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 (though their military rockets did lead to their early space program successes).
Largely a conscript force, unlike the USA's more volunteer force (at least after the Vietnam War). 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). 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 and used cheaper (i.e. weaker) materials for everything, e.g. hull armour. Thus, say, the BMP-2 that Egypt operated was a much different beast than the BMP-2 that the Soviets themselves had.
From its establishment in 1917 to February 1946, the ground component of the Soviet armed forces was known as the Red Workers and Peasants' Army, usually shortened to the Red Army. From February 1946 until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 it was known as the Soviet Army.
In retrospect, from '45 'til the late '80s NATO's various military forces would've been unable to defend Western Europe from a Soviet offensive operation to take it, not least because NATO would've failed to use their inferior numbers as a unified forcenote For political reasons, Western Germany's politicans insisted on using some if not most of their forces to defend their peace-time borders... which were often totally indefensible, let alone the fact that (because they were right on the border) they could quite easily be encircled, trapped in pockets, and 'digested' by Soviet Army forces 3-20 times their size and eliminated with minimal Soviet losses. and they had no idea what the Soviets' real plan was - a massive knock-out blow to split NATO's forces in half on the North German Plain and then crush the isolated northern pocket before moving on to break up and finish off what was left. 'Unable, that is, save for using nuclear weapons. Soviet documents from the time show that they themselves were unaware of just how vulnerable their enemies really were against them, as they assumed that NATO would overcome its political divisions and adopt a unified command system in the event of war. That said, tensions between the alliances were low throughout this period until the "Second Cold War" of 1979 onward, which saw the first proper (i.e. intense) arms race between the two. It was only in the very last year or two of the '80s that NATO might actually have been able to slow (or even halt!) a Soviet Army offensive, as their newest weapons were becoming lethal enough to make up for their inferior numbers, intelligence, planning, and co-ordination/leadership.
The former Sovietologist Christopher Donnelly has likened the Cold War to two players preparing for a game of chess, in which NATO focused on crafting the best pieces possible...and the USSR focused on becoming a Grand Master.
NATO's fixation on military technology - a result of their thriving free-market arms companies - has led us to picturing Soviet-NATO strength as a question of vehicles and equipment, rather than one of two massive organisations of people with various skills, information, and plans trying to outwit one another. Broadly, the Soviets focused on fighting simple and fighting smart - using simple and easy to maintain weapons, focusing on logistics, planning, and leadership. NATO focused instead on researching and producing the most advanced weaponry possible... which in reality was only ever slightly more effective than that used by the Soviets, and was more than offset by their inferior numbers and maintenance problems. In particular, NATO's focus on weapons technologynote i.e. guns that fired (and used ammunition) 10% faster, had 10% more range, had 10% greater penetrating power, were 100% more expensive, and would in the West Germans' case would be used by troops outnumbered 3-20 to one (the Soviets having concentrated their forces to make breakthroughs deep into the enemy rear and then encircle+digest them) did nothing to offset the fact that it assumed it could improvise strategic solutions to the (simple, but devastatingly clever) campaign plans that the Soviets would make months and years in advance and in agonising (and astonishingly accurate) detail. This might still have been alright for NATO if they hadn't also assumed that The Soviet Army's commanders were a pack of gibbering morons who would squander their superior numbers in massive and easily-countered frontal assaults evenly along the entire front without having concentrated their superior forces in any one place a la 'Human Wave Tactics', an impression the Soviets bemusedly encouraged.
The numbers 'are' impressive, though, and it's easy to see why NATO was so obsessed with countering them - even if they did it in completely the wrong way. 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. Despite the relative poverty of her country and simplicity of her weapons, everyone agrees that the Red Army was still vastly superior to the dreadful armies fielded by the Russian Empire as part of the Etente in World War One - for though the Tsar's armies had only been slightly less well-equipped than those of the Allies, her army had still been organised on 19th century lines and logistics, planning, and leadership were alternately neglected and screwed over by a chain of command which never made it clear who exactly was in charge of what and whomnote leading to supply-hoarding, reinforcement-hoarding, and inter-army rivalry to the detriment of the overall war effort. This is because the Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery remained completely separate forces that did not work together AT ALL, and the Ministry Of War and the General Staff did not co-operate on running the war effort either... not to mention the critical imbalance of work-loads between the ranks, with some ranks being impossibly overworked (even in peacetime!) and others having almost no work to do at all . This is largely because the Red Army that emerged from the Russian Civil War was reformed (having been forged out of the shattered remnants of the Tsar's armies) specifically to counter The Whites' unreformed forces by being the pinnacle of a well-organised, efficient, ultra-modern and free-thinking military forcenote The Soviets took 'military science' extremely seriously, to the point that it was the only academic field in the country which was never censored ''at all'. 'Never', that is, with the exception of Stalin's purge of the Red Army itself in 1937-39. Though the purge only removed some 4-8% of the total officer corps, the best and most able commanders and thinkers (chiefly Tukhachevsky) were killed/imprisoned in disproportionately high numbers. .
The Key Components
RVSN (Raketnye voyska strategicheskogo naznacheniya - 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 - The people with Kalashnikovs. Had many nuclear weapons 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.
VVS (Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily - lit. "Military Air Force") - The people with the bombers and therefore quite the share of nukes.
The VVS was divided into the Long Range Aviation which was the actual organization responsible for the air-delivered nuclear weaponry, 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 and many nuclear weapons that went with them, including four VTOL aircraft carriers with 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. They were considered a sort of elite among the Soviet armed forces, beingroughly USMC or USCM Force Recon equivalent. They are not the equivalents of the U.S. Army Rangers. That distinction belongs to VDV below.
