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Better Soviet Military

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For some context, I'm planning a story for alternatehistory.com in which the Soviet Union survive to the present, and while I won't dive into too much detail the premise is that Stalin dies in 1945 and is replaced by someone other than Kruschev, smarter economic and political decisions are made allowing them to hang on to present day. We know that the Soviets maintained a large and bloated military and expended billions of rubles on unpractical designs as well as hoarding old and outdated equipment for far too long. My questions for you are how could they streamline and modernize more effectively, what equipment should have seen service and what shouldn't have, and how could they better use the technology they developed and keep pace with the West in that department.
 

Dilandu

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The problem was the system. The military essentially have little to do with deciding what to use or produce. It was a Party central committe, that decided which weapon military needed. And it was filled with lobbysts of different large factories, engineering bureaus, ect. - each of which pushed for their production.

Thing is, that Soviet economical system extremely favoured overfulfillment of the established production plan (it quantity, time, or resource economy), and it was more or less expected from the director of large factory - a VERY desirable position! - to routinely overfullfil the plan. Of course, this made them... reluctant to adopt non-standard methods that could hamper the production. Their general desire was to put into State's plan something, that their factory was well-accustomed to produce.

That's why we have three (!) main battle tanks - T-64, T-72 and T-80 - produced at the same time. Each of them was from different factory. If only one tank would be chosen - say, T-72 - this would means, that other two factories would be forced to switch on non-familiar designs, and at least initially they would most likely fail to fulfill the plan. And this means, that their directors career would stall seriously; if things went not right, they nay even be replaced (and being replaced due to inability to fulfill the State's Plan on major factory was a serious blow to ambitioys men career). That's why directors fought tooth and claw against any standartization proposal.

The same reason was, why Soviet military doctrine stagnated. The industry - which dominated the military - liked the situation as it was. If USSR would decided to modernize its doctrine radically - as Ogarkov wanted - it would inevitably means, that some fctories would lose their importance. For example, if USSR decided that it needed more attack helicopters than tanks, it would means less orders for tanks factories, and more for helicopter ones, which would seriously change the Politbureau internal balance.
 

Purpletrouble

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The issue is that none of the decision makers really faced the true cost of decisions. The same is true in nearly all State organisations and we see the exact same issues in the West.

The problem is for the USSR the state was everything and so there was no check or balance. In the West, politicians and private industry could change, the former very quickly on almost a whim. Stuff was public and of course they had and used their vote plus politicians responded to that. This factor wentirely missing in the dictatorship.

The Soviet military of course was also intently political and had been since control was re-exerted after it had to be freed to some extent to win the war.

In answer to the question - did they need better? No-one expected NATO to hold conventionally and the emphasis on quantity vs quality was probably right for a large continental empire with huge “occupation” commitments. Note the UK only returned to a professional force after it decided to (forced to) end large scale empire basing.

What needs to change to hang on is a decision not to try and match or overwhelm the West militarily, but to focus much more on their own people, and walk away from the massive military spending. That seems utterly impossible given the nature of the Soviet dictatorship and the core ethos that it was all about defeating the “threat”.
 
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Dilandu

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In answer to the question - did they need better? No-one expected NATO to hold conventionally and the emphasis on quantity vs quality was probably right for a large continental empire with huge “occupation” commitments. Note the UK only returned to a professional force after it decided to (forced to) end large scale empire basing.
To be exact, quantity vs quality approach was the product of 50s "broken-backed war" thinking. It was assumed that intence nuclear exchange would make WW2 style, industrial mobilization impossible, so tons of simple, reliable stored weapons would be a decisive factor.
 
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Purpletrouble

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Yes- but the Soviets stuck with it long after the West abandoned that. My point was they didnt need qualitative superiority as their size and need to garrison large parts of their own territory would always favour quantity. Thus better tech doesn’t really help them unless it comes at no extra cost to scale, which it won’t.

