We are not boasting, just saying:
We crossed half the world,
And if necessary we shall do it again.
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 U.S.' post-Vietnam volunteer force. Pretty much everything about Soviet Armed Forces was designed around reliability and simplicity. This 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 armor. Thus, say, the MiG-23 that Iraq operated was a much different beast than the MiG-23 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.
Taking western Europe was a cornerstone of the Soviet military's rhetoric throughout the Cold War, both in its struggle for funding and influence within the Soviet state and internationally. However, the Soviet military's ability to fulfill this mission fluctuated over time. For all that, there were a few constant factors in its favor. From the outset, its likely opponents would've failed to use their inferior numbers as a unified forcenote . They also lacked an adequate defensive concept until the 1980s to counteract the Warsaw Pact's offensive strategy, which would have been to deliver a massive knockout blow to split NATO's forces in half on the North German Plain, crush the isolated northern pocket, and move on to break up and finish off what was left.
The Soviets military's ability to actually live up to its rhetoric depended very much on the time-period. From 1945-53, Stalin gave the military the resources it needed to carry out this mission - with the expectation that it would fulfill it even with its forces and the German, Polish, Soviet, etc cities that supplied it taking the U.S.' several-hundred nukes. From 1960, whatever ability the Soviet military might have retained after its one-fifth downsizing by Khrushchev was totally negated by his insistence that they adopt and use tactical nuclear weapons from the onset. Under Brezhnev in the late 1960s, the Soviet military was gradually 'restored' to the point that they again had confidence in fulfilling the operation (without any use of nukes, of course), reaching a high point in 1987. But in beginning in the late 1970s Soviet theorists began to fear what they saw as a coming 'revolution in military technology' which would make the campaign difficult if not impossible by the end of the century, as the main battle tank and mechanized infantryman were being superseded by precision-guided weapons—something subsequent studies (using NATO and WP records) have tended to confirm.
On the other hand, the actual likelihood of the Soviets winning a war - regardless of their capabilities - depended very much on how the U.S. chose to respond with its nuclear arsenal in the end. From the 1950s to the 1960s, the U.S. initially (some claim, later unofficially) had a policy of 'Massive Retaliation'. In other words, in the event of any Soviet-American conflict whatsoever the U.S. would have attempted to immediately nuke the entire Warsaw Pact. As the Soviet nuclear arsenal grew, Massive Retaliation was replaced with 'Flexible Response', which dictated that nukes be used if NATO's conventional defense was collapsing.
The problem with U.S. nuclear strategy was that it was not clear where the 'tactical' use of nuclear weapons ended and the 'strategic' use of nuclear weapons began, such as a 'tactical' glassing of Poland note . At every stage of the Cold War, if the U.S. president of the time had adhered to his military's official doctrine, then he would've made the war go nuclear within three weeks or less rather than lose western Europe. Depending on the Soviet leadership of the time's response, this could've led to the northern hemisphere being cleansed of human life. But, hey, at least it wouldn't have meant negotiating with the Dirty Commies.
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 in Central Europe. The former Sovietologist Christopher Donnelly likened the opposing NATO-Warsaw Pact army theories to two players preparing for a game of chess, in which NATO focused on crafting the best pieces possible...and the USSR focused on crafting grandmasters.
Broadly speaking, the Soviets focused on fighting simple and fighting smart - using simple and easy to maintain weapons and troops intensely trained on limited skills, while focusing on quality logistics, planning, and leadership at the level of armies and army groups. While the use of deception was practically a mandatory requirement of all planning, they still tended towards simplicity in order to minimise the number of things that could go wrong at the sharp end.
The numbers are also impressive, 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 Entente in World War I - for though the Tsar's armies had only been slightly less well-equipped than those of the Allies, her army had still been organized 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 . 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-organized and efficient military forcenote .
- 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.
- Air Defense Forces (PVO Strany until 1981, Voyska PVO after that until 1991) - The people responsible for the air defense of the USSR against civilian 747s that wander off course, among other things. Still managed to let in an amateur pilot flying a Cessna. Their nuclear weapons took the form of nuclear surface-to-air missiles.
- 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 the army. 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 (now named Liaoning), while another was scrapped at 40% complete. Also had the Naval Infantry, roughly 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, being roughly between the USMC and its Recon battalions. 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 Defense. 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.
