iron sights only was Weapon of Choice of the most deadly sniper ever - Simo Häyhä, "the White Death"... and he has choice. During World War Two, a sniper version was made.
    • "The one with the rifle shoots. The one without the rifle follows. When the one with the rifle is killed, the one that follows picks up the rifle and fires.". Yep, it's in Enemy at the Gates. Zaytsev and Pavlichenko (a female Soviet sniper with a similar number of kills to Zaytsev) both used this.
      • Slightly misleading, while it was a major problem in WW1 the Soviet Union in WW2 generally had enough rifles. Now ammunition on the other hand...
    • Ths Mosin-Nagant was in production until 1956(in China). Because they're available for around $79 at most stores in the US compared to several hundred dollars for a typical bolt-action rifle, or a few hundred for a budget option, the Mosin is often a first purchase or hobby gun for those who don't feel like dumping money into the shooting hobby, though the days of the pocket change cheap Mosins are gone — 91/30's are pushing closer to $200. Ammunition can be bought in "spam cans" by the hundreds of rounds, too, although lots comes from commercial manufacturers. It's some of the cheapest powerful centerfire there is, although it's more expensive than it used to be, but think of it this way: it's at most half the price of anything comparable in performance or power, and when bought in bulk, can be down to even a third or quarter as much per round.
  • PPSh-41 - or, among other names, as the "Pah-Pah-Shah" due to that being the spelling in Russian. It's known for its drum mag (although box ones were also used) carrying 71 rounds. Developed during World War Two to replace PPD-40 submachine gun with something better suited for mass production (like Grease gun vs. Tommy Gun) and c.6 million were produced. It proved to be very popular with Soviet soldiers despite some drawbacks.
    • If you're played a World War Two game involving the Red Army (but not Battlefield 1942), you will almost certainly have "fired" this at some point.
    • Notable for having too much dakka. For an army that had a lot more trouble sourcing ammunition than weapons, a cyclic rate of fire of 900 rounds per minute was very wasteful.
  • AK-47 - The world-famous AK. Most produced firearm in history. Responsible for probably millions of deaths. Appears on the flags of Mozambique and Hezbollah. In fiction, used by every terrorist group going and of course, the Reds with Rockets.
    • Don't forget its brother the AK-74. Better accuracy, better lighter ammo, longer effective range, same effectiveness, but somehow is a NoRespectGuy.
    • The most common modern AK is the AK-74M, chambered for 5.45 mm. Lots of older AKs, AKMs and other Kalashnikov models are stockpiled in storage facilities to arm conscripts in case of war.
  • SKS- Actually produced alongside the AK-47, the SKS was doomed from the start to failure just by the fact that the AK-47 was in development at roughly the same time and could do not just everything the SKS could do, but also had massive advantages in firepower due to being fed from detachable magazines and having a fully automatic mode, but the SKS ended up lasting a lot longer than anyone expected, especially in the republics, WarPac, and client states. It was a design heavily influenced by WW 2, firing the same M43 round as the AK-47, but having a non-removable, ten-round magazine and being semi-automatic. It was retained by the Russians as a backup rifle, and everyone from the North Vietnamese Army to the Taliban and even civilian deer hunters have used them in some function. It is the fourth most produced firearm in the world.
    • Since the SKS is basically a normal rifle, it is allowed practically in any country where a semi-automatic rifle is legal - it's possible to convert it to bolt action too. It is not uncommon to see the SKS used as a deer rifle, and like the Mosin, they are available for pretty cheap.
    • Like the AK-47, the SKS has an unbelievable market for customization. You can add detachable magazines, rifle grenade launchers, folder "pig-sticker" bayonets, enhanced sights, even convert them to futuristic bullpups.
  • Makarov PM - Standard pistol of Soviet bad guys and popular in real life too. Self-defense pistol that replaced early TT combat pistol as a standard sidearm after WWII. Now being replaced among the Tricolours With Rusting Rockets with the Yarygin PYa- also known as the MP-443 "Grach" ("rook").
  • SVD (Dragunov) - Soviet sniper rifle, pretty much an AK with longer barrel, short-stroke gas system, and a distinctive stock, chambered in 7.62x54 mm. Unlike most Western sniper rifles, it's mostly used for medium range fire support, like the M14.
  • RPG-7 - RPG does not stand for Rocket Propelled Grenade, which was a backronym; RPG stands for Ruchnoy Protivotankoviy Granatomyot, "hand-held anti-tank grenade-launcher", so "RPG Launcher" is an incorrect usage. Much loved by terrorists both real and fictional. The version that breaks down into two pieces is the paratrooper model.
  • Strela-2 ("arrow")/SA-7 "Grail"- the first Soviet man-portable SAM. Terrorists like the thing. Wasn't very powerful (it got better in the Strela-2M/SA-7B version) and loved the Sun too much.
  • Igla ("needle")/SA-18 "Grouse"- a modern hand-held SAM exported to a number of countries (including India) and also used by terrorist groups.

You Too Can Own A Battle Balalaika!

As noted, fictional bad guys love to use Soviet weapons, even if they're not actually Soviet. This is rather Truth in Television for a number of reasons, especially for the AK-47 family:

  • The USSR exported the AK to a lot of countries, either for cash or as military aid.
  • A lot of them were given to militant groups worldwide.
  • The AK had a lot of local versions, produced both with and without a licence. Despite the design now being patented in Russia, it's still produced in a lot of back-street weapons shops.
  • The AK is known for being very reliable. It can stuck in a swamp for weeks, pulled out, quickly cleaned and fire first time. It also needs little training to fire. It is so easy to use a child could (literally) wield it.
    • It's also pretty cheap. For the filming of Lord Of War, it turned out to be cheaper to borrow 3,000 real rifles from a Czech arms dealer than get 3,000 replicas.
      • Those weren't even AK's, they were Czech VZ-58 rifles; a completely unrelated firearm.
    • More films use the near-identical Chinese Type-56/QCZ56s because they are way cheaper even when there is no patent for the original.
    • It should be noted that the original AK-47 was only produced from 1947 to 1960. The vast majority of AK-pattern rifles in use today are variants of its successor, the lighter AKM, and Type 56.
  • With the Soviet-Afghan War, a lot of the weapons ended up in the hands of the Mujahideen and therefore among the Islamist movement.
    • Not to mention how they exported thousands and thousands of the things to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the other anti-Israeli powers during the 50s and 60s.
      • Also to the Israelis themselves. About 1/3 of the Israeli army used the AK before they had Galils and M16s.
  • With the end of the USSR, a lot of corrupt officers sold off weapons for cash.

(Speaking of advertising, Amnesty did a spoof shopping channel video with the host advertising the AK-47. It can be found on the DVD for Lord of War)

Soviet Military Vehicles: Not Just For Parades

The infamous Russian fighting vehicle; tough, hard look, nasty armor, not enough fuel to reach the front line. It has been said that everything the Soviets built, from tanks to washing machines, was built using three times more steel than it needed, because Stalin wanted to inflate the economic figures associated with steel consumption. True or not, Commie stuff looks tough and keeps going under adverse conditions, with plenty of spare parts to hand helping. Unless it is the Yak-38 "Forger".

