Post-WWII Soviet Experimental Heavy AFVs

A T-10M [at bottom left] showing its losef Stalin parentage. The tank had a crew of four and the gun mantlet an armour thickness of 250mm (9.8in). The big rifled D-49T gun had 30 rounds, of which 20 were HE and the remainder one of three types of antitank round. The size of the rounds meant that the crew could only achieve a rate of fire of two to three rounds a minute.

In the Allied victory parade British and American officers saw for the first time the awesome Iosef Stalin IS-3 Shchuka or ‘Pike’. The superbly angled armour and 122mm (4.8in) gun made it a formidable vehicle. The IS heavy tank series would develop through the IS-4 and end with the T-10, or IS-8.

Soviet IS-6 Heavy Tank – Plan

Two versions of a prototype WWII Russian tank destroyer based on the ISU-152 assault gun. The goal was to field an anti-tank gun heavy enough to deal with the heavier German tanks like the Tiger II, Jagdtiger and any potentially larger tanks the Russian thought might be in the works with the Germans. The first prototype ISU-152-1 (Object 246) was developed in April 1944 and mounted the BL-8 long barrel gun. Performance did not meet expectations so the gun was reworked. In August 1944 a second prototype ISU-152-2 (Object 247) replaced the BL-8 with the improved and slightly shortened BL-10. It was not accepted into service because the barrel’s service life was still not what designers wanted it to be. The penetrating power and accuracy still did not meet expectations so the gun was again sent back for improvements but the war ended before this was ever completed.

The Object 704 self propelled gun was a prototype tank utilising elements both the IS-2 and IS-3 tanks. It was designed to carry the 152.4 mm ML-20SM model 1944 gun-howitzer, with a barrel length of over 4.5 metres (29.6 calibers) and no muzzle brake. It had a maximum range of 13,000 metres. The self-propelled gun carried 20 rounds of two piece (shell and charge) armour-piercing and high explosive ammunition. The armour-piercing round, weighing 48.78 kg, had a muzzle velocity of 655 m/s. The rate of fire was 1-2 round/min. The secondary armament of the fighting vehicle consisted of two 12.7 x 108 mm DShK machine guns, one anti-aircraft and one co-axial.

In many ways it was superior to the ISU-152 with thicker and more well angled armour, without sacrificing much in terms of mobility which was comparable to the ISU-152. In some places, especially the mantlet, the armour thickness could reach 320mm making it the best protected Soviet Assault gun of WW2. Built in1945 at the Chelyabinsk Kirovsk Plant. One prototype was developed of Object 704, which is housed today at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.

However, there were numerous issues that came with the tank. Notice in the picture that the gun lacked a muzzle brake. This noticeably increased the recoil of the gun. Combined with the sloped armour which reduced space in the fighting compartment, it significantly complicated the work for the crew.

This was the primary reason the tank wasn’t used. Although on paper, the tank looked superior to the ISU-152, it gained those advantages at the cost of ergonomics.

The Soviet Army continued to develop heavy tanks with even thicker armour. The most significant of them was the IS-3, which stemmed from the experience of the 1943 Battle of Kursk. This battle emphasized the importance of frontal armour and led to the design of the IS-3, which was in effect an IS-2 but with a ballistically much better-shaped turret and hull front. The armour of IS-3 was actually 120mm thick at the front of the hull, but because of the way it was angled it was equivalent to about 330mm against conventional armour-piercing projectiles, which was more than the armour of any tank produced before its appearance.

The development of the IS-3 started in 1944 and it was put into production with remarkable speed at the beginning of 1945. But only a few were completed by the time the war ended and so none saw any action in it. Production of it continued until 1959 and totalled 2,311 tanks.

The existence of the IS-3 was revealed to the outside world when 52 took part in the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin in September 1945. After the parade Marshal Zhukov, the Soviet commander in Germany, is reported to have told Stalin that IS-3 made a great impression on Western observers. In fact, the IS-3 came to be considered the principal threat to Western armies during the early days of the Cold War, and as `Stalin tanks’ they became something of a bogey. However, they suffered from various shortcomings including cracking of the welded joints between their armour plates, some of which was due to them being rushed into production, and they had to undergo a number of modifications that went on until the late 1950s. When they were eventually used in combat, they also proved less formidable than was expected. This was the case in 1956, when some were destroyed in the streets of Budapest during the Hungarian uprising, and when the Israeli forces destroyed or captured 73 of the 100 IS-3s the Egyptian Army employed during the Six Day War of 1967.

The IS-3 was followed after the Second World War by the development of other heavy tanks. First came the IS-4, which was also armed with a 122mm gun but had thicker frontal armour, as a result of which it weighed 60 tonnes compared with the 46.5 tonnes of the IS-3. It was produced from 1947 to 1949 but only about 200 are believed to have been built. Next came the IS-6, which was essentially an IS-4 but with an electric instead of a mechanical transmission. It proved a failure. The third tank to be built was the IS-7, which was armed with a more powerful 130mm gun based on a naval gun. It weighed 68 tonnes, which made it the heaviest tank built in the Soviet Union. Design of the IS-7 was begun in 1945 and a series of four was completed in 1948, but after accidents during trials further development of it was abandoned.

There was one more heavy tank that was originally called IS-8 but which after Stalin’s death in 1953 was re-designated T-10, breaking the connection of the heavy tanks with the Soviet dictator. In essence, the T-10 was an improved version of the IS-3, and it was armed with a similar 122mm gun but it had thicker armour as a result of which it was heavier, weighing 50 tonnes. In 1953 the Soviets introduced into service their last heavy tank, the T-10 Lenin. The successor to the KV/IS series of World War II heavy tanks, the T-10 was basically an enlarged IS with a heavier gun and more powerful engine. It had a stretched hull with a total of seven road wheels. The Lenin weighed some 114,600 pounds, had a 690- hp engine that provided a maximum speed of 26 mph, and had a crew of four. It mounted a 122mm main gun and three machine guns, with maximum 270mm armor protection. Expensive to build, heavy, and difficult to maintain logistically, the T-10 was phased out in the mid-1960s in favor of the T-62. It equipped a number of Warsaw Pact armies and was exported to both Egypt and Syria.

It began to be produced in 1950 and continued to be built until 1957, when it was succeeded by an improved T-10M version that was produced until 1962. By then the number of T-10 and T-10M that were produced amounted to about 8,000 tanks.

Four more heavy tanks were developed by 1957, three of them armed with 130mm guns and all weighing between 55 and 60 tonnes. However, none was adopted and further development of heavy tanks was discontinued as a result of a decision taken against it in 1960 by Nikita Krushchev, who came to power in the mid-1950s and who doubted the future of tanks because of the appearance of anti-tank guided missiles.

According to US estimates, the total post-war production of heavy tanks was about 9000 vehicles; about 1000 were IS-3M and IS-4, and the remainder were T-10 and T-10M.

Heavy tanks, from the IS-3 to the T-10 (1959)


SCUD-Types Redux

Notable missile systems such as Scud, Scaleboard and Scarab gave Soviet commanders the means to strike deep into the enemy’s lines of communication and across the battlefield. The initial generation of mobile medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles such as the SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean were transported by cumbersome trailers. (The latter systems gained some infamy after they were involved in the Cuban missile crisis.) These were followed by much more mobile self-propelled missiles mounted on their own transporter-erector-launchers (TELs).

The Soviet Union viewed its strategic rocket forces as the heart of its defensive system and the rocket personnel as the very elite of the Soviet forces. The strategic rocket forces evolved from the Soviet Army’s artillery, and the first commander-in-chief was also head of the artillery. They were formed in 1959 and were responsible for all Soviet land-based missiles with ranges over 1,000km. (Missiles with lesser ranges were assigned to the rocket and artillery branches of the ground forces.) Notably, the strategic rocket forces were considered the ‘primary service’ and their commander-in-chief took precedence over all other military supreme commanders.

