By Colonel (R) Wilbur E. Gray

One of the biggest "what ifs" of history was a war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. This hypothetical war has been the subject of much analysis, debate and simulation. But what were the real capabilities and intentions of the Soviet Union?

The Warsaw Pact invasion of western Europe envisioned a total of five fronts, using Soviet forces stationed in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany), Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as reinforcing units from Byelorussia and the Ukraine.

The war was to consist of four stages: At the outset of conflict, mobilization and deployment; An initial Warsaw Pact breakthrough of prepared NATO defenses and prevention of counterattack; Operations in depth and into the rear areas of the defenders and; Final completion of first echelon force's operations.

The initial penetration of NATO's (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defenses was itself divided into three sub-stages. Those included breaking through the defense itself, overcoming the defensive sector and deploying the second echelon, and finally, paratroop landings in conjunction with traditional ground operations. The Soviets hoped to be at the French border by the 15th day of war, taking Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in the process and thus forcing those countries out of the war. Two additional fronts would then be created to smash any NATO strategic reserves in France reach Vizcaya and the Spanish border by day 30 or 35.

That is what the Warsaw Pact high command expected. At least, so say some of the more than 25,000 GDR military documents that came into possession of the Federal German Ministry of Defense on 3 October 1990, as a result of the unification of the Germanys. Those documents chronicle high-level Warsaw Pact staff exercises, and what is fascinating about them is not merely the speed at which the Soviets intended to conduct military operations (an advance so rapid Soviet category II and III units could not have been mobilized and deployed). Rather, it is the fact that from 1988 and beyond the Soviets seemed to believe such a victory was possible only by massive initial use of tactical nuclear weapons. Indeed, some 840 warheads were to be used, some 76 to devastate the border area of Schleswig-Holstein alone in the northeastern FRG. Those same exercises prepared commanders for an initial or retaliatory NATO nuclear strike involving 1,528 to 2,714 warheads-the exact number expected depending on such factors as French participation in NATO operations. Final authority for nuclear release, and the dangerous consequences of escalation, naturally resided in the hands of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Such revelations came as a surprise to many Western analysts. While Soviet doctrine had always stressed military operations in a chemical or nuclear environment, since 1981 Warsaw Pact staff exercises had frequently emphasized its massive conventional arsenal for victory. Further, during the Gorbachev era of the mid-1980s, there actually seemed to be an a resurgent interest in defensive operations, which to many not only indicated the effects of perestroika, but also confidence in the conventional war fighting option. Then in the later 80s, nuclear weapons suddenly reappeared as a major, if not primary, consideration in Warsaw Pact staff training.

What had happened? The massive tip of the Soviet spear - GSFG, the Group of Soviet Forces Germany still remained deployed in the GDR, ready for action, its motor pools and training areas bristling with row upon row of the latest Soviet equipment. Massive numbers of tanks and artillery pieces still gave the GSFG commander numerical superiority over his NATO counterpart by margins of two- and often five-to-one.

This narrative postulates a controversial, and likely never to be proven or disproved, answer as to why there was this shift in Warsaw Pact strategy. The change over to the nuclear option confirmed Soviet recognition of the age-old struggle between quality and quantity. Despite the vast numbers of soldiers, tanks and cannon it deployed, GSFG as a conventional force had failed.

Strategy of Paranoia

To understand why GSFG and other Soviet forces fell behind those of the Western powers in their ability to wage conventional warfare, it is necessary to understand the complex factors that shaped the Red Army. Taken in the right context, one can reasonably take the deployment of GSFG to the GDR as a purely defensive move. The Soviets were students of history and history had demonstrated the Russian homeland has long been a target for invasion, especially from the west. The point is well taken when one considers the Mongols, the Poles (a Polish army actually took Moscow in 1610), Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, the British and French in the Crimea, and especially the Germans in two World Wars. And though merely a footnote in Western history books, the Allied intervention into the Russian Civil War was remembered as an attempt to crush communism at its inception, proof positive of Western intentions toward Moscow.

