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Soviet Union


Science and technology in defense and civilian sectors differed markedly in both organization and performance. Military research and development generally functioned more efficiently and produced more advanced technologies.

The principal organizations involved in Soviet military science and technology were subordinate to the defense industrial ministries. The ministries responsible for research, design, and production of military equipment and weapons or their components consisted of the Ministry of the Aviation Industry, the Ministry of the Communications Equipment Industry, the Ministry of the Defense Industry, the Ministry of the Electronics Industry, the Ministry of General Machine Building, the Ministry of Machine Tool and ToolBuilding Industry, the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, the Ministry of the Radio Industry, and the Ministry of the Shipbuilding Industry. These nine ministries were among the eighteen ministries of the machine-building and metal-working complex (MBMW) under the control of the Defense Council (see Machine Building and Metal Working , ch. 12). Each of the nine ministries incorporated institutes engaged in applied research and a network of bureaus responsible for designing and developing new military equipment and processes. In 1989 these ministries directed the work of thousands of plants making weapons and weapons component plants, at least 450 military research and development organizations, and approximately fifty major design bureaus. (Other industrial ministries contributed to military research, development, and production. For example, some military vehicles were produced by the Ministry of Automotive and Agricultural Machine Building, and fuel and chemical warfare agents were produced by the Ministry of the Chemical Industry.)

The second category consisted of the Ministry of Defense and its subordinate research facilities. Little information on these institutes has been published, but their work undoubtedly has been concentrated on those areas most relevant to military requirements. These institutes maintained close contact with the industrial research institutes and the design bureaus. Their main function appeared to be to evaluate the latest scientific achievements and to forecast the development of the Soviet armed forces.

The third category comprised the facilities considered part of civilian science. These primarily were the 300 research institutes affiliated with the Academy of Sciences. Some of the country's most important military research programs were conducted by the Academy of Sciences. Other institutes in this category included university facilities and research establishments subordinate to the civilian production ministries.

The final category consisted of the coordinating agencies. The most powerful organization was the Military Industrial Commission (Voenno-promyshlennaia komissiia--VPK), which included representatives from the defense industry ministries, the Ministry of Defense, Gosplan, and probably the CPSU Secretariat. VPK monitored and coordinated all military research and development and production. It reviewed new weapons proposals for their technical feasibility and for production requirements, approved research-to- production timetables submitted by lead organizations, and participated in planning and supervising major technological programs, apparently including those conducted by Academy of Sciences institutes.

The second important coordinating agency was GKNT. Although mandated to plan, oversee, and regulate scientific research and development, evidence on its operation suggested that it had little direct influence over the defense sector. Nevertheless, GKNT exerted some general influence over military research and development in that it formulated the basic scientific and technical problems of the country and worked out the programs needed to address them.

The various institutional components of military research and development interacted in a way that generally was far more productive than that of the civilian sector. The defense sector more often succeeded in seeing a scientific idea through the various development stages into production. Many of those ideas may not have represented a leading-edge technology (Soviet military research and development were thought to be more evolutionary than revolutionary), but at least they were carried through into production.

One of the reasons Soviet military research and development fared better has been the high priority given to it by the regime. The defense sector received not only more funds but also better resources and the best personnel. Perhaps most important in terms of priority was the level of political commitment. Maintaining a strong military capable of matching United States military strength has been a high priority for Soviet political leaders. This translated into a strong commitment to ensure that military science and technology developed and functioned to support the Soviet military. High priority was not the only factor explaining the military sector's superior performance. Another factor was that the defense sector had better access to development facilities. Research projects in the military tended not to "die" because of lack of research facilities' access to development facilities.

Another factor affecting military research and development was that the defense sector was not so heavily attuned to production quantity rather than quality. Civilian production enterprises often were reluctant to innovate because of the time needed to adjust a plant's operations to the production of the new item or use of the new process. Such adjustments have been viewed in the civilian sector as interruptions because they cut into the time needed to meet a plant's production quotas. Military production facilities, which had rigorous quality-control measures, faced less pressure to meet a specified production goal.

Finally, coordination among military research and development establishments was more effective than that in the civilian sector. Facilities involved in the various phases of the military researchto -production cycle were more inclined to interact with one another. Furthermore, design facilities in the defense establishment tended to be larger and more capable of developing a research idea further through the research-to-production cycle. Design organizations in the military also tended to generate better design documentation for production plants to implement. Some of the administrative barriers encountered in the civilian sector were overcome in the military sector, in part by giving lead institutes the power to coordinate efforts for specific programs.

The success of the defense industry has been something Soviet leaders wanted to replicate across the spectrum of scientific and technological sectors. Gorbachev patterned many of the reforms instituted during the mid-1980s after organizational arrangements and policies in the defense sector. For example, the decision to switch financing of research and development work from funding of institutes to funding of specific projects, as well as emphasizing contract work, was adapted from the military sector. Improving the long-range planning process and the quality-control process were other examples. To facilitate the reforms, Gorbachev moved several defense managers into key civilian positions. The idea was that these individuals would use skills learned in the defense sector to strive for improvements in the civilian sector.

Data as of May 1989

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