- Mosin-Nagant - actually entered service in the 19th century, long before Red October. Designed by Captain Sergei Mosin — contrary to the name, Belgian Léon Nagant had almost nothing to do with the gun at all. Around 37 million were built up until the 1950's, and remain in use today. In service during both World Wars, the Mosin-Nagant is a highly rugged and reliable rifle, as well as quite accurate; the design's main attraction however, was its simplicity, which allows for manufacture with less sophisticated tooling. Weapon of Choice of the most deadly sniper ever: Simo Häyhä, also known as "the White Death".
- The 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 was 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 eventually 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. After 1943, the PPSh was modified to use the 35-round box magazine of the PPS-43, since the 71-round drum was less reliablenote and even more importantly, the slowest and most expensive component to make for the PPSh. Also saw action in the hands of Chinese troops in the Korean conflict (aka "burp gun").
- If you're played a World War II game involving the Red Army (but not Battlefield 1942), you will almost certainly have "fired" this at some point.
- Notable for having too much dakka. For an army that had a lot more trouble sourcing ammunition than weapons, a cyclic rate of fire of 900 rounds per minute was very wasteful.
- 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. Another factor was that while the PPS-43 was cheaper and faster to manufacture than the PPSh-41, the factories that were already making the PPSh continued to do so since switching to the PPS would require temporarily shutting them down. 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 "AK47" would be the circa 1955 Type III milled receiver).
- Also note "AK-47" is not its original designation. The correct way to call this gun is just "AK". 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.
- Its successor the 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 the 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 Soviet Union first adopted the new AK-74—there was varying levels of adoption in other countries before the Soviet Union Collapsed (for example, Soviet-aligned Mongolia used the AKM more generally, and the AK-74 for specialized troops, whereas East Germany and Poland manufactured their own local models.
- 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 with black furniture, standard side-mount rail, and side-folding non-skeletal stock). 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 Kalashnikov rifles aren't Russian. Most of them were locally-produced variants with different names but no functional (and only very minor cosmetic) differences.
- The RPK, with a thicker receiver similar to the original Type III AK47 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 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
- SVD (Dragunov) - Soviet sniper riflenote , 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 for 7.62x54Rmm ammunition (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" flavor. 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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
The infamous Russian fighting vehicle; tough, hard looks, nasty armor, 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'). 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.
A lot of these are 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
Apart from the bomber aircraft mentioned here, the Soviets also produced some very advanced fighters, helicopters, and some stand-out tanks and APCs. 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 armor 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 organization 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:
- Yakovlev Yak series: These were the mainstay Soviet fighter aircraft during the Great Patriotic War. Designed by Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev, they served from the beginning to the end of the war, starting with the mediocre Yak-1 to the more advanced Yak-3 and Yak-9. The Yak-3 in particular was so dangerous that the Luftwaffe issued a directive not to engage them below 16,000 feet. After World War II, Yak-9Ps were exported to allies such as North Korea and subsequently used in The Korean War.
- Lavochkin LaGG/La series: Another mainstay fighter of the Soviet Air Force, also serving from the beginning until the end of the Great Patriotic War. Like the Yak-1, the LaGG-3 was also mediocre, and was pretty much a Flying Disaster Area to boot (it was nicknamed the "Morticians Friend," and pilots joked that its designation stood for "Lakirovannii Garantirovannii Grob" (Varnished, Guaranteed Coffin)). This changed when the chief designer decided to refit one with a more powerful radial engine, giving birth to the La-5. Unlike the LaGG-3, this plane was capable of going toe-to-toe with German fighters at low altitude. This finally culminated in the La-7, which entered service in mid-1944, and managed to outperform the now increasingly obsolete planes the Luftwaffe was still fielding up until the end of the war. Postwar, the Lavochkin design bureau brought out the La-9 and La-11, the last piston-engined fighters to enter service with the USSR. Most of these would be exported, like the Yak-9P, to China and North Korea during The Korean War. In the jet age, the Lavochkin design bureau transitioned to designing missiles and spacecraft, causing the "La" designation to vanish and the Lavochkin name to be less known in the West (since Soviet missils and spacecraft didn't have the designer's name attached to them).
- Peltyakov Pe-2: The main Soviet twin-engined bomber of The Great Patriotic War, which, like the Yak and LaGG/La series before, served from the beginning to the end.
- MiG-1 and MiG-3: These early interceptors were good at high altitude, but due to the lack of combat at those altitudes weren't nearly as useful as the Yaks or the Lavochkin fighters.