Establishing GSFG and the other groups of forces in Eastern Europe provided a strong buffer zone that protected a Soviet border that lacked any significant natural barriers. It also ensured the depth of the defensive zone was sufficient to allow the Soviet Union enough time to mobilize for general war in the event of an invasion from the west. GSFG and other Soviet forces also provided legitimacy and security for Soviet satellite governments in eastern Europe.

Germany in particular was a problem that GSFG's stationing neatly solved. The Great Patriotic War of World War II, with its millions of Soviet dead, had a tremendous impact on Soviet military thinking. Dreary old Muscovite generals and politicians could point to the Nazi Wehrmacht and proclaim that, for the sanctity of the Soviet Union, if not the entire world, Germany must never again be a united country. Thus an argument can be made and substantially supported that GSFG's positioning in Germany was to prevent that country's reunification rather than to be the jump-off point for an invasion that would result in the same unification. That the Soviet military would ever seriously consider such action by the West is found in specific instructions to the commander-in-chief of the Warsaw Pact's joint armed forces, which specified his initial wartime operational goals to be the liberation of both the GOR and the Czech Peoples' Republic.

Conversations with former Warsaw Pact officers and defectors provide insight that confirms Soviet mistrust and disdain for their Warsaw Pact allies, the GOR in particular. One former Warsaw Pact general (known to the author) recalled a Soviet colonel refusing to seat his commanding general at the head of a table because it was directly under a rather large chandelier. The Warsaw Pact general noted the chandelier, which was in one of his country's more luxurious old castles, had been around for centuries, never fallen, and that his own country's president sat under it regularly during high level meetings. The Soviet colonel replied while that may be true, the president was not nearly as important as his general, who was reseated. Likewise a former GOR pilot wrote:

The East German Air Force was entirely organized by Soviet standards, which should have been very helpful when flying with the Russians in exercises. The truth was that East German pilots never spoke to Russian controllers, except for those very few occasions where we were scheduled to land at one of their airports. We sometimes flew against each other in exercises, blue against red. The Warsaw Pact wasn't even close to what NATO is in the West. The average East German pilot didn't speak Russian well enough to do that. The ones that spoke Russian had taken courses at the Russian Air Force Academy in Moscow to become squadron or wing commanders. They routinely did the communicating between the Russian command and the German troops. The Soviet's security understanding prohibited an effective way of working together.

Given these facts and perceptions, one must realistically conclude the Soviets would likely never have gone to war with NATO unless significantly provoked. One must also conclude Soviet perceptions of (and desires for) minimal Warsaw Pact support also militated against starting a war unless no other options were available. Nevertheless, while strategically GSFG was a defensive organization, its planned use at the operational and tactical levels of war was decidedly offensive. Here again Soviet commanders looked to history, particularly the Great Patriotic War, and those lessons indicated Russian arms suffered most when on the defensive. History also indicated offensive action, particularly in the pursuit phase, not only shortened the time needed for victory, but drastically reduced friendly losses in men and materiel as well. Thus an immediate counterattack after, or a preemptive strike before, initial hostilities was deemed well within the parameters of Soviet defensive strategy.

To the Soviets, history also made one more immutable point: Russian arms had always been qualitatively inferior to those of their opponents. In decisive battles such as Narva (1704) and Tannenburg (1914), superior Western weapons, doctrine and soldiery had overcome Russian numbers.

The vast lands of Russia and the country's large population, combined with a wealth of natural resources and productive capacity, generally provided the strategic depth that could be translated into victory. GSFG was the premier ground and tactical aviation force of the Soviet military. It stood as the ultimate example of a carefully conceived cost benefit analysis that balanced the need for the best equipment and training available with Russia's historical strength in numbers. The concept was to produce a fighting force that could most efficiently and quickly win the "next war."

When compared against NATO alliance military forces, the Soviets believed that balance to be the perfect "correlation of forces." It meant a system that produced a vast quantity of less sophisticated weapons that maximized firepower and speed. It meant a system that produced soldiers to run them according to a strict and rigid set of battlefield standards. And, most importantly, it meant a system that supported Lenin's attributed dictum: "Quantity has a quality all its own." It was a system that matched ideology, national personality and resources perfectly. And, in the shape of GSFG, it meant a system that would ultimately fail.