SS-1 Scud Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-1C, known to NATO as the Scud B, was a medium-range surface-to-surface missile intended for battlefield strikes to hit troop concentrations, defences, depots and railways up to a distance of 280km. The missile was 11.4m long and could take high explosive, chemical and nuclear warheads. The rocket was a single-stage missile employing a liquid propellant. The Scud A and B were initially deployed on tracked carriers derived from the IS-3 (Joseph Stalin III) heavy tank chassis, but were later transported on the eight-wheeled MAZ-543. This had eight-wheel-drive, with the front four wheels steerable, and weighed 28 tons with the missile. The crew compartment consisted of a heated and air-conditioned cab divided into two by the missile. The original version was first seen in 1957, and the longer B variant five years later. The SS-1C Scud B was widely deployed with all the Warsaw Pact armies, as well as in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The Egyptians fired a number at Israeli targets in the Sinai in 1973, but missed. Around a thousand Scud B missiles were fired at Mujahideen targets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The longer-range Scud C and D missiles were largely superseded by the SS-12 Scaleboard and the short-lived SS-23 Spider.

SS-4 Sandal Theatre Ballistic Missile

The SS-4 Sandal, with a range of 2,000km, was an upgraded version of the earlier SS-3 Shyster. It became operational in the late 1950s and was deployed in some numbers with Soviet field armies. This missile system, though, was not really very mobile as it required twelve vehicles towing special trailers, and the missile itself had to be erected and fuelled before firing. From the late 1970s it was replaced by the fully mobile SS-20 Saber, although this process was not completed until the late 1980s. The longer-range silo-based SS-5 Skean that appeared in the early 1960s was essentially a scaled-up version of the Sandal. It was withdrawn from service from the mid-1970s onwards.

SS-12 Scaleboard Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-12 Scaleboard, first reported in 1967, was previously known as the SS-1D Scud C, but Scaleboard was a much more powerful missile than the Scud. Its range of 800km made it more of a strategic weapon than one for battlefield support. Scaleboard missiles deployed in East Germany could have reached much of eastern and south-eastern England. The SS-12 was very similar in appearance to the earlier SS-1C and employed the same MAZ-543 chassis as the transporter/launcher, but with a more fully enclosed body behind the cab. The missile was erected for firing in a similar way but was contained in a ribbed casing until ready for launch. The longer-range SS-23 Spider was eliminated in the late 1980s under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

SS-14 Scapegoat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-14 Scapegoat and SS-15 Scrooge were monstrous long-range ballistic missiles carried on tracked chassis. Neither was deployed, and subsequently the Soviets opted increasingly for heavy wheeled vehicles. The SS-14 was carried in a cylindrical container mounted over the carrier vehicle. Before launching, the container was raised hydraulically and placed in a vertical position on a launch pad lowered from the rear of the vehicle. The container was then opened and removed, leaving the exposed missile ready for firing. First observed on a mobile launch pad in May 1965, the SS-14 was an intermediate-range (3,500km) missile with a nuclear warhead; it measured about 10.7 metres in length and was propelled with a solid-fuel rocket. Due to poor mobility and slow missile deployment time, the system did not enter service and the missiles were replaced in 1970.

SS-15 Scrooge Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-15 Scrooge was an even larger intercontinental ballistic missile, measuring 18.3 metres, likewise carried in a tube on the back of a tracked vehicle. While erected in a similar way to the SS-14, it was fired direct from the tube. Propelled by a solid-fuel rocket, it could reach up to 5,600km. The carrying vehicles for both the SS-14 and the SS-15 were very similar, though their missile erecting systems differed. Interestingly, the running gear was derived from components of the IS-3 heavy tank or its later T-10 derivative.

The transporter had eight small road wheels (whereas the IS-3 had six and the T-10 seven) sprung on torsion bars. The long upper track was supported on five return rollers on each side, which were unevenly spaced. Power transmission was via rear drive sprockets and the engine was believed to have been a V-2 cylinder diesel similar to that in the T-10, which was capable of producing 700hp. In both systems the crew travelled in a superstructure at the front. Again the SS-15 was deemed simply too ungainly for use in the field.

SS-16 Sinner Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

This was the Soviet Union’s very first mobile ICBM, with a range of around 10,000km. The three-stage solid-propellant 18.5 metre-long missile was transported on a massive 12×12 TEL. According to the Soviets, it was never deployed, although Western Intelligence believed it had gone operational in the late 1970s, by which time 200 missiles had been built. Of these, fifty were deployed at the test training site in Plesetsk, but these ran foul of the SALT II Treaty and by the mid-1980s they had been removed from the training sites. Design work on this missile influenced both the SS-20 and the SS-25.

SS-19 Stiletto Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The Stiletto, unlike the other nuclear missiles described here, was not mobile, but was a fourth generation silo-launched liquid-propelled ICBM (supplementing the earlier SS-9, SS-11, SS-13, SS-17 and SS–18). Alongside the mobile Soviet strategic rocket forces, the SS-19 was the backbone of the silo-launched missile force. It was initially deployed in the 1970s but was replaced by the upgraded SS-19 Mod 3. This had a storage life of twenty-two years and was armed with six MIRVs. By 2008 Russia still had 126 operational missiles, but the mobile SS-25 remained the most numerous ICBM. Clearly Moscow felt that mobile systems offered a greater deterrence and first strike capability.

SS-20 Saber Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile

In light of the Warsaw Pact’s numerical superiority in ground forces, NATO developed a tactical nuclear weapons option that could form part of a graduated nuclear response. In order to neutralise these forces in Western Europe Moscow developed a new mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead with a range in excess of 5,000km. This was given the NATO reporting name of SS-20 Saber, and entered service in 1976. The system was also intended to supersede the old SS-4 and SS-5 missiles.

A 37 ton, 16.5 metre-long missile based on two solid-fuel fibreglass-clad stages originally designed for the abandoned SS-16 Sinner mobile ICBM programme, the Saber initially had a single warhead but was made MIRV-compatible and transported on a 12×12 MAZ-547A/MAZ-7916 TEL. This mobile system so alarmed NATO that it responded by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles to Western Europe. By the mid-1980s an estimated 350 Sabers had been deployed, with 240 in eastern Russia threatening Europe and the remainder in Siberia targeting China and Japan. In total, 654 SS-20 missiles and 499 TELs were built, but they were withdrawn from service in the late 1980s under the terms of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and destroyed in 1991.

SS-21 Scarab Short-Range Ballistic Missile

The smallest member of the Soviet Union’s family of short-range ballistic missiles was the mobile SS-21 Scarab, with a range of 120km (compared to the 50km of the SS-23 and the 900km of the SS-12M). Mounted on a 6×6 TEL, the SS-21 could take fragmentation, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. Developed in the late 1960s, it was used to replace the shorter-ranged FROG-7 battlefield rocket.

The Scarab A entered service with the Soviet Army in 1975 and was forward-deployed into East Germany in the early 1980s. From there, it could have destroyed NATO’s early warning radar and surface-to-air missile sites prior to air strikes. The longer-range Scarab B appeared in 1989, with a third version developed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By this stage Scarabs had replaced most of the FROG-7 rockets in Eastern Europe and had been supplied to Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Syria.

SS-24 Scalpel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Unlike the SS-19, the SS-24 Scalpel was deployed in 1987 as both a railway-based and silo-based missile. The rail-mounted version understandably had limited utility in time of war. In total, fifty-six rail-based systems were produced but they have since been decommissioned.