VDV (Vozdushno-Desantnye Voiska - "Airborne Troops") - Eight divisions of paratroopers (one training) which was (and still is) directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defence. Had their own version of the BMP-series Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the BMD-series. They also wore the signature blue berets. They were (and are) a separate branch of service comparable to U.S. Army Rangers in both eliteness and Blood Knight attitude.
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 Troops (Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya - "Special Purpose Troops") - 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 the 19th century, long before Red October. Designed by Captain Sergei Mosin and Belgian Léon Nagant, c.37 million were built. It may look outdated when compared with semi-auto rifles of 1930s, and it was, but it's also powerful and precise. 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 II, 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 minor problem - seriously exaggerated by 'every' relevant military organisation note i.e. the Dukes of the Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery as well as the General Staff and the Ministry Of War to avoid the critical need to reform the military and fire numerous senior commanders - 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 $120 at most gun stores in the US compared to at least a few hundred dollars for a typical bolt-action rifle. the Mosin is often a first purchase or hobby gun for those who don't feel like dumping money into the shooting hobby. Ammunition can be bought in "spam cans" by the hundreds of rounds, too. If (and only if) the gun had the barrel grooves in good shape and is properly maintained and fed very good ammo, it can fire almost as good as Olympic target rifles.
The Nagant remained in active use by the Soviet Union by guards and rear area troops for the entirety of its history. It is still given to marksman and snipers in limited numbers by the Russian Federation. It is very unlikely that this gun will be truly retired anytime soon
PPSh-41 - or, among other names, the "Pah-Pah-Shah" (due to that being the spelling in Russian). It's known for its massive drum magazine which was copied from a Finnish model and could carry 71 rounds (although the gun could make use of 35-round box magazines as well). Developed during World War II to replace PPD-40 submachine gun with something better suited for mass production (like Grease gun vs. Tommy Gun) and around 6 million were produced. It proved to be very popular with Soviet soldiers despite some drawbacks, such as its length, weight and outdated wooden furniture with rifle grip.
If you're played a World War II game involving the Red Army (but notBattlefield 1942), you will almost certainly have "fired" this at some point.
Notable for having too muchdakka. 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.
PPS-43 - The forgotten half-brother of the PPSh-41. Created in response to a requirement for a shorter and lighter submachine gun, the PPS-43 turned out to be even easier to make: it cost half the amount of steel required to make a PPSh-41 and could be assembled in two thirds the time with even less skilled labour involved. Due to its use of a folding stock and pistol grip as well as its lower cyclic rate of fire, it was also much easier to handle as well. For reasons that have partly to do with the fact that most of them were built at Leningrad (which was under siege by the Germans for over three years), the PPS-43 was not as widely used as its more famous counterpart. Still, very few guns manage to come close to the PPS-43's level of simplicity, and over 2 million were made by the Russians alone. They were used extensively by the Vietnamese.
AK-47 - The world famous AK. Most produced firearm in history. Scoring probably millions of kills for its users. Appears on the flags of Mozambique and Hezbollah. In fiction, used by every terrorist group going and of course, the Reds With Rockets. However, in a bizarre Real Life case of A.K.A.-47, what most people would think are AK-47's are actually the AKM, an updated version created in 1959(whereas the most definitive classic "AK 47" would be the circa 1955 Type III milled receiver). Alternatively, they could actually mean the Chinese Type 56. The only meaningful differences are the Chinese markings versus Russian markings, a commonly provided swivel for the flip-out bayonet à la SKS (which in Chinese production is called the Type 56 carbine despite the SKS and AK having little relation, as China began production of both weapons in 1956), and that the front sight has an enclosed hood like the SVT-40, instead of the open top of the true AK.
Also, "AK-47" is not its real designation. The correct way to call this gun is just "AK". You hit the Fandom Berserk Button of Russian military buffs if you call it "AK-47". It's said that the "47" suffix came about because Western intelligence were essentially fond of classifying stuff with appending the decade of design/manufacture behind the base name, to the point where it stuck even amongst Russians in later years.
Don't forget its brother the AK-74. Better accuracy, easier handling, and less weight(similar to the AKM due to stamped steel manufacture), but it's not even half so famous despite being essentially a re-chambered AKM. Even many gun people don't know much about it other than that the 4 and the 7 are in reverse order. Google annoyingly treats it as a misspelling of 47.
This rifle(AK-74) uses the 5.45x39 round that was developed in 1971 because the United States used the 5.56x45 cartridge in Vietnam and the Soviet command was worried that maybe the capitalists had developed something better than the traditional 30 cal. Mikhail Kalshnikov opposed the new round and the new weapon(to be fair, AK-47 delivered great results in Vietnam War compared to M16). However, the new gun was found to be much more accurate than the AKM and had an extremely flat trajectory over distance and accuracy on part with the M16. Thus it was adopted as the new standard issue rifle of the Soviet Army. The AK-74's round has drastically-reduced recoil compared to the AKM(or any 7.62mm AK for that matter), and features one of the best muzzle compensators in the business, giving it almost comparatively zero recoil. The magazines for the AK-74 are usually made of polymer and are much less dramatically curved than comparably-sized 7.62x39 magazines due to the slimmer round's less noticeable taper. 5.56x45mm magazines for respectively chambered AK variants, like the AK-101, are similarly less curved.
The 7N10(1992 improvement of the original 5N7) round used by the Soviet Union in the AK-74 is notoriously deadly and effects for an FMJ round. 5.45 bullets are extremely narrow but fairly long. It has a hollow cavity in the nose of bullet that not only simulates the ability of soft point bullets to mushroom inside targets, but it also puts most of the weight in the back of the projectile, so the bullet is very stable in fight, but will tumble very quickly in flesh and wreck much more tissue than its small size would indicate. This is why it is famously called the "PoisonBullet". The round was developed with two requirements. #1: Not suffer any decrease in lethality from the 7.62x39 round. #2: Use the same 39mm casing length.
Despite being in existence and service for nearly 40 years by a global power, people seem to think that Russia still uses the AK-47.