The only way the USSR survives is if it can eschew the arms race with the West - that seems impossible given how baked in fear/paranoia, international military intervention & competition and the military industrial complex was to the Communist / Soviet ethos.
China offers a counterpoint - it accepted military inferiority in any projection sense (but enough to prevent attack) and focussed on its economy with limited overseas roles. Now it has that powerful economy it can increasingly spend on the military and go quality and quantity.
The US tries to do both but that may not last much longer.

Perhaps the failure of the USSR was trying to run before it could walk, noting all super powers spent a long time with limited military (think UK pre industrial revolution, US and China) only ramping that up after a major economic growth.
 

Dilandu

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Yes- but the Soviets stuck with it long after the West abandoned that.
Yes. Because, as I mentioned - it was the most suitable for the interests of industry, and industry dominated the military. Industry wanted to build many simple things, that they knew how to make well, industry didn't want complex technology, that would be hard to produce and would require costly reorganization. They were also suspicious, that any large doctrinal changes may lead to some "venerable" industrial giants losing their importance, and thus seriously affecting inner political stage.
 

Dilandu

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Perhaps the failure of the USSR was trying to run before it could walk, noting all super powers spent a long time with limited military (think UK pre industrial revolution, US and China) only ramping that up after a major economic growth.
It's hard to put a single failure point. The fall of USSR was a very complex problem - and as any complex problem, it have no simple correct answer "why that happens". Western historiography, of course, tried to put it into a simple answer "socialism was wrong, capitalism was right", but its a slogan, not an actual explanation. A lot of factors worked.

I'd personally say, the most important factor was, that USSR was the first one trying. It could not learn out of the predecessors experience, because it had none. Essentially it was forced to make all possible mistake (and learn on them) by itself, and at some point the number of mistakes and their consequences just became impossible to handle.
 

Grey Havoc

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First order of business; make sure Gorbachev and his cronies never get near the reins of power.

With regards as the 1970s, one thing that definitely should have gone into production was the T-74 tank. For one thing it would have allowed soviet tank turbine development to be much less rushed.

(h/t Abraham Gubler)

On another note, I should note that idea of broken-back war came back into fashion in the 1980s.
 
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r16

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nothing wrong with Gorbachev . He would do far better if Andropov had managed to live a couple more years , placing more reformists hence Gorbachev men in place . Chernobyle could not be foreseen , except people actually reading their manuals and the West was totally committed to Jihadists and the poster if Muslim himself and Afghanistan created an abyss between those who wanted reform and those who "feared" the West would attack , which would finally break the back of the


edit : ls the software silly ? Pretty sure ı corrected it to poster is Muslim ...
 
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Purpletrouble

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I must admit Russia doesn’t seem to have learn
Yes- but the Soviets stuck with it long after the West abandoned that.
Yes. Because, as I mentioned - it was the most suitable for the interests of industry, and industry dominated the military. Industry wanted to build many simple things, that they knew how to make well, industry didn't want complex technology, that would be hard to produce and would require costly reorganization. They were also suspicious, that any large doctrinal changes may lead to some "venerable" industrial giants losing their importance, and thus seriously affecting inner political stage.
I think we are agreeing! Industry/Military dominated everything and so outcomes were distorted accordingly.

This is a core issue - the leadership was so synonomous with the military and intelligence worlds that there was effectively no difference. The very nature of Soviet, indeed, Communism at all, was rooted in warfare and so saw everything though that window. Throw in that there was no check or balance on stopping failure and that every single decision is politicised, they had no way to find a better way through until way too late. Even under Gorby (we named our guinea pig after him as even as kids we knew his importance!) they didn’t back down on the military and the entire thing pretty much collapsed.

There were and are many good things the Soviets achieved, and the West often does exactly the same for the same political/interests reasons - but the West seems to be able to adapt better (ie. abandoning broken backed war) plus the idea of a lawful opposition promotes some transparency and accountability. Still flawed though.