It's also usually pretty big (for example, the MiG-31 and the An-225, the latter being the largest plane in the world). Unless we're talking about tanks and other vehicles, which tend to be smaller (which means cramped, but also a smaller target, at least in theory) and considerably lighter (the BMP-2 is literally half the weight of the American M3 Bradley). For similar reasons, a lot of it is amphibious, another thing Russian designers seem fond of, probably because fighting a war in Europe would include plenty of rivers to cross. (These rivers generally run south-to-north, whereas the Red Army was expected to advance east-to-west.)

Apart from the bomber aircraft mentioned here, the Soviets also produced some very advanced fighters, helicopters, and some stand-out tanks and APCs, although they were still behind the West a lot of the time. What often escapes notice is how small a lot of the cockpits were. Russian military leaders in WWII had the bright idea to sort the army by size, making big men infantry, and letting the little men be tank crew. This meant building the tank smaller, and therefore getting thicker armor for the same weight, and making it lighter, better able to cross bad terrain, use less fuel, and be harder to hit. This philosophy carried forward over time to other vehicular services like the Air Force and then space exploration. Vostok space capsules were tiny, so the first astronauts were also small; Yuri Gagarin was barely five feet (actually, 5 feet 5 inches; Alan Shepard was 5'11", and Neil Armstrong was 5'9"). Mikhail Kalashnikov had been a tank sergeant, and he was only 5'2".This is another reason to bring in the ladies (see below), they started to run short on men small enough to fit.

Soviet hardware was exported and copied over and over, so a lot of their vehicles are still in the cross hairs of U.S. fighting forces even when the Russians aren't. The Chinese and North Koreans during Korea, the NVA in Vietnam, the Afghan and Iraqi fighters of today, all arm themselves in Soviet leftovers, or reproductions based on Soviet designs.

The relatively poor performance of such hardware against American forces historically is partly due to the fact that the Soviets actually tended to give their client states downgraded versions of their aircraft (East Germany and Poland got the Soviet stuff), a practice not uncommon in the arms trade business, but particularly pronounced with the Soviets. It also has to be remembered the Soviets built their vehicles to be cheap and easy to produce. More on that below with the chess analogy.

The most notable of these:

  • MiG-15: The famous fighter of The Korean War, many were actually covertly flown by Soviet pilots. Unfortunately designated "Fagot" by NATO (It's actually pronounced Fah-gett/fah-goh if you're trying to avoid that little landmine).
  • MiG-17 "Fresco": in The Vietnam War, this proved to be a major menace to American bombers, who started the TOPGUN school to train pilots to fight it.
  • MiG-21 "Fishbed": Fishbeds! Fishbeds! Roly-poly Fishbeds! (Thanks to whoever came up with that in a YKTTW) Despite the very unflattering reporting name, it's the most-produced jet fighter in history (nearly 20,000 when you count the Chinese version, the J-7) and still in service in a number of countries. Capable of Mach 2.2, but it is pig-ugly and not a world-beater. Still very effective though, especially in Vietnam.
  • MiG-29 "Fulcrum": this fighter represented a major shift in the way Soviets approached their aircraft. As previously mentioned, the USSR had gone for quantity over quality, preferring large numbers of cheap, easily-operated forces. When the Yanks With Tanks introduced their fourth-generation aircraft, however, they were simply too good; the F-15 Eagle in particular boasts a record of 101 aerial victories, mostly against 3rd-gen Russian fighters, to zero losses. The Soviets looked at how to beat this kind of plane, and realized that their old Zerg Rush tactics just wouldn't work; they would need to put more eggs in one basket and build stronger, better-performing planes. The MiG-29 was the first plane designed via this philosophy, and (to Mikoyan and Gurevich's credit) it dropped jaws when Westerners first got a look at it in the late 80s. It's also notable for its NATO reporting name, and its pilots found "Fulcrum" appealing and have adopted it for informal use.
  • Su-27 "Flanker": the counterpart to the MiG-29, it fills the air-superiority role, making it the Russian equivalent to the F-15 and F-14. It also entered service in the 80s, flying from both runways and carrier decks. Along with the Fulcrum, the Flanker caused something of a panic in the American military, who had been counting on Conservation of Ninjutsu and weren't sure if their planes could actually stand up against Elite Mooks. (Their concerns are justified, as both the MiG-29 and the Su-27 are excellent fighters by any standard.) Out of this panic and resulting Lensman Arms Race came America's current air-superiority fighter, a fifth-generation fighter called the F-22 Raptor; Russia is preferring to focus on upgrading its Fulcrum and Flanker designs into 4.5th-gen fighters, but undoubtedly some actual 5th-gen airframes are in development. (The Flanker's replacement, the Sukhoi PAK FA, is the only one Russia has gone public with; they claim to be holding off decisions on a MiG-29 replacement until the T-50's adoption.) After the collapse of the USSR, both the Flanker and Fulcrum have gone on to be flown by Russians With Rusting Rockets.
  • T-34: Designed in 1940, the T-34 was the best tank in the world when it was produced. It was a bit outdated by the end, but it was still very useful. By then the upgraded version, the T-34/85, was being mass produced - this tank is sometimes considered the best all-around tank design of World War II. Yes, even when compared with the German Tiger and Panther, as it was cheap to make, with modest maintenance requirements while being reliable and sturdy (all characteristics that the two aforementioned tanks didn't have) and, right up to the end, had decent amour, excellent speed (especially in the snow) and a good gun (in the early years, needless to say, these characteristics were even more impressive). Was the most produced model of tank in the world until the T-55.
    • In contrast to the overengineered German tanks, the T-34 was designed so that it could be maintained and repaired by a conscript soldier with minimal training and equipment. This proved something of an advantage on the Eastern Front.
  • T-55: The most produced tank in history, with up to 100,000 built and many still in use.
    • In Goldeneye, James Bond takes one of these to chase after Natalya, causing quite a bit of damage to St. Petersburg in the process. James, just because she's a redhead...
    • Later variants have added upgraded sites, the ability to launch guided missiles, reactive armor, extra plating, and sensor suites. There are T55's today that are still as formidable as the day they first rolled out 70 years ago.
    • Even older T55's continue to operate and fight, for state and non state actors. To explain why, well, most of what a tank needs to survive is rifle fire and some 20/30mm guns — fighting hard things like other tanks isn't the main job, and being able to have mobile cover with 100mm of 'kill that' to put on vehicles, trenches, bunkers, and buildings, as well as opponents too far for the infantry's weapons, lay down smoke, provide infrared and illumination, give suppressive fire, and so on, is a huge asset, even if the tank isn't super modern or able to 1v1 an Abrams.
  • T-64: The first Soviet tank to use a 125mm main gun in the T-64A variant and nearly every tank from the former USSR has followed its basic design concept of a low profile hull, small turret and carousel autoloader. It was never exported outside of the Soviet Union. This tank, along with the later T-80 were the main tanks of the high-category groups of forces stationed outside of the Soviet Union.
  • T-72: The main tank up from the 1970s up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in their western military districts. The poor performance of export versions against tanks of the M1 Abrams generation has damaged its reputation, but Iraq proved its superiority over a comparable force of exported M60 Pattons in the Iran-Iraq War.
    • In Red Dwarf, Kryten, rather annoyed at the fact that everyone else on the ship is in "Jane Austen World", enters the VR game. In this tank (the same prop from the Bond film in fact, so a T55, but a later upgraded model), he then proceeds to blow up the gazebo.
    • The Iraqi Army's T-72s were eaten alive by the U.S., although that's hardly surprising. The T-72s were either cheap Soviet exports or inferior locally-built clones. Iraqi crews were poorly trained and inexperienced, led terribly, under the command of officers mostly chosen for regime loyalty rather than military skill, forced under the command of a man with terrible military brains (his plan for invading Iran distilled to "form a line at the border and walk", and they were forced to dig in, negating the only two huge advantages of the T72 over the M1 — fuel range and low profile. The U.S. enjoyed complete air superiority as well as the advantage of the M1A1 Abrams' fire control computer and thermal optics, which allowed it to fire accurately on the move, at night, in a sandstorm, two miles away (seriously). Many Iraqi tanks were also using mild-steel penetrator ammunition rendered obsolete 30 years earlier, and some were even using training rounds with half the normal propellant charge. Schwarzkopf said he could have switched kit with the Iraqis and still won.
    • Had the Iraqis done two things with their T72's, they could have not been quite so embarassed. 1) done as Soviet tank doctrine taught and used tanks for gutting rear areas and supply lines (fighting tanks was part of the mission, but secondary) rather than trying to slug it out tank vs tank. 2) Gotten proper ammunition and training.
    • The Polish PT-90 is a modern tank based on the T-72 design.
      • As is the Russian T-90, which is a combination of this one with the next tank on the list. The T-72 provides the hull, the T-80 provided the sights and the gun, and a new engine was built from scratch.
    • The T-72 has served globally with more than a dozen conflicts under its belt; apart from Gulf 1 and 2, it's actually done very well for itself, with new T72's being ordered to this day.
      • Syrian T72's are crushing ISIS Abrams.
  • T-80: The first MBT to use a gas turbine, albeit with its own problems, intended to be the primary Soviet tank of the 1980s. Its low weight and high-power engine made it fast. Very fast. Unlike other Russian things, earlier models were not famed for their reliability, owed to the revolutionary engine.
    • Earned the nickname "Tanks of the British Channel", from their performance in Soviet war games, they were even seen overtaking tourist buses on highways in Germany. Not bad for a tank, though speed is not everything.
    • During arms exhibitions in the 1990s, the Russians loved to show off the T-80U's...acrobatics by driving them off dirt mounds and firing the gun in midair.
    • The T-80 presents an interesting case of the Soviet military-industrial complex. In the 1970s Defense Minister Andrei Grechko rejected the tank when it still had an obscure "Obyiekt" designation. When Grechko died, his successor Dimitry Ustinov - a man of the Soviet military industries - took upon himself to make the Obyiekt into his pet project and the tank was suddenly accepted into service as the T-80.
  • At this point it only feels right to explain Soviet tank doctrine. It would explain why Soviet tanks "suck".
    • Soviet tank doctrine evolved from WW2, specifically with fighting huge armies with fantastic gear. They took inventory of what killed the most tanks. Surprisingly, it wasn't tanks or planes, but artillery; the humble person-pushed howitzers and AT guns did more tank killing than fancy planes, big tanks, etc. Interestingly, the West had very few tank vs tank encounters with the Tiger and King Tiger, so the few they did left quite an impression and gave them the idea to build every tank to be as powerful as possible.
    • The Soviets found the best way to deal with Nazi armies wasn't to erode them away in great meat grinders, exceptions like Stalingrad, Berlin, and Rzhev excluded, but rather to aim for line breakthroughs to pierce to rear areas and rip up command infrastructure, ammunition dumps, fuel stories, motor pools, airfields, rail yards, troop transports, and so on. Rip up that stuff, no more ability to sustain and make battle — fight over and won. The best way to do that was to piece with as much firepower as possible, that meant tanks with great range and the ability to cross country — hence the emphasis on range, wide tracks, fording abilities... A T55 tank can drive 300 miles on its base fuel. Even more with auxilaries. All Soviet tanks T55 and on were designed to be able to cross rivers, go 300mi+, and deal with bad ground (hence the moratorium on all heavy tanks following WW2 and the weight cap of 40 tons, all bearing broad tracks and snorkels).
    • So, therefore, in the Soviet conception, a tank wasn't meant to be an armor on armor heavyweight slugger machine (unlike US designs such as the M1 which is pretty much the platonic ideal tank fighting tank), it was meant to be something used with infantry (West also believes in tanks + infantry (tanks ALONE get murdered because a core problem of the whole concept is sluggishness and terrible situational awareness — infantry stop them from getting swarmed and also point out and deal with threats), but has a tendency to do more tank only "thunder runs"). They also brought the ideas that infantry NEEDED to be able to deal with tanks and other armor all on their own, especially as the pace of Deep Battle meant that they would get left behind with hostile armor in hot pursuit, and that there was no point in building super tanks that were just going to get murdered by artillery or bombs anyway (that no practical armor can block), even if they were better in 1v1 tank fights.
    • By emphasizing ability to penetrate deep and rapidly, the Soviet tank, therefore could get into the guts of the enemy and effectively disembowel it. You can't feed your troops if the food trucks were taken out. You can't shoot your guns if the ammunition supply was blown up. You can't fly your cutting edge stealth fighters if you have tanks on your airfield wreaking havoc. You can't run your ace armor if the maintenance crews are dead...
    • The Soviet Tank was designed to be able to fight other tanks and was meant to, but that wasn't the main job. Not that tanks operate alone — the Soviets used their tanks in 4 tank platoons in 20 tank strong companies. For killing tanks, the Soviets intended a diverse array of weapons — infantry, mines, airplanes, artillery, helicopters, and of course their own tanks, but to a Soviet mind, hostile tanks did not demand fighting with tanks. This is contrary to the NATO idea that tanks should be meant to fight tanks.
  • K-13/AA-2 "Atoll": The first effective Soviet air-to-air missile. This was based to a suspicious level on the AIM-9 Sidewinder, because it was an AIM-9. The rump ROC, holed up on Taiwan, and the mainland PRC, have sometimes engaged in cross-Straits military clashes; some of these have been in the air. In 1958, the United States supplied the ROCAF with technicians and U.S. AIM-9 Sidewinders; some of the ROCAF's F-86 Sabres acquired an AIM-9 capability. They got used eventually, fighting PLAAF MiG-15s over the Straits; a Sidewinder got launched. One of them worked perfectly, homing in on the target and striking it, except that it didn't detonate and ended up stuck in the MiG-15's fuselage. Said MiG-15 managed to return to base; that particular Sidewinder was soon in the USSR, being reverse-engineered. Heat-seeking to begin with, but there was also a semi-active radar homing version.
  • R-73/AA-11 "Archer": One of the world's best short-range air-to-air missiles, with an "off-boresight" capability, allowing to be launched up to 60 degrees from an aircraft's centreline via a helmet-mounted sight. Led to a lot of missiles in response, especially after some mock dogfights where German (via the old East Germany) MiG-29s whipped American F-16s, including Sidewinder upgrades.
  • BMP family: A group of infantry fighting vehicles, basically lightly-armored APCs with a small tank gun or autocannon, anti-tank missiles and NBC shielding. When the BMP-1 came out, it was a huge shock to NATO planners, who hadn't put a whole lot of thought into the idea of a heavily armed, speedy APC which could keep in formation with main battle tanks. Bristling with antitank missiles, armored machine gun ports and a gun with enough power to damage comparable vehicles, the image of dozens of BM Ps racing across open European fields and disgorging a half dozen troops each was nightmarish. It was light enough to be amphibious, a trait shared with many Russian-designed fighting vehicles.
  • BMD: An offshoot of the BMP series, the BMD was one of the first APCs which had wheels, as well as the capacity to be dropped out of aircraft.
  • The "Katyusha" series of rocket launcher artillery pieces. Incredibly simple and cheap to produce: the launchers are not much more than a couple of metal rails welded together, and the projectiles aren't much harder to make. They were placed on any chassis available, from trucks to tanks, or omitted the chassis altogether. A single launcher was capable of delivering a Macross Missile Massacre to a certain area in a very small amount of time. They were so terrifying that the German troops facing them nicknamed the Katyusha "Stalin's Organ Pipes".
  • Project 941 Akula/"Typhoon": An SSBN (nuclear powered submarine with nuclear missiles), the largest submarine ever created. Seen The Hunt for Red October? That's one of those, albeit with six more missiles in. Definitely a Cool Boat.
  • Project 971 Schuka/"Akula": the current Russian nuclear-powered attack sub; reputedly as quiet as early American 688/Los Angeles class submarines. It can fire a salvo of up to fourteen torpedoes at once. The naming confusion with the Typhoon-class has confused many a naval geek. (Basically, the 941s — the missile boats — came out first and were called "Akula" by the Sovs and "Typhoon" by NATO. Then the 971s — the attack subs — came out and were called "Schuka" by the Sovs and "Akula" by NATO.)
  • Tu-22M "Backfire": A Cool Plane, designed for medium-range anti-shipping and bombing strikes. Gave NATO planners headaches throughout the 1980s.
  • Tu-160 "Blackjack": The supreme Russian Cool Plane, the largest armed military aircraft in service, even heavier than the famous B-52. Soviet equivalent to the B-1B, only longer-ranged and faster and is still manufactured for the Russia Air Force. Famous for its anti-flash finish and variable geometry, earning the nickname "White Swan", an oddly benign name for a supersonic nuclear missile carrier.
  • An-124 "Condor": A strategic transport plane, one of the largest in the world. Useful for humanitarian work as well as military stuff, NATO have actually recently been hiring these from Russian and Ukrainian companies to transport stuff like helicopters and tanks. Development continues, including commercial version.
  • ZSU-23-4 Shilka: A mobile anti-aircraft gun system (just as effective against "soft" ground targets), one of the best in the world due to progressive upgrades despite being first deployed over 45 years ago. Can easily be identified by its quad autocannons.
  • 9K22 Tunguska "Grison": The ZSU-23-4’s successor, combining a pair of 30mm autocannons with a surface-to-air missile system. It was designed specifically to shoot down heavily armored American aircraft like the A-10 and the AH-64 Apache that Shilka couldn't deal with.
  • Lun-class ekranoplan, introduced in 1987 - An ekranoplan is a ground effect vehicle, meaning it hovers above the water. The Lun is gigantic, about the size of the Spruce Goose, and had 6 missile launchers. It flew over the ocean very fast and below radar. Because of budget cuts and the collapse of the Soviet Union, they never went into wide use. The Soviet Union's Crowning Moment of Awesome.