SS-25 Sickle Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Development of the SS-25 Sickle by the Soviets commenced in the late 1970s as an improved three-stage solid-propellant single-warhead mobile ICBM. The missile was deployed in a TEL canister on a 14×14 chassis. Measuring over 29 metres long and 1.7 metres in diameter, the missile was mounted on the MAZ-7310 or MAZ-7917. The TEL was normally supported by a mobile relay station and command support vehicle. Understandably, because the Sickle was fully mobile, it was vastly more expensive than the silo-based ICBMs. The first regiment equipped with it was activated in 1985; by 1991 the Russians had deployed 288 SS-25 missiles and five years later this figure had risen to 360. They were used to equip three strategic rocket forces missile armies totalling seven divisions.


Like those of the USA, the Soviet Union’s first post-war missile was a development of the German A-4; this led to the SS-1A (NATO = ‘Scunner’) with a range of 300 km and a 750 kg high-explosive warhead. The first nuclear battlefield missile to enter service (in 1957) was the Scud-A, which was mounted on a converted JS-3 heavy-tank chassis and carried a 50 kT warhead over a range of some 150 km. This was later supplemented by the Scud-B system, which carried a 70 kT warhead over a range of 300 km. Although Scuds were supplied to many other countries, nuclear warheads were only ever issued to the Soviet army and the system served throughout the Cold War, as plans to replace it with the SS-23 were cancelled as part of the INF Treaty.

The SS-12 (‘Scaleboard’) was a road-mobile, solid-fuelled ballistic missile, which was first fielded in 1962, followed by a modified version, the SS-12B (initially designated SS-22), in 1979. The missile had a maximum range of 900 km and a CEP of 30 m, carrying either a high-explosive or a 500 kT nuclear warhead, and system reaction time was estimated at sixty minutes. The SS-12B was withdrawn under the terms of the INF Treaty, and all missiles were destroyed.

One of the significant features of both the SS-1 and the SS-12 was that later versions were transported by 8 × 8-wheel TELs. These were highly mobile for off-road driving, were air-conditioned, accommodated the full crew and all necessary equipment, and even had an automatic tyre-pressure-regulation system. All these features enabled the missile detachment to move into a new location, set up the missile quickly, launch, and then move to a resupply point – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic.

All Warsaw Pact exercises made use of battlefield nuclear weapons in support of attacks. A typical scenario, used some 233 weapons in the first strike, followed by 294 in the second strike. As used in these exercises, the intended purpose was to eliminate NATO forward troops – Area B, for example, coincided with the North German Plain. Following such a strike, the Warsaw Pact tank and motor-rifle units would have been able to advance rapidly into NATO rear areas.

The Soviet equivalent of the Honest John was known to NATO as the FROG (for Free Rocket Over Ground). The last model, the FROG-7, had HE, chemical, and nuclear warheads and a range of 42 miles. The SS-1C, known to NATO as the SCUD-B, was a guided missile with a range of 180 miles. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi-made crude versions of the SCUD proved widely inaccurate but were a tremendous nuisance to the Coalition, especially when Iraq fired them at Israel in a failed attempt to broaden the conflict. The Soviet SS-21 guided missile was a divisional-level system with a range of only 60 miles.

The SS-23 was an army-level system with a range of 300 miles. The SS-12 was a theater-level system with a range of 540 miles. All these Soviet systems carried nuclear warheads. Under the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States agreed to eliminate the Pershing and the Soviets agreed to eliminate the SS-12 and SS-23.

Summit meeting between U. S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held in Moscow during 29 May–2 June 1988. It was the fourth such meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev since 1985. For Reagan, the conference coincided with congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this, some critics speculated that the president was trying to divert attention from the scandal by creating a newsworthy achievement at the meeting. The major accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the already-ratified 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 1 June 1988. It did not represent a breakthrough in arms control.

From the Soviet perspective, the 1988 summit greatly enhanced Gorbachev’s domestic and international prestige. This was because of the obvious close relationship between the two leaders and Reagan’s international reputation as an anticommunist hard-liner. Gorbachev’s heightened prestige gave him important political capital, which was needed as he continued to move forward with his perestroika and glasnost reforms.

The meeting was carefully crafted to focus on the INF Treaty. The treaty had been forged at the December 1987 Washington summit meeting between the two leaders and was approved by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in March 1988 and by the U. S. Senate on 29 May 1988. The treaty called for the destruction of 2,611 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with flight ranges of 300–3,400 miles. Included in the treaty were U. S. Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles as well as Soviet SS-4, SS-12, SS-20, and SS-23 missiles. It also specified very detailed on-site inspection and verification procedures. In accordance with the treaty, by 1991 both countries would have eliminated all intermediate- range nuclear missiles.


To increase the survivability of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), military planners have always turned to mobility in order to complicate the calculations of an attacker. For the Soviet Union, development of mobile ICBMs was slow until the late 1960s owing to concerns about command and control and the ability to maintain positive control of Soviet missiles under all circumstances. Lack of communications links were an additional Soviet concern. In the United States, high operating costs and the need to operate systems over enormous expanses of land limited interest in mobile missiles. The U. S. Air Force pursued the railmobile Minuteman option in 1960, which would have been deployed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, but for budgetary reasons Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara canceled the planned procurement of additional Minuteman ICBMs, which eliminated the need for the deployment scheme. As the accuracy of ICBMs improved, creating concerns about the survivability of ICBMs deployed in fixed silos, both superpowers revisited the issue of deploying mobile ICBMs.

The Soviets first attempted to use a tank chassis as a transporter for the SS-15 in 1968. After discovering that vibration of the chassis caused missile component failures, they canceled the system after ten test flights. After reviewing its options, the Soviet Strategic Forces decided that a truck chassis was a better vehicle than a tank chassis as a missile transporter, offered better road speeds, was relatively easy to maintain, and created fewer vibration problems. The SS-16 system that emerged in 1972 was concealable, highly mobile, and successful. It also became one of the major stumbling blocks in superpower arms control talks. The United States could not detect the missile launchers using reconnaissance satellites and tried to have mobile missiles banned. The SS-16 was specifically banned in the treaty resulting from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), although the Soviets kept the missile in their inventory in violation of the treaty. It was eventually withdrawn from service when better systems were ready for deployment.

After the SS-16 was decommissioned, the designs were used in the highly successful SS-20 intermediate- range ballistic missile (IRBM) that entered the Soviet arsenal in the 1970s. Soviet planners also decided that they required a secure second-strike capability and eventually deployed the road-mobile SS-25 and the rail-mobile SS-24 ICBMs. The SS-25 carried a single warhead, while the SS-24 carried ten multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). The SS-24 was deployed on missile trains that carried three missiles, their launchers, support equipment, and security railcars. These missile trains usually patrolled for about five days out of garrisons that were situated along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In order to keep its defense posture as other strategic arms treaties entered into force, Russia replaced the SS-25 with the SS-27, another road-mobile missile.


A transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is a self-propelled vehicle that transports and erects a missile to the vertical position in order to launch it. In the 1950s and 1960s, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were too heavy and too susceptible to vibration damage while being moved on a transporter. Development of a mobile ICBM was thus a high priority for both the United States and the U. S. S. R. The Soviet Union had a string of failures with its SS-14 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and its SS-15 ICBM, which were mounted on a tracked tank chassis. These two systems were never widely deployed because the tracked TELs could barely carry the weight of the massive ICBMs. Only with the development of the SS-16 ICBM and the SS-20 IRBM did the Soviets achieve their goal of a wheeled TEL.

The TEL carries not only a missile that is environmentally protected, but also electronics to monitor the missile, alignment equipment, and communications links to receive orders from headquarters. To increase the pre-launch survivability of the missile, the TEL must be able to traverse a variety of terrain types and move quickly over a large distance, especially to disperse to operating areas when placed on alert or during a crisis.