The Russians were the ones who mainly got the use the 74. The satellite states either received only very limited amounts of 5.45 guns, made only a few of them before the Soviet Union Collapsed, or never had them at all.
Even today, certain units in the Russian army uses the AK-103, a descendant firing the same 7.62x39mm round.
The most common AK in Russian service is the AK-74M(typically black furniture, standard side-mount rail, and side-folding non-skeletal stock), chambered for 5.45x39mm. Lots of older AKs, AKMs and other Kalashnikov models are stockpiled in storage facilities to arm conscripts in case of war or police emergencies.
Most Soviet AK rifles aren't Russian. Most of them were locally-produced variants with different names but no functional (and only very minor cosmetic) differences.
Some AK variants aren't even traditional AKs. The Finnish Rk.62 and Rk.95 TP are arguably AKs "as-they-should-have-been". Giving these rifles a sturdy milled receiver combined with double the original AK sight radius blesses the rifle and shooter with accuracy competitive with the average AR-15A2. The Israeli Galil is the Rk.62 in either 5.56 or 7.62 NATO, featuring several variants of compactness, with the default ARM version being a Swiss Army Knife gun capable of cutting barbed wires and opening bottle caps.
The RPK, with a thicker receiver similar to the original Type III AK 47 receiver, and a longer and thicker barrel. Meant to be the squad auto weapon, using either extended AK magazines or drums that hold about 75 rounds. Contrast with the earlier, belt-fed RPD it replaced.
The RPK-74 is the 5.45x39mm variant that came along with the AK-74.
The Iraqi Tabuk, which is a semi-auto RPK designed to operate within the lower confines of the SVD, making the Tabuk a "mini-SVD" of sorts.
The Romanian PSL, commonly mistaken as the "Romanian Dragunov" on account of its visual resemblance to the SVD (the PSL being an AK/RPK design, the SVD being its own with only cosmetic similarity to the AK) or the "FPK". Using fully-powered 7.62x54R on a lengthened RPK receiver, a pair of trained hands can use this to match the accuracy of the SVD even.
The Yugo M76 by Zastava. Another RPK-based semi-auto support rifle slash make-shift sniper rifle, this one uses the full-power 7.92x57mm aka 8mm Mauser of WWII German fame. Then came the later M95, which switched over to the Russian cartridge, most likely due to 8mm supply issues.
The only exception to this rule is the Czech VZ.58. It is visually very similar to the Kalashnikov. However, all the similarities other than its calibre are purely external. The VZ.58 is completely different mechanically to the point where the VZ cannot even share magazines with the AK.
Ditto also with the Chinese Type 81. Cosmetic relative to the classic AK, but very different operating mechanics inside. Probably has more in common with the VZ.58(both of them being of the "short-stroke" variety) in terms of the internals, than the AK. Same for the non-interchangeable magazines.
SKS, actually came into production just before the end of WW2, and was fielded with mixed results in limited trials near the end of the war. Though accepted as standard issue rifle of the Soviet Army in 1949, its service life was Cut Short by the arrival of the AK-47, which took over in 1956. While the SKS is chambered with the same round as the AK-47, its slightly longer barrel and higher manufacturing quality makes it more accurate than its counterpart, especially at longer ranges.
China, as well as many Soviet Republics, gave it a second chance by continuing to produce and issue the gun into the 1970s. The Chinese made the completely unimaginatively designed and named Type 56, which is their copy of the SKS. Many othe countries made their own versions. Some variants, such as the "Type D", can accept 7.62x39 AK magazines, and other variants have a grenade launcher built into them. Before you freak out, the grenade launcher is meant for firing rifle grenades, and just looks like a big muzzle break, recoil compensator, or flash hider.
The Chinese Type 56 carbines have a reputation of being able to be assembled wrongly, resulting in an exceedingly protruding firing pin that WILL cause a slam-fire upon chambering that keeps cycling until the magazine runs empty.
Another thing to note about the SKS is that it is allowed practically in any country where a semiautomatic rifle is legal, even in places where owning such weapons involves considerable legal hassles. One of the main reasons why is that it can easily conform to legal requirements. In the United States, an SKS is classified as a "Curio & Relic", meaning that it can be sold without modification, while in Canada, magazines can be simply pinned to five rounds. The other main reason is that it is also cheap and plentiful for a semiautomatic rifle: the days of the $100 SKS are long over, but they are still commonly available in the $300-400 range.
Like the AK-47, the SKS has an unbelievable market for customization. You can add detachable magazines, rifle grenade launchers, folder "pig-sticker" bayonets (which were standard on some models), enhanced sights, even convert them to futuristic bullpup-configuration.
Domestically, the SKS is still famous for being used often in Soviet cinema, and thanks to a reluctance to throw anything away, polished and buffed SKS rifles being the standard honor guard weapon in Russia and most CIS countries to this day.
Before the SKS, the designer, Simonov, had worked on the AVS-36. It chambered the full power rifle cartridge for an automatic firearm. He then used that experience to design the SKS around the full power cartridge, even if it was only going to chamber the weaker one, resulting in a very strong action that is never over-taxed.
Makarov PM - Standard pistol of Soviet guys and popular in real life too. Derived in part from the German Walther PP. As an "AK" handgun, this self-defense pistol replaced early TT combat pistol as a standard sidearm after WWII. Now being replaced among with the Yarygin PYa- also known as the MP-443 "Grach" ("rook").