Comrade Tank

The Soviet military industrial complex did not necessarily produce inferior weapons and equipment compared to Western standards. Certainly the ZSU 23-4 self-propelled antiaircraft gun with its quad 23mm guns and superb gundish radar stands as testimony to a weapon system far superior to anything in Western arsenals when it was first introduced. The ZSU can hold its own even today. Soviet military production diverged in three critical ways from Western practice, however, often producing qualitatively inferior equipment.

First, the Soviet Union favored production of equipment that put a bullet or missile down range as opposed to those that did not. That is, the Soviet army greatly preferred weapons systems over logistics. For example, in the mid 1980s, the Soviet Air Force (including PVO Strany, the Soviet air defense organization) had some 770,000 men fielding 7,260 combat aircraft. Compare those numbers to 594,500 and 3,925 for the US Air Force, respectively. In effect that meant for every 106 Soviet airman, a Soviet interceptor or strike fighter was available for action somewhere. For the US, only one aircraft per 151 airmen was present, and that does not take into account Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard personnel manning many US fighters.

There was a price to be paid for the number of weapons fielded, however, and the Soviets traditionally paid it in their support and sustainment services. So, while the US Air Force deployed 639 aerial refueling tankers during the same period, the Soviets could muster but 50. Similar ratios were present in the Soviet ground forces where transport and service support equipment was concerned. While a Soviet division might have a much higher "tooth to tail" ratio than an equivalent US unit, it lacked the trucks and maintenance support to resupply and sustain itself in combat for more than a few days. This situation did not support long-term Soviet power projection operations or the ability to reinforce quickly over long distances, but given that Soviet strategic thought emphasized a model of massive combat power up front, the correlation was satisfied.

Second, the Soviets supported their large inventory by keeping older equipment in service long past the time when other nations would have retired it. From the late 1970s to mid 80s; the Soviets had nearly 51,000 tanks for an army of 1,800,000 men. During the same period, the US made do with 12,000 tanks in a ground force of 780,000. That is, the Soviets had over two times as many soldiers as their American counterparts, but their tank force was over four times as large. This ratio may seem impressive until the numbers are examined more closely. Some 23,000 Soviet tanks or nearly 45% of the force were venerable T-54/55 series vehicles. The US also had 1,700 comparable and older M-48A5s lurking about, but these tanks represented only some 14% of the force. Obviously, GSFG received the pick of equipment, normally driving to war in the latest from Soviet production centers. Yet in the late 1970s there were still over 2,600 T-54/55s (sometimes defined by Federal German Leopard tank crews as "lunch") in the groups of forces, while follow-on forces would likely have had an even higher proportion of ancient vehicles, at least by modem tanker standards. But, given the numbers, the Soviets believed the correlation of forces remained satisfied in their favor.

Interestingly enough, that same tank force illustrates the third way in which the Soviet military shaped its armies to maximize the power of pure numbers, and that was by compromising the quality of each individual piece of equipment. Soviet tanks were lighter and cheaper to build than those of NATO. While unsophisticated, Soviet tanks built reputations for being rugged, easy to operate, and easy to maintain. Soviet tanks carried guns heavy for their size. Their hulls and turrets were designed with low silhouettes that made them difficult for enemy gunners to hit, especially when in a hull down position.

Given Soviet disdain for service support, the need to make durable equipment made sense, particularly if it meant their hardware would not break down often under wartime conditions and it could be fixed by its crew when it did. However, Soviet industrial production methods (and, historically, Czarist methods as well) if the Tula musket factory was any indication was known far more for meeting distribution dates and production quotas than for either precision tooling or quality control. While in some respects that situation was simply a matter of inferior design or technology, in many other ways the culprit was official policy, and it especially reared its ugly head as Soviet generals demanded greater sophistication to match Western weapons systems.

That is why the vaunted T-64/72/80 series of tanks arrived in GSFG without benefit of an adequate testing program to work out the bugs or discover their design flaws. While many military analysts gave the vehicle good marks for its 125mm high velocity gun, there were human engineering problems as its low silhouette made for a cramped crew space. The Israelis noted the T-62s they had encountered in Arab armies had such poor ventilation some of their tank crews actually suffocated while operating the vehicle.