- 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-23 "Flogger": The first serious Soviet attempt to depart from its customary emphasis on simplicity in its fighter aircraft, incorporating a powerful radar, Beyond Visual Range missiles, and variable-geometry wings. The result was a badly bugged design that took more than a decade to iron out and never quite worked as expected. It did become a fairly effective ground attack aircraft, known as MiG-27.
- MiG-25 "Foxbat": A huge interceptor capable of Mach 3 whose existence shocked USAF enough to start investing in what eventually became the F-15 Eagle. When US managed to examine an actual example when a defector flew one to Japan, it turned out to be much cruder than expected—capable of flying very high and very fast, but little else, with the engine that burned out very quickly when used at full power. Being a very simple, cheap, and rugged design (built mostly out of steel because of the frictional heat generated at such great speed and to keep the costs low) that was still awesome in its own right. It began to be replaced near the end of the Soviet era with a similar but totally redesigned MiG-31 "Foxhound."
- 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. War games against former East German aircraft resulted in the MiG-29 getting absurdly lopsided kill ratios, and even an unupgraded one is a major threat in short-ranged air combat. 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.
- 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 maneuverable, but lightly armored (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.
- The T-34 design and craftsmanship varied, with the early model 1940 being exceedingly poor: petrol engines which died after 350km (and not 350 thousand, as people may believe) in the field, an inferior transmission and a very cramped turret. A lack of radios meant that tanks built in 1940 had to communicate via flags. At cramped two-men turret in T-34/76, rubberless track wheels and links and so on. Later war build quality vastly improved, especially with the introduction of the vastly superior diesel engine and transmission and with build and production defects resolved (and the threat of immediate attack to the factories removed).
- As a consequence of poor planning, hasty adoption and the colossal disruption caused by Operation Barbarossa, build quality was ridiculously variable (to the point where incompatibility of parts was called into question). The tanks from factory 112 were extremely poor and built with serious flaws, and the tanks built at factory 183 at Kharkov (the tank that originated the T-34 prototype) were excellent, being finished as well, or even better, than anything manufactured in Germany or France. Armor quality was consistently excellent, and in fact so good that it was a factor in the Germans being unable to directly copy the T-34 design. The ability of all T-34s, even inferior models, to be brought back into service despite being wrecked on the battlefield 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 armored vehicle design, namely wide tracks, sloped armor, a powerful diesel engine, and superb suspension.
- T-34 set the standards that every subsequent Soviet tank followed: it was reasonably well-armored and well-armed, yet quite agile and fast thanks to its relatively compact dimensions and excellent traction. On the other hand, its dimensions severely limited internal space, lowered crew effectiveness, and made upgrades difficult (problems that also hampered T-55 and T-72). The small size, however, also gave it much tactical advantage, especially in concealment (many German generals thought their own Panther and Tiger were too big and that the smaller T-34 was much better in defensive operations) and in strategic mobility, such as in river crossings (German Tigers could not cross many bridges in Soviet Russia. Even after the war, strategic bridges in Eastern Europe were built so that lighter Soviet designed tanks could use them, but bigger and heavier NATO tanks could not.)
- KV tank family: Designed as all-around heavy tanks with a box-like shape and thick, flat armor, the KV was a powerful but slow tank that suffered from serious shortcomings. They had transmission levers which often stuck and had to be tapped with a hammer, harsh and imprecise clutch-brake steering, an overstressed transmission (made worse when extra armor was applied late in the war) and armor that was largely unangled. A major shock to the Germans, nevertheless. A KV-2 with a tank-wrecking 152mm howitzer was dubbed the "Beast of Rasieniai" after it held up an entire German armored division at a Lithuanian village for over a day.
- IS tank family: Designed as the successors to the increasingly-obsolete KV series of heavy tanks, and named after the Soviet leader himself, these tanks first saw service in early 1944. From the beginning, they were designed mainly for two purposes: to effectively destroy the newer generation of German tanks, and to storm cities, which it both did extremely well. After the great Patriotic War, some were exported to China and used during The Korean War.
- 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.
- 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. 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 was the first Main Battle Tank of the Soviets to feature an auto-loader: contrary to rumors mostly originating in the US, the mechanism was incapable of pulling the arm of a crew member while in the loading cycle (for starters, it was too sensitive and any such interruption would stall it). The T-64, at the time of its adoption, was possibly the most technologically-advanced tank in service worldwide—like the original T-34, a revolutionary design at its time, this meant for a number of serious complications to operating it in the field (which would have been magnified in an actual war), particularly with its powerplant.