SVD (Dragunov) - Soviet sniper riflenote It was not originally meant to be one, at least not in the Western sense (Soviet doctrine didn't make a clear distinction between "sniper rifle" and "designated marksman rifle"). However since it can take on the job while in trained hands..., an AK-styled SLR on the outside with completely different mechanic in the inside with a longer barrel, short-stroke gas system (whereas the AK is considered "long-stroke", and a distinctive stock, chambered in 7.62x54mm (Like the old Mosin Nagants). Unlike most Western sniper rifles, it's mostly used for medium range fire support (like the M14) as a Designated Marksman Rifle. It was the first sniper/designated marksman rifle to be designed from the ground up for that purpose instead of adapted from an existing infantry or hunting rifle. Today, the current SVDs appear in truncated models, like the "Tigr".
The SVT-40 is probably one of the least famous rifles of the WW2 era. It was originally going to be made to replace the Mosin-Nagant, which had been around since the 19'th century. The SVT-40 featured 10 round detachable magazines and a receiver top that could be opened so as to allow the user a choice between reloading the gun by inserting a fresh magazine, or by loading another clip directly in the mag. For convenience, the SVT-40 was both chambered in the 7.62x54R caliber as the Mosin-Nagant, and it could also be loaded with with the same stripper clips that the Mosin-Nagant used. However, Hitler had to order an invasion of the Soviet Union and Stalin had to choose between having a severe weapon shortage and a semiautomatic rifle, or a much less severe short-term weapon shortage and a bolt action rifle. The SVT-40 was a semiautomatic-only update of the SVT-38, which was an experiment in the automatic rifle concept (the AVS-36 and the 1916 Fedorov rifle preceding it).
Said concept ultimately failed because nobody could be reasonably expected to control a full-powered rifle on fully automatic. Also, automatic fire had a frightening tendency to bend the operating rod and make the gun useless. This was noted to be particularly severe in the initial SVT-38, not to mention the average peasant rifle handling skills of the typical conscript at the time.
There were also exceedingly rare variants, like the full-auto capable AVT-40, and the shorter SKT-40.
The SVT-40 also failed to live up to the reliability needs of the Soviet Soldier. This didn't stop the Soviet Union from throwing scopes on them using these exceptionally accurate guns as sniper rifles in properly trained hands.
The Soviet Marines had a very long successful working relationship with the SVT-40, using them well after the war.
Weirdly enough, The Wehrmacht often appropriated captured SVT's (they designated it as Gewehr 259r) and used them to bolster their total lack of semiautomatic rifles, and then late used them because there simply was woefully insufficient supply of their own Gewehr 43 semiautomatic rifles (the earlier Gewehr 41 design being discovered totally unsuitable for the rigors of combat, and the Germans learned a lot from the design of the SVT that was incorporated into the G43).
The DP light machinegun. That gun by which many might recognize from its pan-shaped top-mounted magazine, similar to the American Lewis. Fires full power 7.62x54R like the old Soviet 1910 Maxim guns, except the DP is easily portable by one man. Has variants like the DPM and the belt-fed RP-46.
The RPD(sometimes RPD-44) light machinegun. Also using the 7.62x39 cartridge as part of that cartridge's "family of weapons", these have also been pretty substantial military surplus/aid equipment. Egyptian Marines◊ and Vietnamese guerrillas for example, have been documented to wield these. Also appears in modern-themed Call of Duty games in tricked out, "Tacticool" flavour. Replaced by the RPK in Soviet service.
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 worldwide armed forces both real and fictional. The version that breaks down into two pieces is the paratrooper model. Also notable in that its functional simplicity has caused a US arms company, Airtronic, to make their own copy of it. It is still loosely considered a rocket-propelled design because of the second stage rocket boost that ignites after the first (designed to shoot the warhead forward a safe distance upon firing). Contrast with the earlier RPG-2, which did not have a booster (hence drastically shorter effective range and accuracy) and thus is merely a "recoilless gun" by definition.
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 (but not as often because the SA-7 is cheaper and more widely available).
You Too Can Own 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 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.
Because Mikhail Kalashnikov never took out a patent, and designed the weapon from the start with simplicity of manufacture and ease of mass production in mind, the AK can made by any professional metalwork facility. And it is. The AK has 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. Most "AK" rifles in the world aren't even Russian, let alone Soviet!
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 looks, nasty armor, not enough fuel to reach the front line and about as comfortable to drive as a tractor. 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. It has also been said that due to their cramped interiors and stiff controls, the ideal pilot or driver would be a competitive-rowing coxswain (or, in the USA, a 'midget quarterback'). Only the part about fuel is distinctly untrue, as many vehicles had equivalent or greater range than their Western counterparts so their vehicles could make deep advances into the enemy's rear areas once they'd broken through. Whatever the case, Commie hardware sure is tough and keeps going under the most adverse of conditions, with plenty of spare parts to hand and maintenance being relatively simple.
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 lower profile (i.e. not as tall) and therefore not as big a target, and considerably lighter (the BMP-2 transport is literally half the weight of its American M3 Bradley counterpart). For similar reasons, a lot of it is amphibious - thereby eliminating the need for actually establishing bridges for anything but supply purposes and again assisting in breakthroughs and deep penetration note Broadly speaking, offensive operations into western Europe would mean a general westward advance by forcing spearheads through (and encircling) NATO forces defending the region's numerous south-to-north rivers.
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. This philosophy carried forward over time and into areas as disparate as rocket science. Vostok space capsules were tiny, so the first Russian cosmonauts were also small; Yuri Gagarin was about 5'5", whereas American astronauts Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong were 5'11" and 5'9" respectively. This is another reason to bring in the ladies (see below), as 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 derivatives originally based on Soviet designs. The relatively poor performance of such hardware against Western armed forces in recent conflicts is largely due to the fact that the Soviets only ever gave their client states and casual-customers cheap and nasty versions of their real vehicles - only the few Warsaw Pact countries which bordered NATO actually got the proper stuff. While this practice is not uncommon in the international arms trade, it was particularly pronounced with the Soviets - their tanks, for instance, did not only use less sophisticated equipment (e.g. sights, radios) but also thinner armour made with cheaper (and weaker) alloys. It's also worth noting that such export vehicles were, as is the norm in the arms trade, often several generations behind current military equipment - and given their usual clients (i.e. struggling third-world warlord-domains), were rarely as well-maintained as they should be. All this would be okay if the tanks were used by an effective military organisation with adequate logistics and communications, leadership and planning, and training - which, again given who the usual clients were, was pretty damn rare.