Similarly, while the automatic loader for the weapon was theoretically an exceptional idea, Soviet production technology was unable to make the device with the precision fit needed for it to work correctly, or rugged enough to withstand the rigors of combat. Indeed, in 1979 the GSFG commander forbade the use of the autoloader on the T-64 because of its disturbing habit of becoming misaligned and reaching back to grab the baggy trousers of the gunner and attempt to stuff him into the breach instead of the selected shell. And though the problem was known on the T-62, the newer tanks still had problems with their automatic ejection system. Instead of tossing a spent shell casing out a small turret hatch in the rear, the ejector sometimes bounced the hot piece of metal around inside the vehicle, much to the terror of its crew. Manual loading of the gun, conversely, dropped the rate of fire from seven to two rounds per minute, given that there was no loader assigned to the vehicle.

Other flaws were the result of design trade-offs or simply an inability of Soviet arms industry to match Western technology. The automatic loader allowed for three-man crew, but that also increased the proportional maintenance burden on each tanker. Likewise, the inability to match US thermal targeting system technology proved to be a huge vulnerability. In the 1991 Gulf War, US M-1 Abrams thermal imagers saw straight through burning oil smoke to aim at and destroy Iraqi T-72s whose crews were blinded by that same smoke.

Still, the Soviets produced some capable weapons. The ZSU 23-4 has already been mentioned, and the D-30 122mm howitzer is notable as well. Yet technical deficiencies that would have been unacceptable to Western armies were not uncommon. No Soviet fighter aircraft during the mid-1980s had an aerial refueling capability (outside a few modified MiG 25s). Such a design lowered costs on a per unit basis and had the additional advantage of removing the need for aerial tankers noted above. Similarly, though a T-72 was expensive to produce, it was still cheaper than the price tag of a US M-1 or West German Leopard II tank. And its three-man crew cut tank manpower requirements by 25%. To the Soviet high command, the correlation of forces seemed to favor them, and having 51,000 tanks to push around as a result of their policies was considered sufficient justification for the technical trade-offs.

Comrade Soldier

Keeping things simple and less technically sophisticated supported Soviet theories regarding the men who would handle the weapons on the battlefield.

Enlisted Soviet soldiers were drafted at age 18 under universal conscription and served two years in the ground forces, or three years in the air forces. All training, including basic training, was accomplished in-house at the soldier's permanent unit of assignment. This training was rigorous, realistic and primarily focused on repetitive drill. That latter factor was the logical choice given the short time the soldier spent on active duty. Discipline was harsh in the ranks, and amenities almost nonexistent. A typical day for a Soviet soldier looked like this:

0600-0605 hours Reveille.
0610-0630 hours Physical Training and Cleaning Quarters.
0630-0650 hours Washing and Bed Making.
0650-0720 hours Political Interpretation of the News and Inspection.
0725-0755 hours Breakfast.
0800-1350 hours Training.
1400-1440 hours Lunch.
1440-1510 hours After Lunch Rest.
1510-1530 hours Care of Weapons and Equipment.
1530-1830 hours Political Education (Monday and Thursday).
1530-1830 hours Maintenance of Technical Equipment (Tuesday and Friday).
1530-1830 hours Team Sports (Wednesday and Saturday).
1830-1940 hours Individual Study or Training.
1940-2010 hours Dinner.
2010-2140 hours Free Time.
2140-2155 hours Evening Walk and Roll Call.

That regimen was strictly followed six days a week with a half-day schedule followed on Sunday to allow supervised visits to museums and patriotic sites.

There was no leave or weekend passes throughout the entirety of the soldier's conscription. Food was simple, but hearty, consisting of oatmeal-like kasha, with strong tea at all three meals, perhaps beef barley soup at lunch and fruit compote at dinner.

As noted above, training was geared toward repetitive crew drill as befitted the collective nature of the society the soldier defended. Individual expertise suffered for both philosophical and budget reasons. While tank crew might be expert in the procedures it needed to engage a target, hitting the target was something else; as their drill was commonly on a simulator. One report, for example, indicated tank gunners in some units fired only three full size rounds per year, compared with 120 rounds for US tankers.

In the air, the same situation occurred. Experienced pilots received perhaps 60 hours of flight time per year, or about a fourth of what US pilots flew. (For the record, Russian pilots today are lucky to receive 14 hours of flight time per year.)