- The auto-loader 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.
- 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 Soviets. The ultimately lackluster export T-62 chipped in a few key features to the T-55's philosophy of not-so-high tech, mass produced, but solid armored 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 armor 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.
- An unusually small (particularly narrow and squat) 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), the 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.
- 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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7NVRTlAkx0
- Syria's T-72M1 tanks took part in the 1982 Lebanon war, where they performed reasonably well against Israeli tanks.
- The Polish PT-91 "Twardy" is a modern tank based on the T-72 design.
- T-80: The first Soviet MBT to use a gas turbine, albeit with its own problems (drank fuel), 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.
- T-90: 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.
- 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.
- And then there's BMP-3, which sports twin cannons in it's turret 100mm combination gun and rocket launcher and 30mm autocannon. Oh, and 3 7.62mm machine guns. And an ATGM launcher.
- BMD: A closely related design to the BM Ps, 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 APCs 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. To further the confusion, when Russia started assigning names rather than just numbers to submarines, the first boat of the class, K-284, was named...Akula.)
- A useful note on Soviet naming conventions for ships: surface warships were usually 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-16 "Badger": The standard Soviet tactical bomber during much of the early Cold War, with two big jet engines and capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear bombs. Phased out of service near the end of the Cold War in favor of more modern designs, but still in PRC service in the form of Chinese-built copies.
- Tu-95 "Bear": The Soviet answer to B-52 with the most appropriate NATO reporting name and roughly equivalent capabilities. The fastest (although not the biggest—that's American B-36) mass-produced prop-driven plane ever and also among the noisiest, with four massive turboprop engines. Like B-52, still in service and are expected to stay in service for the foreseeable future for Russians with Rusting Rockets. Frequently made (and makes) flights near NATO airspace on recon and patrol flights.
- Tu-22M "Backfire": A Cool Plane, designed for medium-range anti-shipping and bombing strikes.
- 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 versions.
- 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-23-4s 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 the 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 instantly recognizable Mi-24 attack helicopter series, easily identified in the "D" model and onward by a "double bubble" cockpit design. Beginning in the late 1960's, the Mi-24 would undergo numerous design changes over it's 40+ years of service for the Soviet and later Russian army. Unique in that it is both a dedicated attack helicopter with a troop transport capability, it has been produced in a wide variety of variants with an equally wide selection of firepower, with variants capable of sporting everything from machine guns, cannons, numerous varieties of rockets, guided ATGMs and even dumb-fire bombs. This heavily armored attack helicopter has been exported to over 30 nations, seen action in dozens of conflicts, and has appeared in everything from films, to literature to video games. Although it's been gradually replaced in Russian service by the newer Ka-50 and Mi-28 attack helicopters, the Mi-24 is expected to be in Russian use well into the late 2020s, and will likely serve in the armies of other nations for even longer.
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.
Historians and military planners had long recognized that the Soviet military fought along different principles than the West. While recognizing this, the general consensus has tended to imagine the Soviet style of war as ponderous, based on inflexible leadership, and their attacks stereotyped as multiple waves of troops thrown in front of the enemy's guns.
This perception—drawn from a Wehrmacht memory of the German-Soviet War and assessing the Soviets by Western standards—is obviously limiting. You can't gain a nuanced and sophisticated view of the Soviet military solely from an enemy's view. It would be like trying to understand Frederick the Great's army primarily from French or Austrian documents. This short overview intends to place the former Soviet Union's military doctrine within its geographical and strategic context.
Geography shaped the Soviet military significantly. Russia's sheer physical size meant that armies have played a more larger role in over navies. Compared to maritime nations like Britain, Soviet fleets were divided and mutual reinforcement was extremely difficult. It follows that navies would've only played a very limited role in a high-speed land war against NATO or China. We should also mention that Soviet air power has been about adding a third dimension to the ground battle, rather than acting as an independent service (although during the Cold War, nuclear weapons gave strategic aviation a more independent role).
Secondly, most of European Russia is flat. Tactically exploiting terrain features was never as important in the Russian experience compared to Western armies. The Soviets instead emphasized the role of deception, camouflage, and masking terrain. This flatness conversely makes outstanding terrain features a focus on planning for Soviet officers. Size and flatness has implications for a Soviet preference towards large-scale land operations. This attitude has also resulted in a very non-NATO mentality on roads. A Soviet tank commander may very well see a forest riddled with roads as favorable attack terrain, if his NATO opponent has not considered it to be a likely avenue of approach.