My point on running before walking was that from the outset they tried to be international, both indirectly and directly - that cost them a lot of energy and resources and clearly antagonised a lot of people. China focussed inward, and even now doesn’t try to sell it’s politics - just its stuff. I think there is more than “being first” here, Russia had been an Empire and the Soviets perceived they needed the revolution to be wider if they were to survive. China seems to be more a continuation of historical lack of interest in non-China.
 

uk 75

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The Czech crisis of 1968 disillusioned many in Eastern Europe. East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles might have gone along with a reformed Warsaw Pact and Comecon at a time when the West was wracked with doubt over Vietnam and the youth revolt.
If instead of Breshnev, Andropov had overthrown Kruschev and focussed on economic and political reform.
The West was at its most indecisive and doubt ridden
The crushing of the Prague Spring gave NATO a much needed jolt. If instead, Dubcek had been allowed a measure of reform, the West would have been denied this jolt. West Germany was particularly vulnerable. Read John Le Carre Small.Town in Germany to see how fragile the West was.
 

Purpletrouble

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The Czech crisis of 1968 disillusioned many in Eastern Europe. East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles might have gone along with a reformed Warsaw Pact and Comecon at a time when the West was wracked with doubt over Vietnam and the youth revolt.
If instead of Breshnev, Andropov had overthrown Kruschev and focussed on economic and political reform.
The West was at its most indecisive and doubt ridden
The crushing of the Prague Spring gave NATO a much needed jolt. If instead, Dubcek had been allowed a measure of reform, the West would have been denied this jolt. West Germany was particularly vulnerable. Read John Le Carre Small.Town in Germany to see how fragile the West was.
I know it is TV, but the Deutschland series I found very interesting - showing a completely bankrupt East Germany (morally so too but prob more artistic licence there!), which given the subsidy even today within Germany clearly was about the truth.
The fundamental problem with the Communist system (dictatorship) was it couldn’t reform. When they tried it fell apart. Very much like the Empire, you either have the status that you are in charge and the natives aren’t, or once you give the natives some control, you concede that point and the end is a given. (not a bad thing btw!)
For all their moral wrongness, those pushing the harder line were in fact right I think.
I will have to look up the Le Carre book - never heard of that one but he is (and just checked, happily surprised he is still with us!) an awesome author.
 

bobtdwarf

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For some context, I'm planning a story for alternatehistory.com in which the Soviet Union survive to the present, and while I won't dive into too much detail the premise is that Stalin dies in 1945 and is replaced by someone other than Kruschev, smarter economic and political decisions are made allowing them to hang on to present day. We know that the Soviets maintained a large and bloated military and expended billions of rubles on unpractical designs as well as hoarding old and outdated equipment for far too long. My questions for you are how could they streamline and modernize more effectively, what equipment should have seen service and what shouldn't have, and how could they better use the technology they developed and keep pace with the West in that department.
The problem was not having higher tech equipment per se, Dilandu touches on the real problem: Industrial inefficiency. So much of Soviet industry was being consumed in military production that they were not fulfilling wants of the population; hell they weren't able to make enough refrigerators to fulfill the needs of families in the Heroic mother program and that was considered VITAL to the survival of the Soviet state.

You want the Soviets to survive to present day? Reform the mindset that Dilandu references so that you can devote more of your production capacity to making stuff that makes your population "happier"... give them a reason to believe the Soviet State cared about their survival and fulfillment and the population will work to ensure that the Soviet State survives.
 

Dilandu

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The problem was not having higher tech equipment per se, Dilandu touches on the real problem: Industrial inefficiency. So much of Soviet industry was being consumed in military production that they were not fulfilling wants of the population; hell they weren't able to make enough refrigerators to fulfill the needs of families in the Heroic mother program and that was considered VITAL to the survival of the Soviet state.
There are general agreement among Russian amateur historian & military geeks ( :) ) that it was mainly Khrushev fault; he nationalized all collective owned artel's, and took them under Gosplan. Before that, there were a lof of semi-private (collectively owned) industrial artel's and cooperatives, that handled the production of good for population. Since they have personal interest, they were much more flexible than state owned, could better react on population demands, and some of them even grew to significant factories that made electronics, tools, ect.