While woefully inadequate by Western military standards, from a Soviet perspective their system seemed the most efficient way to train large numbers of soldiers in a short time. The system also had the bonus of saving precious rubles for the purchase of extra hardware.

Regarding morale, the US Army Forces Command Opposing Forces Training Detachment (Red Thrust) normally maintained the "Soviet soldier was not authorized to have morale," and that statement was not far from the truth. The 1976 Soviet study lnitsiativa itvorchestvo v voennom dele asked the question: "What keeps the soldier in his front line position under conditions of maximum physical stress and psychological strain?" The answer was discipline, with an emphasis on absolute, unquestioning obedience to orders. While the Soviets were not at all above appealing to such soldierly qualities as patriotism, the fact several Soviet officers summarily executed some of their own errant soldiers during the 1968 Czech invasion indicates the primary leadership technique was a brutal kind of discipline that would have warmed the heart of Frederick the Great. Indeed, even at Tilsit in 1807 [the conference between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I of Russia, ed.], Napoleon noted the Russian soldier could have been the greatest in the world if only his inherent discipline were united with "the electric enthusiasm of the French."

In retrospect, the system worked and enabled the Soviets, in a vague imitation of the old Prussian Kruemper system [the Prussian reserve mobilization system, which trained the military age male population of the state, ed.], to move thousands of conscripts through their two years of training, thus providing a huge reserve of recently trained manpower. Discharged soldiers would fill out the many category II and III divisions that existed in the Soviet order of battle. Those divisions were maintained at reduced levels of manning during peacetime. Again, the issue was providing the quantity needed to provide the correct correlation of forces.

Yet there were problems with the system. Suicide was 18 times the rate in the Soviet army as in the US. Though the troops were forbidden alcohol, ingenious methods, such as draining the de-icing fluid from combat aircraft to drink its alcohol content, provided many with the only escape available over two dreary years of service (with an a further impact on equipment readiness). The biggest problem, however, was an abysmally low retention rate among soldiers. Only the lowest categories of the conscript pool, often miscreants who were aware they would never be successful in civilian society, remained for another tour of duty and became non-commissioned officers (NCOs). And often the most promising conscript was made a permanent junior sergeant simply because there was no one else available. Thus, the Soviet NCO corps was both much younger and much less experienced than its Western counterpart, an issue partially solved by restricting NCO duties to largely ensuring whatever the officers ordered was carried out. The kind of lower-level leadership considered vital among Western NCOs was never envisioned among the Soviets. Instead, it remained for Soviet junior officers to perform those tasks normally associated with NCO supervision, as well as the usual leadership functions. Though the Soviet junior officer might be well trained, educated and disciplined, such duties left him little time for developing his own expertise or advancing himself professionally. And that is exactly the way the Soviet-and historically, Czarist- system wanted it.

Here one must remember the Soviets defined doctrine as an "accepted system of scientifically founded views on the nature of modern wars and the use of the armed forces in them... Military doctrine is a unified system of views and guide to action that is not open to controversy."

Such a notion fit well with Marxist theory that postulated all human activity as the product of proven scientific law. It also supported Soviet concepts of command and initiative. From the 1978 edition of the Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Principle 8 was Strict and Uninterrupted Leadership.

One US Army analyst commented that: "Mission type orders that allow subordinate commanders wide latitude in conduct of operations are not compatible with Soviet combat operations. Soviet commanders are expected to exercise detailed supervision over subordinates to insure plans are properly executed in a timely manner."

Historically such strict obedience to centralized control was critical in governing a nation as large as Russia-and so it only made sense such policy should make its way into the military. As such recalling Grand Duke Constantine's Napoleonic era admonition that officers obey all orders "even if an atrocity"-the practice must be considered more Russian than Soviet, and its impact in the area of military initiative proved pronounced. While it is true that originally the Russian language did not even have its own word for initiative, is equally untrue Soviet military did not appreciate its value. Rather, initiative was simply defined differently, especially for junior officers. Given history and the fact the normal Soviet captain was up to his epaulettes performing NCO business to begin with, allowing junior officers the same decision making authority as in Western armies was a chance not worth the risk. Instead, initiative for the junior officer was defined as picking the right solution from an accepted set of norms, or in rare, "no other choice cases," choosing the same solution his commander would have. Punishment was common, and sometimes severe, if the officer were wrong.