Russia currently uses a slightly larger TEL for its SS-25 and SS-27 ICBM force. Other nations have developed but not deployed mobile ICBM TELs. The United States developed a complex vehicle for the single-warhead Midgetman ICBM that could withstand a nuclear blast by hugging the ground. The MX missile also could have been TEL mounted, but it was never deployed in this configuration. Other short-range missile systems, most notably the Scud missile, often are mounted on trucks or simple tracked vehicles.

Reference Podvig, Pavel, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). A History of Strategic Arms Competition, 1945-1972, vol. 3, A Handbook of Selected Soviet Weapon and Space Systems (Washington, DC: United States Air Force, June 1976), pp. 204, 205, 209, 216. Jane’s Weapon Systems 1987-88 (London: Jane’s Publishing Company, 1988).


The Tupolev Tu-128 ‘Fiddler’, armed with its four unique-to-type AA-5 ‘Ash’ air-to-air missiles, started to enter service with the PVO in the mid-1960s. By this time, the Soviet air defence force was just undertaking its seventh post-war structural reorganisation, the sixth such event having been completed within the period 1957-60. Both of these periods of reorganisation had been managed under the tutelage of the then C-in-C of the PVO, Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergey Biryuzov, and were considered to have introduced significant improvements to the air defence of the Soviet Union. Those changes introduced at the end of the 1950s involved a reduction in the overall area and extent of the boundaries of responsibility of the Homeland Air Defence Troops (Voyska PVO Strany). The new organisational structure more fittingly reflected these changes and eased the task of controlling air combat against aerial intruders in Soviet airspace, rather than being aligned with the boundaries of the military districts (voyenniye okrugy), as was the case previously. Instead of twenty major formations and units of Homeland Air Defence linked to the number of military districts, only thirteen formations were retained: two PVO districts (Okrugy PVO), five PVO armies (Armii PVO) and six PVO corps (Korpusa PVO). For the first time, the zones of responsibility of the restructured formations and units embraced the entire territory of the USSR and the vulnerable access points to the country.

The seventh structural reorganisation was directed mainly at regularising control within the units of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, with changes affecting control at the operational/tactical level (opyerativnyi urovyen’). PVO formations were reduced in number, albeit with an increased number of assigned personnel, and the ranking of formations was raised, while a programme of automation of the command and control process was set in train. Significant changes also affected the tactical level of control of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, and instead of individual air defence artillery and fighter air corps and divisions, mixed air defence units (smeshannyie aviatsionno-zenitniye korpusa i divizii) were created, with a regimental structure for all branches of PVO troops. Thus, two or three aviation regiments and one to three air defence missile regiments (or brigades), dependent upon equipment and personnel establishment levels, began to form part of a standard air defence division. The unified control of air and AAA resources which had been well tried in the Great Patriotic War at the operational level was now also being achieved at the tactical level. All the wartime established VNOS posts (Posty Vozdushnovo Nablyudyeniya, Opovyeshcheniya i Svyazi) were replaced by PVO radio-technical troops, operating a network of early warning and missile guidance radars, whereas the monitoring posts only provided visual air observation (vozdushnoye nablyudyeniye), air-raid warning (opovyeshcheniye) and communications (svyaz’).

It was within this new organisational structure of Homeland Air Defence that the first Tu-128s were delivered to the Moscow District of the PVO, the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, and the 10th Independent Army of the PVO. It was decided to equip 445 IAP with the Tu-128, then based at Khotilovo, this regiment forming part of the 2nd Corps of the PVO (2 Korpus PVO), with its HQ in the garrison at Rzhev. The adjective ‘fighter’ (‘istrebityel’nyi’) was dropped from the title of regiments that operated the Tu-128 after the adoption of a different level of equipment and personnel establishment (shtat) for this aircraft. So after receiving its first Tu-128s, it was the newly abbreviated 445 AP (445 Aviatsionnyi Polk) which relocated to its purpose-built base at Savvatiya to form part of the 3rd Corps of the PVO (3 Korpus PVO), headquartered in the town of Yaroslavl’. In southern Siberia the Tu-128 began to equip units of the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, the Army’s HQ being in the city of Novosibirsk. In spite of the fact that the Army’s HQ was located so far south, its zone of responsibility also embraced the vast territory of eastern and western Siberia, right up to the islands of the Arctic Ocean. The new interceptor equipped two air defence divisions: 33 Division of the PVO (33 Diviziya PVO), with its HQ in Semipalatinsk, and 39 Division of the PVO (39 Diviziya PVO), headquartered in Irkutsk. The first formation, 33 Division, had two regiments equipped with the Tu-128—64 AP at Omsk-North and 356 AP at Zhana-Semey. The third regiment, 350 AP, based at Belaya, formed part of the 39th ‘Irkutsk’ Division.

The most northerly situated major formation of Homeland Air Defence Troops was the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, with its HQ in Arkhangel’sk. The head of the 10th Army in the mid-1970s, Col. Gen. Dmitriev, described his subordinate units as comprising up to 100 AAA missile divisions, equipped with S-75 (SA-2 ‘Guideline’), S-125 (SA-3 ‘Goa’) and later S-200 (SA-5 ‘Gammon’) missile complexes, at the time the most modern systems in Soviet service. His fighter units consisted of 280 interceptors, including Su-9 ‘Fishpots’, Su-15 ‘Flagons’, Yak-28 ‘Firebars’ and, of course, Tu-128 ‘Fiddlers’, plus a squadron of Tu-126 ‘Moss’ long-range radar picket and fighter guidance aircraft (for airborne controlled intercept—ACI).1 The individual command posts of the fighter regiments and GCI stations were equipped with so-called ‘instrument guidance’ equipment (apparatura pribornovo navyedyeniya), a broadly generalised Russian term for what was, effectively, data-link control. Around 100 sub-units of radio-technical troops were equipped with several hundred radar systems of various types, operating in a variety of different frequency ranges. The 10th Army comprised around 56,000 personnel, including generals, senior, middle ranking and junior officers, warrant officers, sergeants and ordinary enlisted soldiers and airmen. Units of PVO radio-technical troops were deployed along the coast of the Barents, White and Kara Seas, on the island of Novaya Zemlya and the Franz Josef Land archipelago to conduct reconnaissance and provide early warning of flights by potential intruders into Soviet airspace.

The 10th Army’s zone of responsibility embraced a huge territorial expanse, from the borders of the USSR with Finland and Norway and along the entire northern coastline of Soviet High Arctic to the open surface of the Kara Sea and the North Pole. Falling under 10th Army control were the 4th, 5th and 23rd Divisions of the PVO, plus the PVO’s 21st Corps, with the Tu-128s of 518 AP at Talagi coming under the control of 23 Division, headquartered in the garrison at Vas’kovo (near Arkhangel’sk). The other northern Tu-128 regiment, 72 AP at Amderma, was subordinate to 4 Division of the PVO, with its HQ at Rogachyovo (aka Belushya Guba) on the island of Novaya Zemlya. The choice of base locations for the Tu-128 was not accidental but was determined by the importance of the task facing the Homeland Air Defence units. The main task of the ‘Fiddler’ during hostilities was to intercept missile-carrying bombers of the USAF, specifically the Boeing B-52 ‘Stratofortress’, before they were able to launch their weapons. Destruction of an intruding bomber was planned to take place at a distance of around 1,500 km (810 nm) from the coastline of the Kola Peninsula, i.e. over the open sea area of the Arctic Ocean.

A minimum of a pair of Tu-128s was required to achieve a 92 per cent kill probability against a single B-52. The number of interceptors could be increased depending upon the actual variant of bomber identified and its anticipated use of ECM. The kill probability for a single R-4 (AA-5 ‘Ash’) missile against the B-52 in the forward hemisphere was only 27 per cent. This seems extremely low by today’s standards, although it should be remembered that this would have been achieved at a significant distance from the launch boundary of the B-52’s cruise missiles. It must also be borne in mind that none of the interceptors of the 1960s and 1970s was capable of bettering or even achieving this performance.