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 (Monkey Model Export) 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, particularly at its high angle-of-attack capabilities, passive infrared scanner, and helmet-mounted missile sighting system. 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 and can hold their own against Western counterparts.) 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; due to shortage of funds, they are holding off decisions on a MiG-29 replacement until the T-50 program as stabilized.) After the collapse of the USSR, both the Flanker and Fulcrum have gone on to be flown by Russians with Rusting Rockets.
Tachanka: Before the Red Army became famous for its armored divisions crushing Eastern Europe underfoot, it had to win the Russian civil war first, especially the crucial steppes of the Don and the Volga. The first in a long series of simple, effective, and easy to mass-produce Russian designs was the Tachanka; a traditional horse-drawn carriage or wagon with a heavy machine gun in the back. These proved extremely useful against enemy cavalry, and were an early attempt to provide the crucial combination of firepower and mobility that the Soviet Union would come to rely upon in later years, giving the RKKA the ability to cover about 100km per day, which was fast for the late 1910s. Interestingly, several sources attribute its invention not to the Bolsheviks, but to Nestor Makhno's anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine.
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.
The T-34 concept had been the soundest ever fielded up to 1945: a tank designed in the late 1930s could have been either a heavy, lumbering monster (T-35, Char B1) or manoeuvrable, but lightly armored (Somua S-35, BT, Pzkpfw 38(t), Pzkpfw III, Pzkpfw IV), while a tank designed with the experience or the 1940-1941 campaigns in mind could have been either cheap, lightly armed and built by the thousands, or complex, nearly unbeatable in the field, heavily armed, ran by men like Wittmann, but just as expensive as its weight in gold. Modern designs like British Comet came too late to be meaningful in war. Only two projects matched every requirement (speed, armor, gun, manoeuvrability) and asked for more: M24 Chaffee and T-34, and the last got it right due to the engine, above all: the only 400-500hp tank engine which could be made to tip the scales at just 750kg dry weight. Before the British Meteor engine came, which was stronger and lighter. All other 1941-vintage engines weighed 1000-1200-1500kg easily, while the Chrysler Multi-Bank engine in the Sherman weighed a ridiculous 2384kg (5244lbs!).
However, the T-34 design and craftsmanship was frequently miserable: engines which died after 350km (and not 350 thousand, as people may believe) in the field, transmission levers which stuck and had to be tapped with a hammer, small and light, but also harsh and imprecise clutch-brake steering , armor made from cheap steel, few carried radios and some built in 1940 had to communicate via flags, cramped two-men turret in T-34/76, rubberless track wheels and links and so on. It was truly meant to be built with regards to quantity only.
As a consequence of poor planning and hasty adoption, build quality was ridiculously variable (to the point where incompatibility of parts was called into question) before war. Some factories were known to produce T-34 tanks finished as well, or even better, than anything manufactured in Germany or France, while others produced tanks with serious flaws in design. In certain years, this problem became so bad that design lines from the same factory could have this problem. The miracle of the tank not being retired from service after this sort of disaster probably had to do with the chassis' flexibility for other purposes (for highly effective tank destroyers, for example), and all T-34s, even the lemons, featuring points that revolutionized German tank design when the war started (like wide tracks, sloped armor, and small target profile).
T-54/T-55: The most produced tank in history, with up to 100,000 built and many still in use. Still offered as an inexpensive (at least in theory) tank to smaller tank forces with a ridiculous number of options (for example, the option for a very powerful cannon-fired missile...which cost as much as a third of the tank).
Technologically, the T-55 offered two notable firsts: it was the first tank to make use of explosive-reactive armor and active-protection systems (dubbed drozd), two Soviet inventions. The former eventually revolutionized tank design worldwide.
In the film, it is mean to be a T80U, but the Russian government wouldn't just lend out its advanced frontline vehicles (the bastards!), so the crew took a T-54 and glued cardboard boxes to it to look like reactive armor.
T-62: Was designed mainly as a hasty reaction to Western developments like the Centurion and M47/M48 Pattons. The Soviets were feeling insecure about their T-55's 100m gun and its power compared to the British L 7 A 3 105mm gun(which continues to be very effective to present day). Since the T-55 chassis didn't permit feasible fitting of a larger cannon, the Soviets did a new tank altogether, while very similar looking, traded strengths and weaknesses in various areas compared to the T-55:
While having overall thicker frontal armor, roof armor was actually thinner, thus increased susceptibility to airburst munitions.
The first Main Battle Tank(then still classified by the Soviets as a Medium Tank) to use a smoothbore gun, and the only combat vehicle with a 115mm gun. The odd thing about it was that the gun needed to be brought back to about three degrees elevation every time it has to reload, slowing down the effective rate of fire.
The biggest slap-in-the-face was that improved 100mm rounds for the T-55 arrived at about the same time(even if slightly later) as the T-62, which put the D-10 100mm gun into more or less the same league as the Western L7A3, effectively defeating the purpose of designing the T-62 in the first place(which was to get a more powerful gun onto a tank to match the 105mm L7). As a result, the T-62 was never that much the export success like the T-55; most of the T-55 wielding militaries never really saw any justifiable gains for the cost of the new tank, especially once the new 100mm rounds started to circulate.
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.