Otherwise, guidance from above was the method preferred to solve unexpected battlefield problems and to that end senior commanders in GSFG and elsewhere were fond of the practice of "skip echeloning." Using it, Soviet division commander might use his FM radio to bypass the chain of command and give instructions directly to a company commander engaged with an uncooperative foe. Initiative was the province of senior commanders, usually of general officer rank. Problems with the technique were obvious, such as senior commanders micro-managing battles. But given the experience of lower level officers, it was not unexpected, and that system also had the advantage of making the actions of those same junior officers predictable. That in turn made decision-making much easier for those generals who had the authority to be creative when moving large numbers of troops and tanks.

From a Western perspective the system was fraught with exploitable holes, but from a Soviet point of view it was worth the trade-off for masses of easily mobilized and trained soldiers, supported by masses of battlefield weaponry. It did not guarantee victory over NATO, but it made victory a reasonable possibility, and it almost certainly guaranteed the West would never force its way into the Soviet buffer zone of eastern Europe. As flawed as it seemed to many observers, the Soviet system constituted a reasonable balance between quality and quantity, the perfect correlation of forces. And in Soviet eyes, it worked until 9 May 1984.


On 9 May 1984, Marshal of the Soviet Union and Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Vasilyevich Ogarkov released an article in Red Star, the Red Army's equivalent of the Stars & Stripes, that directly challenged the much revered correlations. We now call that challenge the "Revolution in Military Affairs" (or RMA-a term coined by Ogarkov in 1982 when he began to study the issue). He predicted a much different kind of war than Soviet planners had ever envisioned. Ogarkov believed future wars would be characterized by a battle area in which precision guided munitions (PGMs) would replace nuclear warheads as the dominant weapons system. Because of their long range, near invisibility to detection, and growing accuracy, Ogarkov reasoned PGMs aimed at command nodes and theater missiles would have precisely the same effect as a nuclear strike, but without the military and political fallout.

Wars would no longer be fought in multiple stages. Instead, there would be a single initial deployment stage wherein the attacker would immediately and simultaneously attack the entire depth of the battle area. As a result, warfare would move at a much more rapid pace than previous conflicts.

Therefore, war would no longer be linear, with two solid lines of divisions colliding head-on or maneuvering for a flank. Instead, operations would be so fluid combat units would often find themselves fighting without the security of friendly units to the flanks and rear. Combat units would find themselves cut off from their higher command structure and completely surrounded by the enemy, who would also be in similar straits. Therefore, control of the information spectrum, including not only the ability to secure and rapidly process large amounts of data but also to deny that ability to the enemy, would become as important as control of the ground or the sky above it.

To say Ogarkov' s theory came as a shock to conventional Red Army wisdom is an understatement, and the brilliant military thinker would eventually be sacked because of those same pronouncements. To the Soviet military hierarchy, the problem was that, if Ogarkov were correct, the entire Soviet way of war-and the forces that were to fight in a future war-had become obsolete. Soviet conventional superiority in numbers was negated by the probable destruction of the centralized command structure needed to manage those formations, as well as by Western control of the information infrastructure. That put a premium on the ability of Soviet commanders at all levels to act quickly, decisively and independently of higher command authority. And these abilities were something both communist collective-based ideology and Russian history were uncomfortable with as well as being woefully out of the realm of doctrine and training.

To make things worse, the Soviet military industrial complex simply could not produce the technology to create the weapons and communications to compete with Western armed forces. Only the belief such delicate technology could not possibly survive on a nuclear battlefield provided some solace.

Meanwhile, the new US Army Air-Land Battle doctrine contained concepts similar to Ogarkov' s thinking' calling for agility, initiative, depth and synchronicity. But the US and its NATO allies deployed the arms and equipment to support the doctrine. That included the channel hopping SINGARS radio, which not only made Soviet jamming and eavesdropping a virtual impossibility, but also opened the way to control of the information spectrum. It was, however, the US deployment of its GLCM (Ground Launched Cruise Missile) and the Pershing II SSM (Surface to Surface Missile) systems to Europe in 1983 that overturned Soviet complacency.