In peacetime, the Tu-128 was also tasked with the interception and destruction of foreign reconnaissance balloons, known in Russian as ‘automatic drifting aerostats’ (Avtomaticheskie Dreyfuyushchiye Aerostaty or ADA), as well as escorting foreign reconnaissance aircraft in the 100 km (54 nm) exclusion zone off the coastline of the USSR. Additionally, they could be tasked with escorting and offering assistance to aircraft that had unintentionally violated Soviet airspace. Another supplementary task, during actual or simulated combat activity, involved the use of Tu-128s to clear (sanitise) the airspace and then escort Soviet LRAF medium and strategic bombers and provide top cover in their air-to-air refuelling zones. There was also an attempt to task the Tu-128 with the interception of the B-52’s North American AGM-28 ‘Hound Dog’ cruise missiles in flight. A research programme was set up by 518 AP at Talagi in the late 1960s with the objective of determining the possibility of intercepting and destroying ‘Hound Dog’ missiles after their release from the B-52. Maj.-Gen. Nikolai Skok took part in these trials as a junior officer and recalls the events:

A group of the most highly qualified and trained crews on our regiment was assembled, which also included myself, and was led by Colonel A. M. Megyera. The commission charged with undertaking the special trials was headed by the First Deputy Commander of the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General N. D. Gulaev.

The results of our intercepts of a Su-9, simulating the flight profile of a ‘Hound Dog’ missile, were not very encouraging: the radar cross-section of the Su-9 at closing speeds greater than 3,000 kph (1,620 kts) was less than the lock-on capability of the Smerch radar during a forward hemisphere attack. Lock-on was achieved too late and the range to the target was less than the minimum permitted for missile launch. After this disappointing result the order was given to study the possibility of intercepting the ‘Hound Dog’ using a rear hemisphere lag pursuit profile, since the missile’s speed exceeded that of the interceptor. The results were the same as before, although the crews who participated in the trials did obtain very useful practical experience of intercepting high-altitude, high-speed targets.

Following these trials, the plans to use the Tu-128 to intercept cruise missiles had to be shelved.

As already noted, the most vulnerable aerial approach direction over Soviet territory, which unquestionably called for obligatory and constant fighter protection, was from the north, representing the shortest distance between the USSR and the USA—the two superpowers of the Cold War period. However, in the mid-1960s, relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China had also deteriorated quite significantly, leading to the urgent need to establish another defensive sector focused on central China. Thus the fighter interceptor regiments of the 14th PVO Army would have to undertake combat air patrols in two separate sectors in the event of hostilities—in the north and along a central Chinese axis. The key installations which had to be protected by the 14th Army’s ‘Fiddler’ regiments were located in the vicinity of, inter alia, Novyi Urengoy, Surgut, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul, Alyeisk and Biisk. Between the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s it was believed that in the event of nuclear war, the potential enemy (at that time considered to be the United States of America and its allies) would carry out a strike in two waves:

•  an initial wave of B-52s with thirty ALCMs (Air Launched Cruise Missiles) and fifteen SRAMs (Short-range Attack Missiles)

•  a second wave of up to sixty-five B-52s with twenty ALCMs and 185 SRAMs.

It was expected that a strike deep into Siberian territory would be initiated some 7-9 hours after the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the likely launch boundary of American ALCMs being Cape Chelyuskin (Taymyr Peninsula), Kirov Island and Cape Sporyi Navolok (on Novaya Zemlya). The PVO’s fighter response would be based on these assumptions, and by way of example we list here the wartime tasks which would be carried out by the 1st and 2nd squadrons of 356 AP based at Zhana-Semey:

Wartime tasks of the 1st squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 1st squadron, comprising nine Tu-128Ms, in co-operation with the 2nd squadron of 356 AP and augmented by fighters from 849 IAP at Kupino in Novosibirsk Oblast, operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye)2 at Readiness 1, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights by enemy aircraft towards key installations of the Kuzbass (Kuznetsk Basin) coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym, at medium and high altitudes;

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, to neutralise enemy air power along the central Chinese axis from specific defence lines;

•  attack at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 12, Zharma to Gornaya Teli, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1 and from airborne QRA (dezhurstvo v vozdukhye) in Zone Nos 3 and 4—see below;*

•  attack at medium altitude along the Defence Line No. 11 Kaskabulak– Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1;

•  provide top cover for groups of forces of the Siberian Military District (Siberian Front) on their ‘route of advance’ between Biisk and Tashanta. In peacetime, the squadrons would be tasked with the destruction of military aircraft and drifting reconnaissance balloons of capitalist states if they violated Soviet airspace.

Wartime tasks of the 2nd squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 2nd squadron, comprising nine Tu-128s operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye) at Readiness 1, in co-operation with the 1st squadron of 356 AP, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights towards the Kuzbass coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft at maximum possible range, before they could launch their air-to-ground missiles, operating either individually within a pairs formation or as two pairs using a forward hemisphere intercept profile at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym.

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, from an airfield QRA posture and from airborne QRA in Zone Nos 3 and 4;*

•  destroy enemy aircraft approaching from the central China direction along Defence Line No. 12, Novosibirsk to Gornaya Teli, and Defence Line No. 11, Ishim–Kaskabulak–Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba.

*The regiment’s airborne QRA Zone Nos 3 and 4 were set up in designated airspace within the region of the towns of Yerofeevka and Aktokai respectively.


Then Joseph Stalin got his atomic bomb, although Kurchatov and Khariton and their colleagues were not able to hold to their two-and-a-half-year timetable. Problems with the plutonium production reactor delayed the test for eighteen months. Nevertheless, they moved with a speed unexpected in Washington. At 6:00 A.M. on August 29, 1949, four years and nine days from the date Stalin had signed the order setting the postwar nuclear arms race in motion, they exploded a device identical to the Nagasaki bomb at a spot on the barren steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia northwest of the city of Semipalatinsk. The device was subsequently code-named Joe One by American intelligence. Beria, who came to observe this Soviet version of Trinity, and personally report to Stalin on the phone line to Moscow, embraced Kurchatov and Khariton and kissed them on the forehead as the mushroom cloud rose. There were indications later that Beria had been worried about his own fate if the enterprise had been a fiasco.

At the end of October, Stalin signed a secret decree, drawn up by Beria, passing out the rewards. In deciding who received what, Beria is reported to have followed the principle that the highest awards went to those who would have been shot first in case of a fizzle. David Holloway in Stalin and the Bomb says that the story may have been apocryphal, but that it accurately reflected the feeling of the scientists involved. Kurchatov and Khariton received the highest honors possible, Hero of Socialist Labor and Stalin Prize Laureate of the first degree; large amounts of cash; ZIS-110 cars, the best the Soviet automotive industry was making at the time; dachas; free education for their children in any establishment; and free public transportation for themselves and their families. In an enticement of what the future could hold, Stalin had already, back in 1946 when tens of thousands of rural families were living in dugouts under the rubble of their homes, built a fancy eight-room house for Kurchatov at his laboratory near Moscow, importing Italian craftsmen to furnish it with parquet floors, marble fireplaces, and elegant wood paneling. A number of the other leading physicists, engineers, and managers were similarly rewarded with the honor of Hero of Socialist Labor and with money, cars, and sundry other privileges in lesser degrees. Khariton was eventually also to be awarded his own private railway car.

In time, through the remaining years of Stalin and during the rule of his successors, Arzamas-16, its sister sites in the atomic industry network, and research centers for other branches of the Soviet military-industrial complex were to grow into self-contained cities, with their own schools, concert halls, hospitals, and, by Russian standards, first-class shops for food and clothing. Although officially secret, they became known as the “white archipelago,” and their privileged inhabitants, the scientists and engineers and their families, were referred to as chocolatniki by less fortunate Russians. Already by 1953, one of Stalin’s henchmen in the Politburo, Lazar Kaganovich, complained that the atomic cities had become like “health resorts.”