The Soviet Union was really into military parades and flypasts- Moscow's airspace is barred from access totally except for them, frequently having nuclear-capable missiles going through Red Square on events like Victory Day (9 May - the end of the Great Patriotic War in Europe for Eastern Europe due to time zone differences). This tradition of parading hardware, which allowed Western analysts to look at new Soviet tech (although the Soviets didn't say what stuff was called), was discontinued in 1991, but resumed with the Russian military in 2008.

Soviets Do It Differently

It has to be remembered that the Soviet Union had a whole different view of war than NATO, or indeed that of Western-style armies which we find ourselves most familiar with.

While thinking about the Soviet way of war, it is important to avoid mirror-imaging or stereotyping, such as:

  • Believing that the Soviet way of war is nothing more than Zerg Rush and We Have Reserves.
  • Placing Soviet ideas and concepts into Western ones. This can happen, for example when looking how a Soviet battalion (a sub-unit) operates and assuming that the Soviets regard them in the exact same way as a NATO one.
  • Dismissing or belittling unfamiliar ideas as stupid and dumb; Soviet concepts have to be understood within the whole Soviet approach to war.

Without mirror-imaging, the Soviet Union’s military is much different than the stereotypical Red Horde it was often depicted as during the Cold War.

The Soviets differentiated between war and armed conflict; war involves the entire country and society. Armed conflict is the principle form of struggle in war to achieve both military and political strategic goals by the Armed Forces.

The Soviets approached war in a scientific way. Almost everything is given a definition and structured which may look very rigid and inflexible in Western eyes. The fact is that having a base set of definitions makes sure that everyone can easily understand what is being said. For example, when Soviet officers discuss about, say the "the tactics of a bronegruppa (armored group)” there's no uncertainty about--and therefore no need to define what tactics are, or what a bronegruppa is. This is in contrast to Western military circles, where, for example people often have different or conflicting definitions on exactly what is "operational art".