Ogarkov's assertions were ratified by their deployment. The GLCM could fly undetected beneath radar and hit with "second window from the left" accuracy. The Pershing II could fly 1,800 kilometers and hit within "somewhat less than 100 feet" of its target by using a hard-to-counter guidance system that compared radar images of the ground to digital maps carried in an onboard database. The missiles' short flight time also meant they could strike before Soviet commanders could react. And as Desert Storm and the 2001- 2 war in Afghanistan would demonstrate, the United States and the West in general actually seemed to be able to make those complex devices work on the battlefield. To suspicious Soviet generals, those developments also meant the United States had achieved de facto first strike superiority. And so the favorable correlation of forces was shattered.

We will never know if Western adoption of many aspects of Ogarkov's RMA produced anew willingness GSFG to be prepared to go nuclear from the beginning of any conflict, but if current Russian Federation strategic doctrine is any indication, it is likely the case. Key provisions of Russia's 1993 document on its military doctrine indicate Moscow would not use nuclear weapons against an adversary unless it was attacked first by an enemy using the same devices. The 1999 revision, however, contained these important changes:

The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against itself or its allies and also in response to large-scale aggression involving conventional weapons in situations that are critical for the national security of the Russian Federation and its allies.

Evidently Ogarkov' s concept of PGMs as the nukes of the future had taken hold, and it is probable within GSFG and the Warsaw Pact such realization was already well entrenched. Lacking the means to counter Western military technology, and with a military system that underemphasized initiative in combat, the Soviets saw nuclear weapons and the re-adoption of a preemptive strike as a viable alternative. The Soviets also declared GSFG a failure through obsolescence. The poor performance of Soviet doctrine and equipment against Western client states in the Middle East, as well as the Soviet Union's own abysmal 10 year experience in the Afghan War, a GSFG victory in Europe was problematic at best and doubtful after 1983. Quantity had associated costs as well, and in the end those costs proved fatal. As Colonel General and Chief of the General Staff Moiseyev admitted in a speech on 9 February, 1989:

It appears that we should also revise our attitudes toward work on long-term problems.. .But responsibility for the end results (of the General Staff) has been understated. The situation is different now...Many difficult problems that the troops are encountering today can be traced back, with careful analysis, to our lack of foresight, our short sightedness...The new nature of the tasks now being solved requires the development of creative activeness on the part of all directorates and every official; it requires initiative and inquisitiveness in work.


Perhaps one day someone will build a memorial to GSFG, its tanks, cannon and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served within its ranks. If so, perhaps it would be proper to take one of the old motor pools and place a memorial plaque in its center, dated of course, but with appropriate remarks that say something about this juggernaut' s demise. In that case it might be well to discard Lenin's concept of quality and quantity. Instead the words of France's tough old Marshal Saxe would seem more in line with reality. Centuries ago he wrote, Wars are not won by big armies, but by good ones."



Baxter, William P, LTC (Ret), Soviet Air Land Battle Tactics, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1986.

Erickson, John and E. J. Feuchtwanger, Eds, Soviet Military Power & Performance, Archon Books, Harnden, CT, 1979.

Fitzgerald, Mary C, "New Russian Military Thinking," American Intelligence Journal, Spring - Summer 1993.

International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1985-86, IISS, London, 1984.

International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1999-2000, IISS, London, 1999.

Isby, David C, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, Fully Revised Edition, Jane's Publishing, London, 1988.

Isby, David C. and Charles Kamps Jr, Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing, London, 1985.

Kipp, Jacob W, "Confronting the RMA in Russia," Military Review, May-June 1997.

Ogarkov, Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai, "The Defense of Socialism: Experience of the History of Modernity," Krasnaya zvezda, 9 May 1984.

Richard F. Staar, The New Military in Russia, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1996.

Stoltenburg, Dr Gerhard, Federal Defense Minister, Warsaw Pact Military Planning in Central Europe: Revelations From the East German Archives, Official West German Report, undated.

Special thanks to Dr Stephen Blank, US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.