It would be erroneous, however, to conclude that these Soviet physicists lent their ingenuity to the building of the bomb because a life of privilege was held out before them if they succeeded. On the contrary, their motives were complicated. Imprisonment in a labor camp or execution were ever-present threats in Stalin’s Russia for failure to succeed or unwillingness to cooperate. On the other hand, David Holloway discovered in questioning them that they were also motivated forcefully by love of country, by the defense of their motherland. Many of them might not have liked Stalin’s system, but they could not change it. The Soviet Union was their country, the only one they had, a conviction ingrained all the more keenly by the war of survival, the Great Patriotic War, as Russians called it, that they had just emerged from with Nazi Germany. The atomic bomb project was, in an emotional way, a continuation of that primeval conflict. Andrei Sakharov was to become a world-renowned figure and to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 because of the persecution and internal exile he suffered in the cause of promoting civil liberties in the Soviet Union. In 1948, however, he was an imaginative twenty-seven-year-old physicist beginning the research that led to Russia’s hydrogen bomb. “I regarded myself as a soldier in this new scientific war,” he subsequently remarked of those years. “We … believed that our work was absolutely necessary as a means of achieving a balance in the world.”

Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall did not hand Stalin’s Russia the bomb, as most of the American public thought that the Rosenbergs and David Greenglass and other Soviet spies unknown and unnamed had done. Kurchatov and those with whom he chose to collaborate were notably competent physicists who, given time, would have created a bomb on their own without any intelligence input. In 1951, they detonated a much improved version of the Nagasaki bomb that weighed only half as much and yielded twice the force, forty kilotons, with a mixed core of U-235 and plutonium. The real secret of the atomic bomb was whether such a hellish device could be devised at all. That secret was exposed in the dawn of the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, with Trinity and then dramatized to the world when its monstrous power was unleashed on the inhabitants of Hiroshima.

What Fuchs and Hall did accomplish was to save the Soviet Union time, probably a year to two years, in the race to achieve strategic parity with the United States after the explosion of Trinity a bit more than four years prior to Joe One. Ironically, Stalin initially kept the achievement of his physicists secret for some unknown reason and it was Truman who announced that the Soviets had the bomb. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, set up in 1946 to take charge of all things nuclear, had not been unwatchful under its first chairman, David Lilienthal, despite the illusions at the top. It had persuaded the Air Force to cooperate in the Long Range Detection Program, which involved high-altitude flights off the Soviet Union by aircraft equipped with filters to capture nuclear residue from the air. A B-29 flying at 18,000 feet over the North Pacific on September 3, 1949, collected a slightly higher count of radioactive material than would normally be found in the air. Further checks as the high-level winds continued in their stream over the United States, the Atlantic, and Europe confirmed that the Soviets had tested an atomic bomb in the last few days of August.

The Soviet Union still lacked adequate means of striking the United States with atomic bombs. Even the hundreds of copies of the B-29, called Tu-4s (more than a thousand were to be built), that the Soviet aircraft industry was turning out on Stalin’s instructions lacked the range to reach most American cities and as propeller-driven aircraft were also vulnerable to the new American jet fighters in daylight bombing.

The practicalities of how the Soviet Union might drop an atomic bomb on the United States did not matter for the moment. The broken monopoly had been replaced by a balance of terror; the threat of nuclear devastation thrust into the minds and emotions of the American public and its leaders. The Berlin Blockade, while a defensive move by Stalin, had been interpreted yet again in the United States as evidence of aggressive intent. In Asia, a new Communist danger was rising as the armies of Mao Tse-tung neared their conquest of all of mainland China. Now the news that Russia had the bomb created a tangible sense of danger, a keener sense of insecurity in a nation already suffering from that malady.

The first response was to end the debate that had been going on over whether to build the hydrogen, i.e., thermonuclear, bomb. Truman reacted to his own apprehension and the clamor from the recently independent U.S. Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their allies in Congress by issuing an order on January 31, 1950, to begin developing this weapon, thousands of times more powerful than the Nagasaki bomb. It was created and detonated within less than two years, on November 1, 1952.

Niels Bohr and other idealistic physicists who had lobbied to place international controls on atomic weaponry and thereby avoid a nuclear arms race after the Second World War were, it has become clear, scholarly Don Quixotes. All the control plans put forward by the Truman administration, such as the Baruch Plan promoted by the financier Bernard Baruch on the administration’s behalf in the United Nations, preserved an American monopoly, and Stalin would never have settled for second place. To have satisfied Stalin, Truman would have had to share the atomic bomb with him, a political impossibility.

Similarly quixotic was the attempt earlier in 1949 by Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists who had been involved in the Manhattan Project to stop development of the hydrogen bomb on the grounds that it was “in a totally different category from an atomic bomb” and might become a “weapon of genocide” with “extreme dangers to mankind.” (They also argued that technical problems stood in the way and higher-yield atomic weapons would serve any military needs, but it is clear that moral objections most concerned them.) As is now known, Kurchatov, undoubtedly at the behest of Stalin and Beria, had organized serious theoretical and design studies for a hydrogen bomb in 1948. By the end of that year, long before they had broken the American atomic monopoly, the Soviets had a basic design for an intermediate hydrogen weapon, Sakharov’s “Layer Cake,” which combined fission (atomic) and fusion (thermonuclear) elements. (“Nuclear fission” is the term for the explosive reaction that occurs in an ordinary atomic bomb, while “nuclear fusion” is the term used to describe the vastly more powerful release of energy that occurs when a hydrogen, or thermonuclear, device detonates.) Advanced design and experimental work got under way at Arzamas-16 in 1950, along with the creation of manufacturing facilities to produce the thermonuclear fuel, lithium deuteride, and other materials. The Layer Cake device was detonated at the test site on the Kazakhstan steppes on August 12, 1953, and yielded 400 kilotons, twenty times the power of the Nagasaki bomb. A bit over two years later, on November 22, 1955, just three years after the United States had detonated its first hydrogen bomb, a full-scale Soviet hydrogen weapon was exploded at the same Kazakhstan site. Kurchatov, Sakharov, and other Soviet physicists felt none of the moral qualms of their American counterparts. They saw the development of thermonuclear weapons as a logical second step to keep pace with the United States. Years later in his memoirs, Sakharov was certain that Stalin would not have reciprocated any American restraint in creating the hydrogen bomb. He would have seen it as either a trick not to be fooled by or as stupidity of which he should take advantage.

152mm Gun 2A36 M1976

During the 1970s the Soviets developed a new towed 152mm gun. It was first seen by NATO Intelligence sources in 1976, and so was dubbed the M1976. However, it did not enter service until 1981, when it replaced the M-46 130mm field gun. It was another four years before the M1976 was seen in a Moscow May Day parade, towed by a 6×6 KrAZ-260 truck. Its Soviet industrial number was 2A36 but it was called the Giatsint (‘hyacinth’) by the Soviet Army and was the same as that used in the 2S5 tracked self-propelled artillery system. The M1986 was deployed in batteries of six or eight guns, with three batteries per battalion. Production ceased during the 1980s.

Entering service in 1981, the 152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) replaced the 130mm M-46 in Soviet service and was also provided to Finland and Iraq. It is mounted on a split-trail carriage with large rear spades and a forward- mounted retractable firing base. The M1976 is served by a crew of eight and fires a 101-pound high-explosive shell up to 29,528 yards. With rocket-assisted projectiles, it attains a range of 43,745 yards.