Here are the terms used in understanding Soviet military thought:

  • Military Doctrine: The Soviet politicians’ accepted view on the nature of modern wars and the use of Armed Forces in them, and also on the requirements arising from these views regarding the country and its Armed Forces being made ready for war, based on factors such as threat perceptions or international interests. An example of doctrine would be Gorbachev's "defensive doctrine" of the late 1980s. Once handed down by the leadership, doctrine has the weight of law. It must be noted that this is not the same as our Western definition of "doctrine" used in terms like "tactical doctrine".
  • Military Science: Basically the study of everything pertaining to the preparation and use of the military, including organization, military geography, logistics, and military history. The subset to note is military art. Compared to military doctrine, this area is often subject to debate in Soviet military circles.
  • Military Art: The theory and practice of fighting as a whole. The components of importance are strategy, operational art, and tactics.
    • Strategy: This is the highest component of military art, concerned with the preparation and conduct of war and strategic operations under the context of military doctrine. Applied in actual conflicts strategy determines the strategic missions of armed forces and the necessary forces the achieve these missions.
    • Operational Art: This is the big cornerstone of the Soviet way of war. It is the act of combining the actions of a large number of forces over a significant area of space and time to achieve a strategic aim. Operational art occupies the middle ground between strategy and tactics--something not implemented by Western armies until the 1980s and still poorly understood today. Its relation to tactics is that every battle is fought under the context of an operational plan, and there’s a damn good reason why it is being fought the way it is.
    • Tactics: The laws and principles of employing available means to win battles. In the Soviet view, tactics were conducted by forces at divisional level or lower.
File:USSR diagram 8522.jpg

As Soviet theorist Aleksandr Svechin once said, "Tactics make the steps from which operational leaps are assembled; strategy points out the path".

If a Russian were considering war as a game of chess, then his experience would move him to consider that the West invests a great deal of money and effort into each chess piece, thereby creating highly competent, well motivated, very individualistic and extremely well equipped chess pieces, The Soviet Union, by comparison, he would see as deliberately limiting the capability, initiative and equipment of each individual chess piece, and instead investing a large percentage of her effort in raising a breed of grand masters who could play chess well, understanding and accepting the natural limitations of each piece. The "grand masters" are the operational commanders and their staffs. Once committed to war, theirs is the task of out-thinking and outplaying the opponent. The very limitations of their subordinates add to the strength of their position of command. Their ability to bring fresh sets of chess pieces to the board when the first Soviet set has been lost, would also be seen by a Russian as a great advantage. The nature of the individual chess pieces means that it would be easier for grand masters to execute a change to a plan in the face of the "fog and friction" of war.

Another thing about the Soviets' operational focus was how they dealt with logistics and sustainability. Up front, a Soviet division compared to a NATO division appears to show marked deficiencies in logistical support. The real logistical backbone of the Soviet Army is concentrated at front and army level, which allows operational commanders to ensure resources are not wasted, as might happen in NATO divisions which have the logistical support to undertake any mission, regardless of the division's task. Soviet divisions are supplied to the judgement of front planners; divisions on the main axis and OMGs receive priority support, while those on a secondary axis or defending receive secondary attention. This is one of the factors allowing operational commanders to achieve great flexibility as explained in the chess analogy.

Since the Soviet Union was a continental land power, the ground forces naturally received the most attention of all the other arms. The overall goal of the Soviet Air Force was to provide a third dimension to a land battle. The Soviet Navy as well was intended to provide a flank for the ground forces in the context of a strategic operation, rather than as an independent tool of "power projection" in the mold of the U.S. or Royal Navies. Consequently, the high value that Soviet planners placed on NATO air forces during the Cold War was not because any imagined superiority over their own air power and turn the ground forces into junk; it was because on paper, air power was NATO's most flexible form of operational firepower, which ties in how the Soviets analyzed NATO defenses.

In World War II and the Cold War, the cornerstone of the Soviet design for the offensive was the concept of deep battle and deep operations. Tactical forward and raiding detachments and subsequently operational maneuver groups would be inserted into the enemy's rear at the earliest possible moment. These were to undermine fatally the stability of the defense by seizing depth defense lines before they could be occupied by the enemy, by combating enemy reserves in meeting battles, by destroying the command structure and logistic support on which the front line formations depended to halt the attacker's main forces, and by encircling the enemy's defending groupings. In this way the enemy would be defeated more or less simultaneously in front and rear, and his defense would be collapsed and destroyed rather than merely pushed back to fight again once reinforced from the depth or passive sectors.

By the 1980s, the cornerstone of the Soviet offensive became the theater-strategic operation, which was a framework for achieving strategic military objectives by armed forces in a continental theater of military operations, in the initial period of war (30 days) and without the use of nuclear weapons.

Some words must be said about Soviet nuclear strategy and escalation: Contrary to popular belief, the Soviets would never initiate the use of nuclear weapons in a war. In the context of a conventional war, the Soviets would use nuclear weapons if NATO decided on their mass use first, or if the Soviet homeland was being threatened with a strategic offensive. The Soviets never planned on nuking to "recharge" a bogged-down offensive. The Soviet leadership claimed that NATO use of any nuclear weapon would be responded with all-out nuclear war, but the General Staff considered the possibility of proportionate responses to a limited U.S. attack, although they "doubted that nuclear war could remain limited for long."

The introduction of the SS-20 in 1976 and numerous tactical nuclear weapons since 1980 was not so much about a "no-warning first strike", but to create a nuclear umbrella in which conventional operations could be conducted. By matching NATO at every level of the nuclear escalation ladder, the Soviets intended to send a message that NATO could no longer get itself out of a hole just by using a few nuclear weapons if conventional defense fails. Nuclear parity or superiority on the Soviet side would have created mutual deterrence where both sides would be reluctant to escalate.

Regarding command and control, the Soviets extended their scientific view of war into the decision making and planning processes. It is wrong to view Soviet command and control as a rigid, top-down system without any flexibility. The Soviet view is that it is the scientifically developed methods of decision making and planning that leads to the “right” decisions in combat instead of the intuitive genius of commanders. This view leads to the heavy use of calculated norms, mathematical nomograms and equations that creates uniformity at all levels of command, but is not unduly rigid. The bottom line in Soviet planning is that planning and decision-making requires scientific substantiation. However, commanders need not to undertake calculations rigidly and are only viewed as guidelines for the commander--contrary to the Western stereotype. During the Great Patriotic War, many operational-level commanders were expected, and could adjust to the situation if things were not going to plan.

In the command structure, the one-man centralized control in their view gives flexibility in employment to achieve overall goals and unity of management. On the other hand, the execution of the plans in battle and its management is decentralized. Despite the scientific nature of the Soviet command structure, initiative and flexibility were usually expected of officers (regiment or battalion commanders and up depending on the time) and they would consider anyone making mistakes by simply following the field manual to the letter (following the Western stereotype) to be incompetent.

In Soviet troop control, initiative was not discouraged. The Soviets saw initiative rather differently than the Western way. Soviet initiative requires a commander to pursue every possible option to accomplish the assigned task--within the constraints of military doctrine (and that was broader and more flexible than most people in the West understood). What the Soviets detested was "native wit"--our Western definition of "initiative" as undisciplined and unprofessional daredevil decisions used over a proper planning and a sound framework of thought.

In keeping with this type of thinking, Soviet commanders at all levels use a concept known as 'correlation of forces and means' (or simply correlation of forces) to determine an objective determination of the degree of superiority of one side over the other. In layman's terms it can be expressed as a series of ratios. Contrary to popular belief, this ratio just does not take into account of the quantitative factors of forces, but also qualitative factors, training, terrain, type of combat action being conducted and logistical support.