But Khrushev though that it is all the "remnants of capitalism", and eventually ordered all cooperative owned industry to be nationalized. Everything was dragged into monstorous, inflexible Gosplan, that struggled to predict such things as "fashion", and have little interest in trying something new (that's why USSR was so eager to copy Western machinery; Gosplan was reluctant to experiment , but quite eager to copy the already-proven things)
 

Pioneer

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"
China focussed inward, and even now doesn’t try to sell it’s politics - just its stuff."

- Purpletrouble

"If instead of Breshnev, Andropov had overthrown Kruschev and focussed on economic and political reform."

- uk 75

"Industrial inefficiency. So much of Soviet industry was being consumed in military production that they were not fulfilling wants of the population"

- bobtdwarf


The above quotes are very interesting!!


It's my view that the Soviet Union's attempt to match 'like for like' with prodomantly the United States, in terms of technological capacity/capability wasn't always necessary [and I often wonder how much of this technological race was deliberate on behalf of the US, to say nothing of the $ benifits $ of the US Military Industral Complex...].
So much time, money and resources were expended on no-end programs like the Myasishchev M-50, the Sukhoi T-4, with both programs which the Soviet's must have known would have issues in terms of operational range, and yet they were pursued regardless, with little prospect of them emerging operational service in any substantial numbers.

Moving on....
The Soviet Union sells it's weapons/weapons systems at a reasonable price, as opposed to gifting them in the name of communist solidarity. This way the Soviet's 'comradery' is somewhat compensated for its blood, sweet and treasure, as opposed to blatantly bleeding it....


I would think a greater rationalisation of its fighter force from the late 1970 to 1980's, in terms of 'High/Low Mix'
For example, the Mikojan-Gurevich MiG-33 in place of the MiG-29. For as good as the MiG-29 is, it's still heavier and larger than the MiG-33, which equates to a more expensive design, need I say anything about it's twin-engines...


I'm wondering, going by the successes of the post-Soviet Union market success of its arms exports, if the Soviet Union was able and willing to sell more of its latest state-of-the-art weapons/weapons systems, which weren't deliberately dumb-downed 'monkey models'... I'm thinking 1980's in response to Reagan's Administration's delibratly disregarding Carter's attempts to control and reign in conventional arms proliferation through the the 'developing world'...in which Soviet intelligence identifies and encourages the Politburo to not just recognise this threatening American strategy, but to counter this Reagan Administration's engineered strategy of attempting to bankrupt the Soviet Union through an arms races - be it conventional or nuclear.
By the Soviet Union offering it's state-of-the-art weapons/weapons systems to aligned and unaligned countries, the Soviet Union is not just in a better position to make hard currency through a greater and diverse market, geo-politically it can compete, and even potentially take markets away from western countries like Britian, France and Italy, even the United States......


Maybe the Soviet Union would be more conducive to doing joint projects with other countries, using the aspect of scientific/technological assistance as a more productive geo-political tool, rather than just straight out equipping despote regimes. A sharing of ideas and notion of nation-building with both communist countries/regimes and neutral
/non-aligned countries/regimes alike - almost remanisent of what like modern PRC has done...'we don't care about how your dictatorship/regime acts, so long as we gain your political and economic support, you can treat your people however brutal you like'...
An example of this joint weapons system development programs might be the likes of the Soviet Union and India developing an aircraft carrier design - I'm thinking something like an earlier derivative of the Kiev-class VTOL carrier into a full fledged STOBAR configuration, for both the Soviet and Indian navies in the 1980's....[The Indian STOBAR Kiev replacing INS Vikrant (Majestic-class light carrier)]
An amphibious assault ship design...Im thinking of Soviet Union/India jointly developing, building and fielding the likes of the Project 1174 (Ivan Rogov) class in the mid-1970's... This way, the Soviet's save in terms of R&D, as well as the economy of scale, I'm thinking for example, the Soviet Navy commissioning six, while the India Navy commissions three vessels.
Such a deeper relationship of joint development might even see India participating in the Project 11435 (Kuznetsov) class STOBAR aircraft carrier program, which negates India purchasing INS Viraat [ex HMS Hermes (Centaur-class)]