Thirdly, rivers are important. They appreciated the role of rivers as defensive lines during WWII, and they put a lot of effort in developing river-crossing tactics and equipment. Many Soviet AFVs are amphibious or have the ability to travel underwater with snorkels, and the Soviet Army deployed large numbers of portable bridging equipment to quickly span crossings across water obstacles.
Military doctrine is a system of views of what modern war will look like, and of how the military ought to be organized to wage it. It roughly corresponds to the U.S. term "national security policy". It is not to be confused with Western "doctrine", which comes closest to what the Soviets would've called "tactics".
Doctrine is not dogma out of touch with reality, but a coherent set of views which are modified in response to fresh lessons and challenges. It aims to be both forward and backward looking; its overall thrust is evolutionary and cumulative. Failure (such as the Winter War or the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa) is mined for lessons as much as successes like Operation Bagration in 1944.
Under doctrine is military science, a framework (with scientific laws) that covers the actual study of warfare. It is largely concerned with analysing wars and warfare with the goal of predicting the future of military affairs.
Compared to doctrine, military science is subject to sustained professional debate, much like in Western defense circles. While it is tempting to consider Soviet officers as dogmatic communists, they cheerfully engaged in "talking shop" like their NATO counterparts. Military art—the actual theory and practice of conducting warfare—is a component of military science.
Military strategy is the business of implementing the requirements of military doctrine into practice, by preparing the armed forces for war, and providing wartime leadership at a high level. Just as strategy is influenced by doctrine, it drives the direction and nature of operational art and tactics. As the strategist Alexander Svechin said, "Tactics are the steps by which operational art leaps; strategy points out the path."
Operational art is the activity of directing and coordinating tactical units (typically divisions and corps) to meet strategic goals. In practice these are the activities of armies and fronts (Russian term for an army group). It is at those levels where the Soviets provide the most competent staff officers, rather than in the division in NATO. We must say that the Soviet military played a higher emphasis on excellence at the operational level rather than the tactical one. In the Soviet experience, directing armies over the flat expanse of Eastern Europe has meant that large-scale maneuver has been more important than low-level tactical excellence. If war was chess, it would be apt to consider the Soviets focusing on creating grand masters rather than the Western approach of creating excellent chess pieces. Thus, the Soviet recipe for success is the army and front commanders out-thinking and outplaying the enemy player and his quality chess pieces. The Soviet military education system selects and trains senior officers to a very high standard, resulting in a very large number of well-qualified operational commanders.
Soviet emphasis on operational art is also borne in the organization of their forces. Tactical units like divisions are designed to be "lean and mean", with little in the way of rear-area support. The logistical assets are concentrated at the army level and thus give the army commander operational flexibility to regroup the divisions to adapt to a developing situation. If NATO ground forces move to fight, then the Soviet Army fights to move.
Tactics is the business of fighting battles, which has typically been defined as a division and below activity by the Soviets. They differ from NATO tactics by being defined by standardized regulations and implemented through battle drills. But we should not think that they were rigid or inflexible. Recall that the Soviet experience has been biased towards large-scale maneuver on flat terrain. The Soviet Army also starts with the premise of a conscript army; one that won't have much time to train or re-train before combat. It pushes the army towards drills and standardization at the sharp end.
We could think of a typical tactical commander as a chef trained in cooking a limited range of dishes, rather than a master chef inventing new dishes at every meal. But the commander would be trained very well in how to implement a variety of drills to solve battlefield problems. Initiative is not used in the Western sense: Soviet thinkers derided what they saw as a reliance on "native wit" in place of foresight and a sound plan. "Initiative" becomes the intelligent anticipation, or at least correct interpretation, of the higher intent, and effective implementation of it without detailed guidance; it is also the ability, and the farsighted, flexible organization of a combined arms grouping to react speedily—without waiting for direction—to meet unexpected changes in the situation. "Creativity" is the modification of the drill to meet the battle situation, and its application in an unpredictable manner.
A Soviet officer was expected to display initiative. When executing a battle drill or a superior's order, the orders given must be altered as necessary to fit the specific situation and mission. The drills are a route to speedy communication & execution in accordance with Patton's belief that "a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week", which also contributes to flexibility. An officer who did something stupid by following the book would be considered incompetent. The Soviets placed high importance on the use of time in battle. They would have agreed with Nathan Forrest in getting there "first with the most men".