Soviet military scientists believed that it was possible to achieve victory with a slightly superior, equal, or even inferior overall correlation of forces and means in relation to the enemy. The critical task was to create such a decisive correlation of forces advantage in designated sectors of main effort so that the assigned mission has a high probability of success.

So, how did the the Soviets approached the idea of mass attacks? Linear frontal attacks, used as a big bludgeon were viewed as the least effective means of attacking. Since the mid-1960s, Soviet writers have renounced the possibility or wisdom of conducting classic frontal penetration operations, or "gnawing through" the defense.

Of course, the Soviets could sustain casualties to a higher degree than other armies, but manpower wasn’t inexhaustible. Casualties never something that could be "disregarded". Indeed, "Quantity has a quality of its own.", but only if it is used effectively. Barreling forward as a steamroller with massed forces and no maneuver, or regarding costly frontal attacks as perfectly acceptable was certainly not the way the Soviets would have done things.

To say that the Soviets do not endorse the idea of a small, professional army does not mean that they underestimate the armies concerned. They have a healthy respect, for example, the U.S. V Corps or any of the West German corps. However, they would point out that when the V Corps had been eroded by battle, there is no replacement formation to take its place. When the 8th Guards Army has been eroded in battle, there is a replacement to take its place. Such replacements weren't a case of We Have Reserves, but a fall-back to continue fighting with in the case that 8th Guards Army is no longer a combat-capable force.

  • The pre-Barbarossa wars (with Poland and Finland) exposed the weaknesses of the Red Army. Stalin's 1930s purging of the officer corps destroyed whatever dissent there was and thus strengthened the state, but the quality of the military declined significantly, precisely as important innovation in military art was taking place under Tukhachevsky and others. It took years for training and tactical quality to be regained. However, there was a good showing against the Japanese at Khalkhin Gol.
  • Stalin expected the Germans to attack, but not so soon. The Soviet strategy was to postpone it for as long as possible (to the point of not shooting down reconnaissance planes over their territory), while industrialising and bolstering their forces. From January 1939 to June 1941, Red manpower increased by 132%. But training and readiness was risible; proper mechanisation was slow and their tanks were of mixed quality and poorly maintained. Equipment was initially bad, but improved the quickest, especially in small arms.
  • The initial Soviet defence was shambolic. Enormous reserves were massed on the western border, but they were totally unprepared and hampered in every way; the Germans wiped the floor with them and gained ground quickly. Nonetheless, they soon began to step up the fight, delivering, the stiffest resistance the Germans had ever met, and turned operational and tactical defeats into strategic victory by ensuring that the war would continue. Their response was to retreat while scorching the earth, move all their production capacity east beyond bombing range- much had already been built there for that reason- and mobilise the population on a massive scale (three things the Soviets were good at) while hunkering down in the fortress cities of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.
  • The Germans were geared towards a fast war; they weren't prepared for a two-campaign commitment. It was essential that they capture Moscow as quickly as possible, cutting the Soviet infrastructure in two and destroying its central command; yet Hitler's decision was to first more properly consolidate power in Ukraine and give the soldiers some rest when they should have pushed on. When their army reached the gates of the major cities, they became bogged down in attrition warfare, facing endless waves of cheap troops, while their own expensive ones were ground down. While Russian losses were heavy, the pool of men available to the USSR, fighting on their home ground, meant they could afford to lose them in the First Period. The Germans couldn't. Thus the true turning point of the war was early on, in Kiev. Not Stalingrad or Kursk. This meant the Soviet advantages in economics would be able to counter short-term German advantages in tactical skill and quality.
  • In the First Period of the war, the Red Army had frittered away an enormous numerical advantage because it lacked the skill to deploy and maneuver its forces. During the Second Period, neither side had an overwhelming strategic advantage in numbers, but the Soviets had slowly developed the maneuver and deception skills necessary to create a favorable correlation of forces and means at the critical point. During the Third Period, the Soviets had both the numbers and the skill to crush the Germans, but manpower shortages required a continued emphasis on sophisticated maneuver attacks. Massive frontal assaults occurred but more infrequently, and they were usually examples of incompetence on the part of Soviet commanders. When the Soviets raised the Flag over the Reichstag, it was symbolic of their victory over Germany. They won it through large numbers of superior equipment, fierce fighting, and strategic, operational and tactical excellence.
  • In the Soviet view the common infantryman was still central no matter what technological innovations came about; although they were aware that an attack would come from the air first, they held that the enemy would eventually have to come by land to achieve its ends. Due to the land-based power of the USSR, the Navy was seen as a kind of flank for the Ground Forces - though the 1970s saw attempts at creating oceanic theaters of war and the concept of a separate Air Force was never really embraced - there was nothing in Soviet military history that air power played a decisive role; air power was meant to provide a third dimension to the land battle. Soviet fighters tended to be fighter-bombers or interceptors, with the Su-27 "Flanker" not arriving until 1986. It was also observed in the Great Patriotic War that most firefights occurred at ranges less than 400 yards, so marksmen were generally placed in a squad support role rather than on their own.
  • In the immediate postwar period, the Soviets deployed their forces defensively in the face of an American monopoly in nuclear weapons. Once an offensive was stopped by combined arms armies, armored mobile groups would lead the counteroffensive and develop it into the enemy’s depth. The death of Stalin brought changes in the Soviet Army through Zhukov to make it better to fight on the nuclear battlefield through streamlining units.
  • The 1960s saw a “revolution in military affairs” due to Khrushchev’s decision to make nuclear weapons as the primary weapon in contemporary warfare. Ground forces became tank-heavy and were de-emphasized while aviation and strategic rocket forces received the spotlight. The ouster of Khrushchev changed the Soviet military to fight under “nuclear-scared” scenarios until the late 1980s.
  • The 1970s and early 1980s saw the renaissance of the Soviet Ground Forces through the efforts of Marshal Ogarkov. Operational art and tactics were given the spotlight once more and experiences from the Great Patriotic War were extensively studied; in particular Operation Bagration, the Vistula-Oder Offensive and the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation were seen as most relevant to modern war. Operational maneuver groups and forward detachments reemerged as premier Soviet maneuver forces to preempt enemy nuclear weapon use and to collapse the enemy defense. The theater-strategic operation concept was developed by Nikolai Ogarkov as the primary means of a strategic operation in a theater of military operations to replace the old World War II concept of multiple fronts conducting an offensive. New tactical and theater nuclear weapons were being introduced during this period; by matching NATO at every rung on the ladder of nuclear escalation, the prospects that a war would become mostly conventional or conventional in its entirety was now possible.
  • Gorbachev’s “new thinking” in the late 1980s forced the Soviet General Staff to implement the possibility of defensive operations in military doctrine, which followed in 1988 when the Warsaw Pact adopted a defensive doctrine. In reality the Soviets were looking closely at the new high-precision weapons and electronic information gathering systems the West were fielding by the 1990s, as their widespread use would revolutionize the battlefield, and precision weapons in particular would reach the destructive potential of small nuclear weapons. By 1990 this expanded to a vision of the contemporary battlefield as being non-linear, highly fragmented, and dominated by precision weapons, enhanced conventional munitions and information warfare. However, Soviet technology was weak on the sort of information age (microchips, microprocessors) stuff needed for this sort of new warfare, and the economy weakened by overinflated military spending meant that the Soviets (and to an extent, the Russian Federation) was not capable of adapting to the next revolution in warfare for some time.
  • An important Soviet consideration in any World War III scenario would have been to disrupt NATO's Operation REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany): the much-practised transportation of U.S. forces across the Atlantic to Western Europe to meet with pre-located equipment. This " Second Third Battle of the Atlantic" was a major concern for NATO and has been looked at in a fair few works of media, like Red Storm Rising. However, this wouldn't have been as big a mission as was thought during the Cold War as the Soviets expected to launch as offensive with strategic and operational surprise and REFORGER did not always manage to carry out its mission in a timely manner in practice due to shortages in transport aircraft and shipping.
  • The Soviets had enter into service from 1976 to 1988. Four VTOL aircraft carriers, known to NATO as the "Kiev" class after the first one (The USSR didn't use the first-in-class naming system for their ship types that the U.S. did and does), along with plans for full-length carriers, only one of which, eventually called Admiral Kuznetsov, ultimately entered service. There were plans to introduce 80,000 ton carriers very similar to American vessels in the 1970s, which died soon after Defense Minister Ustinov entered office. These carriers were intended to provide aviation cover and antisubmarine aircraft to support a surface or submarine fleet. They were not intended for "power projection" in the mold of American carriers.
  • The Soviets placed a big reliance on land-based naval aviation, especially anti-ship bombers like the "Backfire". This was as part of their planned defence against a multiple U.S. carrier group attack via the Kola Peninsula and also in the Med. The Soviets had the problem that all their naval access routes to oceans required going past hostile states - Denmark, Turkey, Japan, Norway. However, this may not necessarily be a factor due if the Soviets wanted to keep the Americans out of their waters rather than bursting forth into the open seas.