It has been documented in some sources that the T-64 was even more of a rush job than the T-62, made to quickly respond to the American M60, German Leopard, French AMX-30, the multitudes of upgraded Centurions, all using the highly effective 105mm L7A3(or M68 in the case of the M60). But especially the Centurion's replacement, the Chieftain. Featuring thick, highly-sloped frontal armor on both glacis plate and turret front, a 120mm L11A5 rifled gun that was much, much longer than the L7A3, and generally good suspension if on a somewhat lacklustre engine. Basically, pants-shitting terror card of the NATO land forces. An unusually quick answer like the T-64 did result in a number of issues:
Also the first Main Battle Tank of the Soviets to feature an auto-loader, however it was notorious for catching onto crew attire and chomping on arms and hands. This had the benefit of reducing the crew size to three, in theory for efficient deployment of tank crew per tank. Though what happens when one crew member is taken out of action is food for thought, as there are hardly any tanks of that period designed to function effectively with just two crew members.
It was also documented to have something of a questionable reliability in mobility, specifically concerning breakdowns, to the point where they weren't used for parades in case they broke down half-way, which would be very embarrassing.
Other issues like its ammo storage design posing a risk(right at the belly, which means running over a mine...) could have contributed to its absent exportability, besides being a testbed for advanced Soviet tank tech.
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.
This was supposedly the the T-55's actual replacement, even for the Russians. The quirky not-so-best-sellers like the T-62 and T-64 chipped in a few key features to the T-55's philosophy of not-so-high tech, mass produced, but solid armoured units to create the next best-seller for Soviet Main Battle Tanks. With a constantly revised auto-loading D-81T 125mm smoothbore gun, thick frontal armour with provisions for extra protective add-ons, and decent mobility, the T-72 is still a fearsome weapon in a competent tank corp. It is also uncommon for the tank to exceed fifty tons, giving it a strategic advantage in out-manoeuvring its more advanced contemporaries like the Leopard 2, both iterations of the 120mm armed Challenger, the M1 Abrams series, the French AMX-56, and the Italian Ariete in areas with poor ground infrastructure.
Absurdly small and cheap tank, but with a big gun. With appropriate ammunition, the 125mm gun is still theoretically capable of defeating any tank in widespread service. On the other hand, while the Soviets experimented with composite armor on T-64, T-72 (at least early models) featured conventional steel armor, which, though of exceptional thickness, could not stand up to the higher tech ammunition of the 1980s NATO tanks (such as M 1 A 1, as shown in the Middle East). Just 7 feet tall and weighing just over 40 tons (in the baseline version), T-72 was considered very cramped even with a 3-man crew. Also, unlike Western tanks, the early T-72 lacked such gadgets as laser range finder and the steering yoke, limiting its tactical usefulness.
By 1980s, improved variants of T-72s began entering service, with laser range finders, composite armor, more reliable autoloaders, and a better gun. These tanks have not yet engaged in combat with Western tanks yet, however.
You know that the modern T-72 is a solid weapon platform when its replacement, the T-90, is just a renamed T-72BU with some additional features of the T-80.
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), 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(T-72M1) or inferior locally-built clones(the Saddam being a cheapened T-72M1, and the Asad Babil being a cheapened Saddam) . Iraqi crews were poorly trained and inexperienced, and the U.S. enjoyed complete air superiority(the A-10 comes to mind) 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. 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. Additionally, Iraqis made extensive use of T-55s, a fact ignored due to their similarity of appearance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7NVRTlAkx0
The Polish PT-91 "Twardy" 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.
T-80: The first Soviet MBT to use a gas turbine, albeit with its own problems(drank fuel like the M1 Abrams), 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, owing 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 tanks (the most modern variant line)...acrobatics by driving them off dirt mounds and firing the gun in midair... and occasionally hitting the targets.
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, considered a prospective variant of the T-64 (from which it was closely based and physically resembled). 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.
Ukraine has their own T-80 variants, significantly upgraded as the T-84.
The T-90 continues the legacy of the T-72 by being a product of lessons learnt since the idea of the MBT became real for the Soviet Armor corps. Such as not blindly rushing into making something totally new just for a minor advantage, like the T-62. Like the old D-10 gun, the constantly updated 2A46M(125mm smoothbore D-81T) gun on the T-90 is essentially the same gun that was on the T-64. Calibre width isn't everything. Also, the T-90 proves that a gas turbine engine isn't absolutely required for a fast tank—this being reflected by the Leopard 2 being a close relative of the M1 Abrams, but using diesel and is still very speedy. It also helps that the T-90 continues the tradition of the T-55 and T-72 of being conservative in weight.
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, taking the concept of the APCs and up-arming them 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. The contemporary BMP-2 and its predecessor are the most prevalent IFV (as compared to APC) models in service worldwide.
Because of their vulnerabilities versus tanks, IF Vs have always been concerned with their profile. The cramped, weapons-packed turret of the BMP-1 is also shared by the American Bradley, but surprisingly, the BMP-2's large turret is much more spacious (and comfortable) than either.
BMD: A closely related design to the BMP's, with the capacity to be dropped out of aircraft. Used exclusively by Soviet and Russian paratroopers.
BTR: A family of mostly 8-wheeled armored personnel carriers (although some early models with BTR designation were fully tracked.) Intended to be used by "infantry" units (or, motorized rifle units, in Russian parlance) while BM Ps are supposed to be used by the infantry component of tank units. Like all other Russian armored personnel carriers, all BTR family AP Cs built since 1960s are amphibious.
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 667 Murena/"Delta": An earlier SSBN with four sub-models—some of the largest submarines ever put into service when they first launched, and were the modern workhorse of the Soviet Navy. The above Project 941 is sometimes described as "two Delta-class hulls built together", and unlike the Typhoon, ten remain in service from the four sub-classes today. Also 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, in response to a comment by Leonid Brezhnev concerning the submarines. Then the 971s — the attack subs — came out and were called "Schuka" by the Sovs and "Akula" by NATO.)