The 152mm Self-Propelled Gun (2S5) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) was designed and manufactured by the Uraltransmash Works and entered Soviet service in 1976. It saw service with Soviet forces in Afghanistan and was also adopted by Finland and Iraq. The 2S5 is equipped with a front mounted dozer blade to prepare firing positions and a rear stabilizing spade. It is served by between five and seven crewmen and, aided by a partially automated loading system, achieves a firing rate of up to 6 rounds per minute. The 2S5 utilizes a separate powder charge and projectile and accepts conventional, chemical, concrete-piercing, laser-guided, and tactical nuclear warheads. It fires a conventional 101-pound HE round up to 31,059 yards and a rocket-assisted projectile to a maximum of 43,745 yards.

152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976)

Adoption date: 1981

Caliber: 152mm

Weight: 21,517 pounds

Breech: semiautomatic horizontal sliding block

Barrel length: 323 inches

Elevation: 57°

Traversal: 25°

Projectile weight: 101 pounds

Muzzle velocity: 2,625 fps

Maximum range: 43,745 yards

SOVIET MLRS 1950–1960

RZSO BM-14 on the base truck ZIS-151. (BM for Boyevaya Mashina, ‘combat vehicle’) BM-14 (8U32) – 16-round model (two rows of 8), launcher mounted on the ZiS-151 truck. Entered service in 1952. Also known as BM-14-16.

140 mm turbojet high-explosive fragmentation projectile RTS-140 (M-14-RP):

1 – rocket chamber; 2 – powder charge; 3 – igniter; 4 – charge base; 5 – internal casing; 6 – bursting charge; 7 – detonator; 8 – detonator cap

RZSO BM-24 on the chassis of the ZIS-151 truck. The BM-24 (8U31) is a multiple rocket launcher designed in the Soviet Union. It is capable of launching 240mm rockets from 12 launch tubes. Versions of the BM-24 have been mounted on the ZIL-151 6×6 Truck chassis and the AT-S tracked artillery tractor, forming the BM-24T from the latter. Production began out of Automotive Factory no. 2 in 1947 Moscow.

240mm reactive projectile TRS-24F (M-24F):

1 – fuse; 2 – case; 3 – combat charge; 4 – solid fuel; 5 – engine

RZSO BMD-20F on the ZIS-151 chassis

BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launchers fitted with forty launch tubes came into service in 1987.

BM-21 122mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21 was by far the best known and most widely deployed Soviet rocket launcher. Known as the Grad or Hail, the BM-21 could be fitted with twelve (Grad V), thirty-six (Grad 1) or standard forty (Grad) round launchers. Its job was to saturate enemy positions and weapons systems with a deluge of rockets.

The BM-21 was the natural successor to the Red Army’s wartime Katyusha rocket launchers known as boyevaya mashina (‘combat vehicle’), utilising the same system of firing a cluster of solid-fuel rockets from a 6×6 truck. However, the BM-21 dispensed with the open rack configuration used on the wartime BM-13 and BM-31 and the post-war BM-24 and BM-25 in favour of closed tubes.

Developed in the 1950s and mounted on the Ural-375 truck, this multiple 122mm rocket launcher first appeared publicly in November 1964. The truck was selected for its cross-country capabilities, and as with most Soviet wheeled vehicles it had a central tyre pressure control system to enhance its performance. For firing purposes the vehicle had to be parked obliquely so that the blast does not damage the unarmoured truck cab.

As it used a smaller calibre fin-stabilised rocket than any other system, the enclosed tube launcher could take forty rounds. Each rocket weighed around 46kg, and they could be fired in salvo, rippled or individually. Understandably, the effect on the target was devastating: with the warhead containing 19kg of high explosive, a battery target could be saturated with almost a ton of HE in around 30 seconds out to a range of 15km.

The only real drawback with the BM-21 was that it could take up to 15 minutes to reload. The Czechoslovak Army came up with a solution to this by developing a reload rack that could conduct reloading in less than two minutes. It consisted of a BM-21 launcher mounted on a Tatra 813 8×8 truck with the palletised reload behind the cab.

The subsequent Grad 1 and Grad V rockets become operational in the mid-1970s. The BM-21 first saw action in the 1969 Sino–Soviet border war, and subsequently was fired in anger during numerous wars around the world. Well over half a dozen countries have produced their own versions. Soviet motor rifle and tank divisions fielded rocket launcher battalions consisting of three battalions, each with twelve launchers. During the Soviet–Afghan War the Kabul regime employed the ancient 132mm BM-13, while the Soviets fielded the BM-21a forty tube and BM-21b twenty-six tube 122mm and the BM-22 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

BM-24 240mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21’s predecessor, the 240mm BM-24, entered service in the early 1950s. The large 112kg rocket was spin-stabilised and, although packing a punch, had a shorter range at 11km. The open frame welded steel tube launcher had two rows of six rounds mounted on the ZIL-157 truck, which replaced the Zil-131 in 1966. A twelve-round tube launcher was also installed on the AT-S tracked artillery tractor. The BM-24 was used to support the motorised rifle divisions of the Soviet Army, but was eventually replaced by the BM-21. Most were sold off to the Arab states, while Israel captured enough from Egypt in 1967 to equip a battalion that saw action in the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon War.

BM-25 250mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

During the 1960s the 250mm BM-25 was the largest multiple rocket system in service with the Soviet Army. The launcher had six rails and was carried either on a ZIL-157 truck or on the KrAZ-214 chassis. It came into service in the late 1950s and had a greater reach than the other systems, with a range of 30km. The BM-25 rocket launcher battalions were made up of three batteries, each deploying six launchers. Like the earlier BM-24, it was phased out in favour of the BM-21.

The BM-27 220mm rocket launcher first saw action against rebel guerrillas in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s.

BM-22/BM-27 220mm Uragan (BM 9P140) Multiple Rocket System

Known as the M1977 by NATO, the fifteen-round Uragan (‘hurricane’) went into service with the Soviet Army in 1975. Until the introduction of the Smerch, the Uragan was the largest system of its type in service. (The BM-24 240mm and BMD-20 200mm truck-mounted rocket systems had been retired many years before.) In some units it was also used to replace the shorter-range BM-21. The BM-27 first saw action against the Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1984, but as American-supplied surface-to-air missiles began to curtail Soviet helicopter gunship operations from 1986–87, numbers were greatly enhanced. The Afghans dubbed it the BM-40, as they believed it had a 40km range.

The BM 9P 140 was mounted on a ZIL-135LM 8×8 chassis, which was also used with the FROG-7, greatly enhancing the launcher’s mobility. The launcher pod comprised an upper layer of four tubes, with two lower layers of six tubes each. Two engines were to the rear, while the unarmoured crew compartment was at the front. When firing, two stabilisers were lowered at the rear and steel shutters raised over the windscreen. A full salvo took just 20 seconds to fire. The launcher had to be traversed to the side and horizontal for reloading, which could take up to 30 minutes.

BM-21 122mm Prima (BM 9A 51) Multiple Rocket System

Like the Smerch, the Prima entered operational service in the late 1980s. It consisted of a 122mm launcher based on a 6×6 Ural-4320 truck chassis and was essentially an updated BM-21. The launcher comprised five layers, each of ten tubes, inside a rectangular box frame. It could fire all the standard BM-21 rockets.

The powerful BM-30 Smerch (‘tornado’) fires twelve 300mm rockets from a modified MAZ-543 truck chassis.

BM-30 300mm Smerch (BM 9A 52) Multiple Rocket System

The twelve-round 300mm Smerch (‘tornado’) multiple rocket system entered service in 1987. Its NATO reporting name was the M1983. The elevating launcher was mounted on a modified 8×8 MAZ-543M cross-country truck chassis. The slightly unusual rocket tube arrangement consisted of two separate banks of four, with four further tubes in a single row over the top. For stability before firing, two stabilisers positioned on either side between the rear two road wheels were lowered. The system could conduct either single round or salvo firing. The launcher was supported by a reload vehicle carrying twelve rockets and a crane. It was designed to destroy enemy artillery, missile and mortar batteries, as well as enemy strongpoints. The minimum range of the rocket was 20km, and its maximum range was 70km. Each brigade had four battalions, each with twelve launchers.