By restricting what is required of a basic soldier, the Soviets ensured that any conscripts called from the reserve within five years of demobilization would be quite capable of acting efficiently. They believed that logical and original thought was difficult in face of battle shock, hence men in battle could accomplish only limited and simple tasks which they have learnt to do thoroughly. An operational commander who can count on a reliable execution of a known scheme despite the soldiers' confusion and battle stress would be able to direct and support his tactical forces faster than an enemy with a command cycle reliant on improvisation.
However, this did not mean that the Soviets discounted tactics. You don't need every tactical commander to be brilliant, but you do need a good few, and you can select and develop them to conduct more complicated missions than others. In WWII, the Red Army exhibited a dichotomy between the rifle units which ground their way through the Germans, and the tank forces which executed broad sweeping maneuvers. The Cold War Soviet Army continued this practice and carefully cultivated the talented ones through assignments to certain "elite" units like the 24th "Iron" Motorized Rifle Division. In addition, by the 1980s, military journals communicated flexible non-linear tactics to junior officers and NCOs, showing a desire to disseminate the Afghan experience to the army at large.
The Soviet style of command is distinctive. In the Soviet system, one-man command (yedinonachaliye) is an important concept. The commander is ultimately responsible for success or failure of his unit and has absolute authority over his subordinates. On one hand, this style makes normal tactical commanders close supervisors and interlopers of their subordinates in battle, lest failure reflect badly on himself. Incompetent subordinates facing the unexpected may choose to wait for orders rather than take a risk action, or continue with an action no longer relevant with the situation.
On the other hand, this centralization gives a confident commander much more leeway to exercise his skill at any level. An operational commander has lots of flexibility because he can trust his subordinates to do exactly what he wants. The weakness of yedinonachaliye breaks down at the operational level. Orders at this level are usually issued over the signatures of the commander, his chief of staff, and other relevant staff officers. This change reflects an acceptance of the fact that the higher level of complexity and responsibility at army-level and above is really beyond a single person. Responsibility and risk is shared at this level. Even close supervision on the tactical level is intended to place the commander at the front to produce a timely and effective reaction to battlefield events. Centralized command assists maintenance of the aim and directs resources towards the main effort.
Yedinonachaliye has considerable implications for providing support. If it was essential for a motorized rifle company to succeed in the attack, that subunit might find itself with a tank company in support, regimental artillery to provide fire support, and even a flight of attack helicopters to engage enemy reserves. The senior commanders and staffs would be there on the spot to make sure that all the elements were coordinated, so that the company commander could focus on accomplishing his task. The Soviets believed that providing the maximum support to succeeding forces would ultimately result in lower casualties, if an offensive battle could be rapidly converted from a breakthrough action into free-wheeling rear-area exploitation.
While an officer may hesitate to display independence of thought or initiative while he is very junior or someone's immediate deputy, the same officer will be able to exercise a great degree of control over his subordinates once he attains a position of command. It is dangerous to assume that, because a battalion commander is allowed no independence when he is under the regimental commander's supervision, he will be incapable of displaying initiative if his battalion is ordered to conduct an independent mission. On the contrary, he should be very capable of taking independent decisions. The only limit to his effectiveness will be his professional competence.
In elite units, there is also the phenomenon of task-oriented control and decentralized battle management rather than yedinonachaliye. The tactical mission is stated in broad terms and accompanied by the essentials of the superior's plan contained in his concept of operations. In the event of circumstances changing, a subordinate who is familiar with his superior's concept can adapt his efforts to ensure a worthwhile contribution to the overall goal. In other words, what a subordinate has to be told is what he is supposed to accomplish rather than how it should be done and he himself takes upon the detailed implementation. A junior commander fighting as part of an operational maneuver group can be expected to display a high level of creativity and imagination due to this principle. This would have ensured a timely and effective response to rapidly developing battlefield situations.
It is also important to review the Soviet style in planning. If NATO commanders make an appreciation and prepare a plan, Soviet commanders are trained to assess the situation and make a decision. At the tactical level, decisions are made from personal battlefield observation and then selecting one of a number "off the peg" solutions to solve battlefield problems. At the operational level, it is based upon the commander's assigned mission, his knowledge of the senior commander's concept of operations, on his knowledge of the general situation, and on scrutiny of a series of options presented by his chief of staff. The decision is basically a preliminary plan, which includes the concept, organization for combat, axes of advance, battle tasks for major units, and command and control organization.