A useful note on Soviet naming conventions for ships: surface warships were overwhelmingly named after cities and regions (and very rarely famous political leaders, which was common after 1991), while submarines were given numbers. Ergo, Red October, while catchy to western audiences, could not be a submarine name, whereas TK-208 can and is.
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 in 1962. 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:
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.
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. Since academic and training school structure mirrored these concerns (the overwhelming majority of specialist schools and most military academies in the country dated to after the founding of the Red Army), the Soviet armed forces didn't experience the well-known interservice rivalries of some western military forces: for example, any Soviet air force general officer was likely to have studied, at least in part, at an army academy, encouraging cooperation between branches. 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 or a belief that air power alone could trump ground forces; 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." (This way of thinking leaked into nearly every piece of Eastern Bloc propaganda pertaining to war: the Westerners, evil capitalists, General Rippers were always portrayed as power-hungry maniacs ready to do everything to subdue the enemy, including a nuclear apocalypse, while the Soviets always insisted they were against wars of aggression and even stronger against nuclear war. The only acceptable use of nukes was strictly defensive.)
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. The Red Army won through the ability of its General Staff to analyze and draw lessons from war experience, and a mastery of operational art to trump advantages in German tactical skill, which cobbled up the Germans in pockets of tens of thousands at the operational level.
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 late 1970s and early 1980s saw the renaissance of the Soviet Ground Forces through the efforts of Chief of Staff Marshal Nikolai 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 thinking was that the main Soviet force would open up a hole in the enemy lines, into which the Operational Maneuver Groups, with fresh equipment and men, would pour, then do as much damage as possible to the enemy forces until the enemy counterattack could be put together. The theater-strategic operation concept was developed by 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. By 1984, theaters of military operation in the Western, Southwestern and Southern directions were set up to put the theater-strategic operation concept into practice.
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 " SecondThird 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 an 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 their own carriers 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, since not all ships were named and a preference for model numbers), 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 more limited and had much smaller air wings than their American counterparts, and 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.
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 and many others, 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:
Hero of the Soviet Union: Highest Soviet military decoration. It is basically a gold star.
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.(well, it IS a film.)
Order of Suvorov- again for exceptional duty. Named after famous general Alexander Suvorov, responsible for the phrase "Train hard, fight easy".
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 total awesome smart guy who beat bastards at their own games.
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. Contains 174 diamonds and is worth a lot without the historical value of it.note General Eisenhower's Order of Victory star had been studded with fake diamonds.
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.
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), and is said to be Russian history's most decorated officer. He is popularly believed to have arrested Lavrentiy Beria, who was chief of the NKVD under Stalin and one of the top figures in the Soviet hierarchy after Stalin's death. Contrary to what Aussies believe, Zhukov was the first man to defeat Imperial Japan in battle, and he did it with the neglected, ill-equipped eastern Soviet forces. He then went on to turn aside the initial German assault on Moscow and become the architect of Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk, the first battle in which the famed Blitzkrieg strategy was defeated, signalling the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. In his time he was a highly underrated general among the Allies, and was actually seen by Eisenhower (the man who commanded Montgomery and Patton) as the finest general the Allied forces had to offer. Latter historians have generally endorsed Eisenhower's view, but there is a small but growing school of thought that holds that he was a General Ripper whose operational successes had more to do with a willingness to sacrifice his own men and German weakness than any outstanding professional ability. Anthony Beevor is a notable proponent of this interpretation. Among military historians, this is a notable Base Breaker.
Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstanty Ksawerowicz Rokossowski had a long and varied career. A Polish aristocrat by birth, he joined the Imperial Russian Army as a cavalryman and fought with distinction in World War I. During the October Revolution, he joined the Bolshevik Party, and won the Order of the Red Banner fighting Alexander Kolchak in the Urals. He also brought Damdin Sükhbaatar to power in the Mongolian People's Republic. He was a pioneer of tank assault and a close supported of Marshal Turkachevsky. This cost him his freedom and his fingernails in Stalin's Great Purge. He was brought back for World War II, where his willingness to stand up to Stalin and excellent experience won him many admirers. Allegedly, his army group was diverted because it was in danger of capturing Berlin, an honor Stalin wanted for an ethnic Russian, not a Pole. Fondly remembered in Russian historiography, he has fewer admirers in Poland, thanks to his part in the post-war Sovietization and Stalinization of the country and his advocacy of the use of force against Władysław Gomułka's reforms in 1956. Supposedly said, "In Russia, they say I'm a Pole. In Poland, they say I'm a Russian" after his Polish experience.
Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov: Lieutenant general during the Great Patriotic War and probably the second most significant Soviet commander of the war. He was the one responsible for turning the Battle of Stalingrad into the one of the most decisive victories in the war. He then went on to spearhead the Soviet counter-offensive and was not only the first into the Berlin, but also personally accepted the surrender of the forces defending the city. He's also the only Soviet to have ever received the second highest decoration in the United States military: the Distinguished Service Cross.
Major-General Valentina Tereshkova: The first woman in space.
Viktor Suvorov (real Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun): Known in 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 competent historians.
Boris Gromov was commander of the Soviet 40th Army during the Russian involvement in Afghanistan, and was the last Soviet soldier to leave the country. After the Great Politics Mess Up, he became Governor of Moscow.
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.
Lieutenant-Colonel 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, but sunlight being reflected off of high attitude clouds) and because he was aware of this and the circumstances (the US, if it were launching a pre-emptive strike, wouldn't just launch 5 missiles from silos in North Dakota, but would probably go all out) he decided to wait a bit before to alert his superiors. He may have prevented a civilization-shattering nuclear exchange; however, he was initially never rewarded nor punished for his actions. The fact that the early-warning system had malfunctioned in such a fashion would have been a great embarrassment to several Soviet politicians and scientists, so Petrov was just quietly transferred to another, less important post, and his story wasn't publicly told until after the fall of the USSR. He has since been awarded by the UN and other humanitarian organizations for his actions, though he humbly insists that he was simply doing his job.