BA-64B Light Armored Car

In the summer of 1942, work began at GAZ on an improved version of the GAZ-64 light vehicle, which had several mechanical improvements and a wider wheel track. The replacement model was designated GAZ-67. Consequently, the BA-64 was modified to accommodate the new chassis and several other design changes were also incorporated in the new BA-64 model, which received the designation BA-64B. As with the original BA- 64, the new BA-64B was also developed by senior designer V. A. Grachev with modification and development under the direct control of A. A. Lipgart. The new BA- 64B, on its new GAZ-67 chassis, was field trialed under the designation GAZ-64-125B or BA-64-125B. The trials were successful and were followed by full factory tests which commenced on 24th November 1942. The new vehicle was given its first major trials at the GABTU proving grounds at Kubinka near Moscow over the week of 2-8 March 1943, covering 400km. The BA-64B finally entered series production on 1st September 1943, with chassis number 7336 being the first vehicle produced.

The BA-64B was based on the new GAZ-67B chassis with its wider 1.446m track. This seemingly minor design change was a major improvement for the high BA-64, which had been known for instability on slopes due to its narrow track; the wider track increasing side slope angle to 25°. Other major automotive improvements included the provision of a new K-23 carburetor which gave better performance on low-grade fuel.

Some of the first BA-64Bs produced on the GAZ- 67B chassis were mated to the early production Vyksinskiy BA-64 armored hull, without vision ports. However, a modified hull had begun to be produced at Vyksinskiy simultaneously with the replacement of the GAZ-64 by the GAZ-67 series in production at GAZ. The later armored hulls supplied by Vyksinskiy and assembled at GAZ were provided with pistol ports, which were fitted on all hulls supplied to GAZ from early 1943. The firing ports introduced on the front faceted hull plates were the primary distinguishing feature of the BA-64B, though the last of the GAZ-64-based BA-64s also had this feature due to production changeover at both plants. The mix of hulls may have been due to the stockpiling at GAZ of hulls delivered by Vykska. Many BA-64 vehicles were also significantly reworked in the field.

All small details such as lights were taken from the GAZ-67B, though some BA-64s were fitted with headlights taken from the ZiS-5. A 12RP radio station was mounted in some vehicles. The BA-64B became the definitive model of the BA-64 series. It was produced from September 1943 until 1946 and saw extensive use with the Russian Army in Europe, Hungary, Austria, Romania, and Germany. The BA-64 took part in the victory parades in Berlin and Moscow.

The Polish Army had eighty-one BA-64Bs in service, which were ex-Russian Army vehicles delivered to Poland after repair by Remontzavod N°2 (Repair Factory N°2) in Moscow. Of the eighty-one issued to the Polish Army, sixty remained in service in 1944 with fifty-three surviving until the end of the war. Czechoslovakia also had ten BA-64 series armored cars in service.

The BA-64B was a particularly reliable vehicle, achieving an average 6,000-7,000km of combat service between capital repairs or major breakdowns. Further polygon reliability tests conducted in 1944 achieved a figure of 15,000km without major repair or rebuild being required.

From the start of BA-64B series production on 1st September 1943 to 31st December 1943, 405 BA-64Bs were produced, 214 of which were fitted with radio. In 1944, production was increased again to 250 vehicles a month, with 2,950 BA-64Bs produced in that year, of which 1,404 were fitted with radio. By comparison, a total of 1,824 BA-64 and BA-64Bs had been produced in 1943, due to several German bombing raids on the GAZ plant in Gorkiy during that year. From January 1945 to the end of April 1945, another 868 vehicles were produced (420 being fitted with radio) with 1,742 BA-64Bs being completed to the end of the year.

During the wartime period, 8,174 BA-64 and BA-64Bs were manufactured (3,390 being fitted with radio) of which 3,314 remained in service in 1945, mainly the BA-64B model. Production was severely reduced after May 1945, and by 1946 the Russian Army no longer had a need for such large numbers of BA-64s, the last batch of sixty-two BA-64Bs being produced slowly during 1946.

When production ceased in 1946, a total of 9,110 BA-64s of all types had been manufactured during the period 1942-46, of which 5,209 were of the later BA-64B model and 3,901 of the earlier BA-64. GAZ Factory records state 5,160 BA-64Bs were built, which may not include prototypes and evaluation vehicles which were not produced on the main assembly lines.

Spares for the BA-64 series were manufactured until 1953, the last year in which the BA-64 was in operational service with the post-war Soviet Army. The BA-64 series was stockpiled for many years after 1953.

Post-war Poland continued to use its Soviet-supplied BA-64Bs, while the vehicle was also supplied to East Germany (which developed its own SK-1 on the basis of the BA-64B), Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and China (post 1949). It also saw extensive service with the Korean Army during the 1950-53 Korean War and at least one of these vehicles was captured by U. S. Forces and returned to the United States. Many BA-64s were reworked by the BTRZ-121 repair plant before export.


    BA-64: Standard production model from 1942 to 1943, built on the chassis of a GAZ-64 jeep. Armed with a single 7.62mm Degtyaryov machine gun in an open-topped turret.

    BA-64B: Standard production model from 1943 to 1946, built on the chassis of a GAZ-67 jeep and incorporating a new carburetor, air intakes, and firing ports. Armed with a single 7.62mm Degtyaryov machine gun in an open-topped turret.

    BA-64D: Fire support variant of the BA-64B armed with a single 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun in an enlarged, open-topped turret.

    BA-64-126: Turretless staff car variant, did not progress beyond the concept phase. Seated a driver and two passengers. A very similar vehicle was created independently by the Red Army; this modification entailed removing not only the turret but part of the hull roofline. Fitted with windshields salvaged from captured Volkswagen Schwimmwagens.

    BA-64ZhD: Railroad patrol vehicles with their wheels either replaced by flanged rail wheels or supplemented by miniature auxiliary rail wheels. Two prototypes were built. A very similar vehicle was created independently by the Red Army through field modifications, incorporating the flanged wheels and used for escorting armoured trains.

    BA-64 PTRS: Anti-tank variant of the BA-64 armed with a frame mount for a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle in place of its turret.

    BA-64Sh: Command variant of the BA-64 with a raised superstructure and increased hull roofline. It was rejected for service because it could not accommodate the radio equipment necessary for a command vehicle.

    BA-64Z: Half-track variant of the BA-64 with skis in the front and a rear track assembly for navigating deep snow. Rejected for service due to its high fuel consumption and slow speed. Also known as the BA-64SKh.

    BA-64B SG-43: Variant of the BA-64B which replaced the Degtyaryov light machine gun with an SG-43 Goryunov medium machine gun in the same turret.

    BA-64E: Turretless armoured personnel carrier variant of the BA-64, capable of accommodating six passengers who debarked through a rear door. Nine prototypes were built in 1943 and later pressed into combat service.

        BA-64KA: Turretless armoured personnel carrier variant of the BA-64, derived from the BA-64E. This was designed as a lightweight transporter for paratroops and featured a raised hull very similar to the BA-64Sh.

        BA-64E-37: Anti-tank and fire support variant of the BA-64E. It carried a 37mm anti-tank gun and was designed as a complement for the BA-64KA in the airborne role. Only one prototype was built.

        BASh-64B: Command variant of the BA-64E, which resolved the previous issues with the BA-64Sh by having sufficient room in the hull for the installation of a radio transmitter.

    BA-69: BA-64 built on the chassis of a GAZ-69 jeep. Only one mock-up was created before the project was cancelled.