After a decision is made, the commander's staff creates the detailed plan. The staff fleshes out the decision's bare bones with detailed planning tailored to the circumstances of the battle and the terrain. Detailed, precise orders are issued for the initial phase only, as enough hard data will not be available to allow an accurate forecast of the development of the situation. It is important to caution against detailed planning as rigidity and slowness. During the course of operations, the commander is obliged constantly to evaluate the changing situation, to predict likely developments and to issue new combat missions in accordance with his forecast. During World War II, tank armies showed an ability to conduct planning to undertake new missions during the course of operations, an ability that the rifle troops lacked. At lower tactical levels, decisionmaking and detailed planning is simpler and more austere due to the use of battle drills.
The Soviets relied on mathematical calculations, nomograms, and norms to determine quantitative aspects in planning. The numerical base of this is derived from an operational analysis of current weapons and tactics, combined with historical analysis of past wars. The data mining was performed by the General Staff's Military History Directorate, a body of over 1000 historians in the late 1980s. For example, there are calculations to estimate the density and combat strength of a NATO army corps. There are norms for everything, from the time required to plan a battalion attack to the number of 152mm artillery rounds required to suppress a NATO tank platoon at a range of 15 kms. Norms are used both as a basis for staff calculations and as measures against which troops and units may be tested and assessed. These tools do not dictate decisions to the commander, but provide him with the parameters for a successful solution to combat requirements. By the 1980s, the Soviets saw norms as averages rather than absolutes, as guides in planning rather than figures to be adhered to rigidly in all circumstances.
The effect of these procedures is that they are well suited in principle for fast-moving warfare. They ensure a common and standard approach to battlefield problems, and they speed up the staff planning and reduce command cycles. Like with battle drills, they ease the thought process when battle shock and stress inhibit constructive and rational thought. The late 1980s also saw the partial introduction of computers to perform the more menial staff busywork, further decreasing planning time.
Speed and flexibility is also enhanced by parallel planning. The essence of this method is that lower echelons do not wait for higher HQs to complete the full operational plan before embarking on their own planning. Subordinates are thus kept continuously in the picture by the staff and they are given a warning order as soon as the commander has received his from above. The commander will follow this with a preliminary decision, enabling detailed planning to be done. Should developments affect the initial concept in any way, this will be reflected in the final decision, and planning will be tailored accordingly.
- Soviet military art has its roots in the last years of the Russian Empire. After Russia lost the war with Japan in 1905, staff officers and military historians began a soul-searching period to understand why they were defeated. In the words of Alexander A. Neznamov: "[Russia] did not understand modern war". In other words, the military failed to understand that the growing size, firepower and sustainability of armies meant that the single, decisive battle of Napoleon's time was a thing of the past.
- The First World War unequivocally demonstrated this trend on an even larger scale. The Russians felt that it was extremely difficult to destroy large enemy groupings for a decisive effect. During the Battle of Lodz in 1914, the Austro-German forces trying to encircle a Russian field army was itself threatened by a Russian counter-envelopment. On the Eastern Front, both the Russians and Central Powers could create a penetration or force the enemy to retreat, but neither had a viable concept to transform a breakthrough into a sustained drive.
- The Russian Civil War was different. Rather than the positional warfare of the Western Front, or the semi-mobile "gummy war" of the East, it was a fluid maneuver war where cavalry, encounter battles, and armoured trains dominated the battlefield. A defeated force would retreat and be pursued over hundreds of kilometers, until logistical limitations halted the pursuer.
- 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 defense 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 only had the logistical strength for a single operation to a maximum depth of 500km before a necessary operational pause to allow forward stockpiling. It was essential that they halt for at least a month, and ideally three, to build up supply stockpiles in Latvia and Belarus and Western Ukraine. Yet the Germans only went onto the defensive in the centre, pushing their forces onward in the Ukraine and the Baltic in the second campaign (July-September). Consequently the advancing troops did not have sufficient ammunition supplies and so took such heavy losses that they were barely effective in the third campaign (Taifun, October). Logistical preparations for the third campaign (October-November) were undermined by expenditure during the second campaign and stockpiles ran out by the middle of October. Poorly-armed and trained Soviet troops were then able to fight the Germans on equal terms because of the shortages of ammunition. Ultimately, in the First Period of War German 'victory fever' and inattention to logistics caused them to take losses they could not afford, even if they managed to inflict heavy losses on the Soviets in turn. Thus the first turning point of the war was early on. Convincing arguments have been made for Taifun (October-November), Kiev (September), and even Smolensk (July) being turning points, with each campaign cumulatively reducing Germany's options and capabilities until there was no longer any hope of winning a quick war. By the time of The Winter Counter-Offensive of 1941-2, let alone Stalingrad, Soviet survival was no longer at stake. This meant the Soviet advantages in military theory and weaponry would (thanks to Soviet industry) be able to counter short-term German advantages in operational skill and troop training.