Maybe after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union recognises it's wrong hardline turn and moves away from its totalaterian Communism to that of actual socialism, which doesn't circulate on paramilitary intelligence and police...inturn offering communist countries/regimes and neutral/non-aligned countries/regimes alike assistance with developing their science, agriculture, education and medical systems, with the bonus of gaining military equipment/weapons sales, as a consequence....remanisent of Yugoslavia and Cuba in a sense..... Alas, selling weapons/weapons systems as a byproduct, as opposed to a principle of encouraging revolution...


Maybe with such a change in political/economic outlook that circumnavigate some hardline ideology, the Soviet Union could market the likes of the Antonov An-22 Antei and later An-124 Ruslan as the commercial powerhouse of airlift capability, as the An-124 commercially became after the collapse of the Soviet Union earlier, in the colours of Aeroflot throughout the world. Once again, in the scale of economy, by doing so, the Soviet military would be able to acquire larger numbers of such capable strategic transport aircraft within their inventory - alas in the colours and markings of Aeroflot, at a better cost because of the ability to build a greater number of airframes....


Regards
Pioneer
 
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Hood

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An interesting perspective.
My thoughts are; many third world nations relied on discounted prices, the US had the MDAP and other similar aid schemes which put M-48s, M-113s, F-5s and other goodies into relatively poor nations' arsenals. The Soviets (and Chinese to a lesser extent) did the same thing. Nations like Guinea, Ethiopia and Nicaragua required largesse to get the weapons they needed, saying that they had less need for advanced weapons so old BTR-60s, T-55s and MiG-17s and 21s seemed to fit the bill reasonably well and being pretty simple to maintain made up for being rough and ready.

Russian paranoia seemed to make them unable to provide even their Warsaw Pact co-opted allies with identical kit in case it was used against them. So any export model was always downgraded and then further downgraded for non-WP buyers. This seems waste I would agree. But interestingly few nations actually brought Soviet kit willingly over Western types. Few that come to mind; South Korean Kamovs and Finnish MiG-29s (though there was Soviet pressure here), in terms of airliners only the Italian Yak-42s come to mind as willing Western buyers. As we've seen in recent years, when even top-end is put on the market at low prices the perceived lower capability and quality over Western kit has seen sales fall to those nations who are denied weapons from other sources or who can't pay and need barter deals. So there was an uphill struggle from the 80s onwards to really gain non-aligned sales. India seems to be one outlier who brought a lot of kit but also gained a lot of technical know-how too. As you allude too, there has been a lot of cross-pollination and co-operation since the 1980s, there was scope their to earn hard currency in co-operative programmes. Sadly most of those since 1991 have fallen through (transports and fighters, submarines) and it can't be any coincidence that as India has gained in wealth that it is now buying much more US equipment like Apaches, C-17s and P-8s.
Really in this AH scenario the Gosplan really needed to pay attention to spares production to enable better service support.

Interesting you mention the MiG-29, it is interesting that even the WP nations could not afford more than a dozen or so. Czechoslovakia only planned to buy the ones it got before the collapse and Poland, East Germany and Hungary only had penny packet numbers. This partly reflects the poor state of the Communist economies before the collapse of the entire system, but also reflects the high price and perhaps an unwillingness of Moscow to give them way in order to recoup its development and production costs. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had the Eastern Bloc held together another decade or so, it seems likely the WP forces would have begun to outdate rather quickly compared to NATO forces.
 
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