Vice-Admiral Vasili Arkhipov served on the Soviet submarine K-19, and during its nuclear accident was exposed to a high level of radiation trying to fix the broken reactor. His main claim to fame is being another rocket-armed Red who prevented World War III. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, an American battlegroup decided it would be a good idea to drop practice depth charges on the Soviet submarineB-59, on which Arkhipov was serving as executive officer. The sub was part of a flotilla. The captain of the sub, concerned that war had already broken out, elected to fire a nuclear torpedo at the American squadron. He was supported by the ship's zampolit. Arkhipov, who held the same rank as the captain, and who was overall flotilla commander, persuaded the captain to surface and await orders from Moscow. Robert McNamara credited Arkhipov's actions with "saving the world." Unlike his Voyska PVO counterpart Stanislav Petrov (see above), Moscow appreciated Arkhipov saving their asses, and he ended up a Vice-Admiral and headmaster of Kirov Naval Academy.
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 (in their defense, it was Border Guards' Day. They were all bevved.)
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. Not to mention their failure to notice that their identification beacon was off. Even more bizarrely, the Japanese ground controllers didn't seem to think it relevant to mention that KAL-007 was over the most dangerous skies in the world when the airliner contacted them. As the Soviet transcript notes:
General Kamenski (Commander of CHAIKA): We must find out, maybe it is some civilian craft or God knows who.
General Kornukov (Commander of Sokol airbase on Sakhalin Island): What civilian? It has flown over Kamchatka! It came from the ocean without identification. I am giving the order to attack if it crosses the State border.
Operations Duty Officer: It may be a passenger aircraft. All necessary steps must be taken to identify it.
Air Controller: Identification measures are being taken, but the pilot cannot see. It's dark. Even now it's still dark.
Operations Duty Officer: Well, okay. The [shootdown order] is correct. If there are no lights—it cannot be a passenger.
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.
There seems to be some evidence that they mistook it for a B-52 or an RC-135, both of which would be military aircraft and legitimate targets if they penetrated Soviet airspace. The transcript has the commander of Sokoairbase saying "How many jet trails are there, if there are four jet trails, then it's an RC-135". Later on, when they were giving the Sukhoi its attack orders, they warned the pilot "Don't forget, it [the target] has cannons in the rear there," which only makes sense if they thought it was a bomber.
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. Considering differences in Soviet and Western training doctrinesnote The Soviet Union trained its soldiers who wielded assault rifles to favour the full automatic setting and fire in short bursts. Western forces preferred to teach either firing in burst mode or in semiautomatic mode., this might have some small basis in reality, but is a Flanderization. In reality, marksmanship was important and trained into every soldier. In fact, Soviet marksmanship wasn't too shabby, even by modern standards.note Soviet soldiers were trained to be able to make 350M shots (~385Yds) on human-sized targets with the AKM, and 500M (~550Yds) shots on human-sized targets with the AK-74, all while only using stock military rifles and issued ammo, while only using the stock AK iron sights. For comparison, the modern U.S. Army only goes out to 300Yds (~270M) with the M4a1 and electronic optics. The USMC, known for their borderline chauvanistic fixation on marksmanship, only go out to 500Yds (~450M) on the M16a4.
The More Dakka design philosophy continued with the Kalashnikov family. As stated above, AKs are extremely reliable and easy to obtain, but the stereotype also holds that they struggle to match The Onion in accuracy. In reality, the AK-pattern rifles have always reached a fair standard of accuracy. The AKM has an official effective range of 350Mnote This is actually rather average for assault rifles[[note]], which is long enough to cover just about any distance encountered in typical infantry small arms engagements. onward had accuracy comparable to and in certain conditions better than[[note]]The AK-74, for example, has a standard effective range of 625 meters, but can have an area target capability of up to 1,000 meters with sight adjustments. The M16 has a standard effective range of around 550-600m, with an area target range of about 800-1,000 meters depending on the configuration. most NATO assault rifles, with the inaccuracy problem referring mostly to the early AK-47 line and its foreign derivatives. Since the early models are usually what people think of when someone mentions "Kalashnikovs," expect armchair experts to constantly state that all AKs are inaccurate. Moreover, as reliable as they may be, even AK rifles need be properly maintained and fed with decent quality ammunition to reach their full potential.
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.
As it was said before, VDV share some traits with USMC, and VDV popular image in Russian media is quite similar to image of USMC or Rangers in US media.
That goes quite far: for example, individual VDV soldier is called 'desantnik', meaning 'landing force trooper'. So almost every Space Marine in existence is translated to 'Kosmicheskiy Desantnik', or its shorthand 'Kosmodesantnik'. You see, Russian Language does not have a word for 'Marine'. The closest equivalent is 'Morskoy Pekhotinets', translated as 'Naval Infantryman'. Now, having 'Space Naval Infantry' is just stupid. On the other hand, 'desantnik' means just any soldier delivered to battlefield by other means than he is fighting and 'desant' means any group of such soldiers. Real Life examples include naval 'desant', airborne 'desant' (by parachute, gliders or helicopters), APC 'desant' (the squad packed into APC or IFV fights on their own feet and are delivered by wheels, so they qualify) and tank-borne 'desant' (a WW2 practice of piling a bunch of troopers on every tank or SPG, necessitated by lack of APCs). Note that a tanker doesn't qualify, because he drives into the battlefield in the same tank he fights with, and APC driver doesn't qualify on the same grounds. On the other hand, the tank (and its crew) qualify, if they are delivered to battlefield by landing ship or airdrop. Given that, the name for Space Marines is evident: they are delivered to battlefield by space ships, so they are clearly 'desant'. If you need to specify (and you need!), you the obvious adjective 'Kosmicheskiy', and here you are.