- 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 enemys 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 Khrushchevs 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.
- Gorbachevs 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-practiced 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 defense 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.
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.
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 (of special note are a praticularly badass group with the awesome name of the Night Witches) 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.
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.
- Order of Suvorov- again for exceptional duty. Named after famous general Alexander "Training's hard, battle's easy" Suvorov. This is one of the so-called "leaders' orders", which are both named for famous military commanders of the past and awarded to high-ranking officers only.
- 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.
- 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. Naturally, it's another one of the leaders' orders.
- 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 As of December 10th of 2017, all bearers of the order are dead.
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 defense 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.
- 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 (Khalkhin Gol encirclement operation, 1939), and he did it with the neglected, ill-equipped Mongolian and eastern Soviet forces (whom he had nothing but admiration for). He was responsible for the Soviet offensive operation at Smolensk in July 1941, which forced the Germans onto the defensive and ended their (hopelessly optimistic) plan to occupy Moscow by the end of the month. 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. Tactically he was only passably competent, and some such as Anthony Beevor have actually maintained that he was incompetent in this role, but it is hard to question that his planning and conduct of operations and his grasp of strategy was anything less than inspired. His 'style' was blunt and callous, but undeniably effective - like the man himself. Zhukov himself would have been very quick to point out the greater importance of his subordinates and colleagues (Vasilevsky, Rokossovsky, Vatutin, etcetc), rather than analysing his own role in isolation.
- Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Koniev: Excellent operational commander of the Great Patriotic War, though his grasp of strategy was much shakier. Zhukov never doubted his abilities, but constantly derided what he saw as Koniev sucking up to Stalin. This has some basis in fact, given that Stalin really did go out of his way to drive the two apart - one classic example being in the operation to reduce the Korsun pocket in Western Ukraine, early 1944. Although Stalin had pressured Zhukov into throwing his men into the assault, when his forces stalled he had Koniev's men take over and gave them all the credit.
- Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstanty Ksawerowicz Rokossowski: Truly exceptional operational commander with a long and varied career. His style was unconventional and sophisticated - almost too much so. 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 Tuhkachevsky. This cost him his freedom, his teeth, and his fingernails in Stalin's Great Purge. He was brought back because of his gift for operational art in World War II, where his willingness to stand up to Stalin and excellent experience won him many admirers. His army group was assigned to flank-guard duty for the Battle Of Berlin (which was conducted by Zhukov and Konev's army groups) because Stalin wanted an ethnic Russian to capture the city and he wanted Rokossovsky to be ready to reinforce Koniev just in case the allies tried to take Berlin and/or start World War III. 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: truly outstanding tactician of the Great Patriotic War and one of the top-ten most important Soviet commanders of the entire war. Before the war he was a Lieutenant general posted to aid Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese struggle against Imperial Japan, where he oversaw some training and reform of Chinese military forces with Soviet material and technical asssistance. Recalled to the USSR after the German invasion, he was given an Army and ordered to hold the city of Stalingrad itself while Vatutin & co. ruthlessly counter-attacked the German flanks. Zhukov later criticised him for neglecting to mention that his force was less than a third of the force actually holding the Germans up at Stalingrad. Chuikov was assigned to assault various heavily-fortified positions and cities throughout the war, with his post-Stalingrad forces experiencing a more than 100% turnover in the following years. He personally accepted the surrender of the forces defending Berlin. The USA had the theoretical framework in place to understand the significance of his (tactical) service, making him the only Soviet citizen ever to have ever received the second highest decoration in the United States military: the Distinguished Service Cross.
- Colonel Yuri Gagarin: The first man in space.
- 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. Though Petrov found himself Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee afterwards, the committee's conclusion was that he had acted sensibly and properly in the situation, but 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 he was ultimately 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 dropped practice depth charges on the Soviet submarine B-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.
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.
- That goes quite far: for example, an 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!), use the obvious adjective 'Kosmicheskiy', and here you are.
One of the few Western examples of the Soviet military as good guys is Enemy at the Gates, which is set during the Second World War, when the USSR were good guys, at least compared to Those Wacky Nazis so to speak.