Communism's A Gas: Chemical and Biological Weapons

The Soviet Union had a considerable chemical weapons programme, including such lovely stuff as VX nerve agent, although little information was available during the Cold War. The U.S. and USSR signed an agreement in 1990 to dismantle the stockpiles, a process that is still ongoing. An incapacitating agent, possibly KOLOKOL-1, would later be used by Russian forces during the 2002 Moscow theatre siege, to disastrous effect.

The Soviet Union also had a biological weaponry programme, including weaponised versions of smallpox and anthrax, conducted by Biopreparat, a "civilian" agency. There were at least two major accidental releases of these, most famously the 1979 Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) anthrax leak. At least 105 died in that incident, with precise figures unknown as a large-scale cover-up was performed to hide poor Soviet health care and major violations of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Both of these programmes are popular sources of a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Girls Just Wanna Shoot Fascists

The female Soviet officer is cited in The Baroness and we note also the example of Major Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me, although she's actually a KGB agent (and a bad Fake Russian, but let's not quibble here). When the chips were down and the Nazis were at the Gates, the women chipped in. Women flew combat and the only two female aces in the world were both Soviet (a fact noted by an American character in Red Storm Rising, mentally complaining that she's merely doing ferrying duty while the men were fighting, who then proceeds to become number three). 89 of them became Heroes Of The Soviet Union.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a famous female sniper, who was eventually pulled from the front line when she became too well-known and used for propaganda purposes. She had more confirmed kills than the above-mentioned Zaytsev.

They also fought in the front line- a number being snipers- and performed other vital tasks.

After the war, most left and it was rather hard for those who stayed. There were still a few there though. Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman in space and the first to do a space walk, was a military test pilot.

Soviet Military Bling

As with any military, there were medals. Here are the more notable military ones (there were civilian ones as well- the USSR had three ranks of medals for having seven or more children). Sadly a lot of these ended up being also given out like candy to any popular Communist (Brezhnev awarded himself four Heroes of the Soviet Union medals, which resulted in quite a few jokes). Many of these are retained by the modern Russian military. The medals Brezhnev gave himself were revoked, though.

Some of the most notable ones:

  • Order of Lenin- given for exemplary service, it was automatically awarded to those made Heroes of the Soviet Union.
    • Given to James Bond in A View to a Kill for saving the American microchip industry (and by extension because of espionage, the Soviet one as well). It's inaccurately stated he's the first non-Soviet to get one.
  • Order of Suvorov- again for exceptional duty. Named after famous general Alexander Suvorov, responsible for the phrase "Train hard, fight easy".
    • When Sydney Bristow pretends to be a Russian officer, she's got a chunk of her equipment disguised as this, plus some other medals.
  • Order of the Red Banner- a military award that could be given to both individuals and formations. It was given to three of the Soviet naval fleets, which meant the Northern Fleet was known as the Red Banner Northern Fleet.
    • Satirised in Animal Farm, with the Order of the Green Banner.
  • Order of Kutuzov- Named after the Marshal who chased Napoleon out of Russia. Notable because it's awarded for "neutralizing enemy tactics and counterattacking effectively." Yes, they have an award expressly for being a sneaky bastard.
  • Order of Victory - Only 20 of these made. Awarded to the top Soviet generals of the Great Patriotic War, as well as to Stalin and some foreign leaders. Montgomery and Eisenhower got one as well. Contains 174 diamonds (although those might be fake) and is worth a lot without the historical value of it.

Generally Famous Soviets

Some members of the Soviet military become well-known names in the West, often because they wrote prolifically.

  • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey Gorshkov: May have have originated the phrase "'Better' is the enemy of 'Good Enough'". Certainly turned the Soviet Navy from a coastal defence force to a blue-water one. Also spent twenty-nine years as head of that navy before retiring and being replaced by his his chief of staff.
    • Appears in The Hunt for Red October and in Captain Ersatz form in the Charles L. Taylor novel Show of Force.
    • Wrote The Sea Power of the State, which was translated into English. This troper used it as a major source for his thesis.
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov: Major player in the Great Patriotic War, he got the Hero of the Soviet Union medal four times (the only person to have done so legitimately). He is popularly believed to have arrested Lavrentiy Beria. Contrary to what Aussies believe, Zhukov was the first man to defeat the Imperial Japanese, and he did it with the neglected, ill-equipped eastern Soviet forces and he then became the first man to force the surrender of a Nazi army. He was a seriously underrated general, and was actually seen by Eisenhower (the man who commanded Montgomery and Patton) as the finest general the Allied forces had to offer. Admittedly, Viktor Suvorov thingk Zhukov was a scam, his memoirs are all falsified and the man was downright malicious the way he squandered Soviet Union's best resource - namely, human blood. Read "The Last Parade", for one - revised editions of Zhukov's memoirs published after his death? Yep, propaganda at its finest.
  • Colonel Yuri Gagarin: The first man in space.
  • Major-General Valentina Tereshkova: The first woman in space, originally an amateur parachutist and textile worker.
  • Viktor Suvorov: Not his real name, known in western history and military circles, and also quoted at the top. A former GRU officer. Claims he fled to the West due to danger of arrest, although former coworkers and superiors deny he was in danger. Well-known as a proponent of the theory that the USSR intended to invade Germany (instead of the reverse). While an interesting take on a pivotal historical moment, it is generally discounted among most professional historians. He had a very bad habit of spinning things. For example, whenever the situation he painted started looking too grim for the West, he would suddenly bring up some excuse along the lines of "don't worry, they surrender by the millions the day the first shot was fired". He also described lots of stuff that demonstrably didn't happen, such as GRU doing live fire practice missions on Russian and other WarPac targets, meaning that the Soviets would infiltrating their own defenses and killing their own men. He also described issues with training Soviet soldiers who somehow didn't speak Russian, despite Russian being the language of entertainment, schools, government, and business. No, not Polish soldiers, not Romanian soldiers, not German soldiers, Hungarian soldiers, but Soviet soldiers. Even the furthest flung Soviets were from areas with high Russian language prevalence for centuries thanks to the Russian Empire. This would be like a Mexican executive complaining about being unable to find employees who speak Spanish.
  • Let's not forget Leon Trotsky, the man who founded the Red Army. Despite being an intellectual with almost no military experience, Trotsky proved to be a Badass Bookworm in leading the Red Army to victory over the many forces that wanted to depose the Bolsheviks after they seized power in the Russian Revolution. He's also an example of Authority Equals Asskicking, given his prominent position in Vladimir Lenin's government and the fact that he was Lenin's preferred choice to succeed him as head of the Soviet Union.
  • Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai Ogarkov: Serving as Chief of General Staff from 1977-1984, he was the man most responsible for reforming the Soviet Army into a force that was capable of winning a conventional war by the 1980s--through renewing emphasis on operational art and tactics, and developed the concept of the theater-strategic operation. Outside of Western military circles he is well known for being the spokesman following the KAL 007 incident.

The Soviet Military in Fiction

During the Cold War, Reds with Rockets were easily usable bad guys (often Mooks - they're positively churned through in a battle in The Living Daylights) for Western media, although a few good ones could turn up (in an episode of MacGyver, a Soviet soldier who Mac earlier spared lets him and two others leave Afghanistan). There are probably tonnes of Soviet and Russian examples with them as heroes.

Spetsnaz units have become legendary in popular culture, acquiring a reputation for brutality and being quite a cut above your average military member.

Another trope is that any foreign aircraft, even obviously civilian ones, is instantly attacked by the Soviet Air Defense Force with no challenges or questions.

  • Averted in the MacGyver episode "To Be A Man", where Mac is told multiple times to identify himself. Then again, he could hardly say "Ya amerikanskii spion" ("I am an American spy") and he was flying an aircraft that looked military...
  • As previously mentioned, some Truth in Television there; witness the 1983 shootdown of KAL 007. They might have mistaken it for an American ELINT aircraft. And later they let Matthias Rust through, possibly deliberately to some extent, to land his Cessna in Red Square. A real-life aversion of sorts was the case of Stanislav Petrov, who in 1983 was an officer with the missile warning people; the Soviet early warning satellite system picked up a launch (in reality it wasn't actually a launch, of course, but if I recall sunlight being reflected off of clouds in the early morning or something along those lines) and because he was aware of this and the circumstances (the US, if it were launching a pre-emptive strike, wouldn't just launch two or three missiles from silos in North Dakota, but probably start things out with SLBM and cruise missile attacks...and there'd be a *lot* more ICBMs launched from silos...) refused to alert his superiors. He may have prevented a civilization-shattering nuclear exchange; however, he was reprimanded by his superiors. Eventually, years later, he was given a cash award by some do-gooders; he used it to buy a vacuum cleaner, which broke. Ha ha..."I prevented a global strategic thermonuclear exchange, and all I got was this stupid vacuum cleaner." Ha ha.
    • KAL 007's shooting down might be a slight aversion of the trope, at least in partial respect: while the aircraft was most definitely shot down, four bursts of more than 200 warning shot rounds were fired by the aircraft that intercepted the liner. Then again, it was night, and 747s do not have night vision equipment.
      • If you read the details of the case, it soon becomes apparent that KAL 007's crew were being criminally negligent and incompetent... if the Soviets hadn't shot the flight down, their extreme (and completely unnoticed) navigational error may have downed the flight anyway. The Russians made numerous attempts to contact the airliner, none of which were noticed. Then again, they also shot down the flight when it was clearly departing Russian airspace...
      • Nor does it help that the U.S. military makes extensive use of civilian airliner bodies for "command and control" type planes.
      • For KAL 007, the communications problems between the Far East Air Defense command and the commanders in Moscow would be very similar to say, an air defense system in Western Europe and the commanders on North America's West Coast.

As mentioned in Improperly Placed Firearms, you will sometimes see 1980s Soviet soldiers wielding AK-47s, when in reality they'd been mostly replaced by AK-74s.

Another common sub-trope is the Soviet military being equipped with stuff that a) was beyond its technology at the time, b) was beyond anyone's technology at the time or c) beyond the state of military technology even today. Can you say Firefox? Partly this was because the West over-estimated Soviet tech levels.

There's another trope- "Red Star Added For Your Convenience"- adding Red Stars to ID something as Soviet where there would not be on in real life- usually on pilots' helmets (Airwolf for example).

Every Red With Rocket is a graduate of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. The origin of this trope is also a difference in rifleman training. USA riflemen favor semiautomatic fire unless in emergencies. Soviet riflemen were trained to use control and to squeeze off bursts of automatic fire about 5-6 rounds long, at least at the start of an engagement, and gradually choke it down as the enemy weakened and they no longer needed overwhelming fire superiority.

  • The More Dakka design philosophy continued with the AK-47 family. As stated above, AKs are extremely reliable and easy to obtain, but they are also among the less accurate assault rifles out there.
  • Pyotr Grigorenko in his memoirs (In the underground you can meet only rats) described a fight in Hungary when one soldier (already a veteran of WWI and general's bodyguard chosen for experience, but still) made a difference because he refused to replace his rifle (probably Mosin, ironsights only) with SMG - he thought More Dakka was a trademark of Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, and had a chance to demonstrate this. The soldier chose a good position and proceeded to serenely pick off targets without misses and scoring only non-lethal called shots at a distance over 200 m, which was far too much for others - and SMG-rattling foes couldn't do anything about it other than to back off and take cover.

One of the few Western examples of the Soviet military as good guys is Enemy at the Gates, which is set during the Second World War, when the USSR were good guys, at least compared to Those Wacky Nazis so to speak.

During the Red October era they coexisted (and fought) with Russians With Rifles. They won: rocket beats rifle, doesn't it? With the collapse of the USSR we now have Tricolours With Rusting Rockets.

Particularly notable depictions of Reds with Rockets include Red Dawn (supported by Cubans) and Command & Conquer: Red Alert.