Soviet Union Table of Contents
The profession of officer in the armed forces has been prestigious and well respected in the Soviet Union. The number of officers was very large, in part because the armed forces have contained a large number of conscripts and relatively few NCOs. The presence of a political officer, or zampolit, in every company or battery also has significantly raised the total number of officers.
As of 1989, the Soviet Union had the world's largest officer training system. At the secondary level, it had eight Suvorov military schools and one Nakhimov Naval Secondary School to prepare fifteen- and sixteen-year-old cadets, who were often sons of officers, for direct admission into higher military education institutions.
In 1989 the Soviet Union had about 140 higher military schools, which trained officers for each armed service or combat arm. Young men between seventeen and twenty-one, who had a secondary education, could apply for admission into higher military schools. Servicemen under the age of twenty-three could also apply. Admission was based on a competitive examination in Russian language and literature, Soviet history, physics, and mathematics, as well as a thorough review of an applicant's political and educational background.
Each higher military school had over 1,000 cadets and trained either command, engineering, or political officers for a particular combat arm (see table 55, Appendix A). The four- or five-year curriculum of command schools included about 60 percent military science, weapons, and tactics instruction and 40 percent general sciences education and political training. Cadets in political or engineering schools received correspondingly more political or technical instruction. Upon graduation cadets received university diplomas and were commissioned as junior lieutenants. The higher military schools and reserve officer training programs in about 900 civilian higher education institutions produced about 60,000 new officers for the armed forces each year.
Junior officers remained in their assignments for long periods and were evaluated for promotion every four years based on their professional knowledge, performance, and moral-political capabilities (see Glossary). Some junior officer promotions were almost automatic because the time-in-grade requirement for advancement in rank was only two years. Officers' monthly pay ranged between 150 rubles for lieutenants and 2,000 rubles for generals, which was considerably more than the salary of most managers in the civilian sector.
Officers had greater opportunities to commit infractions of military law than ordinary servicemen, and their most common criminal offense was bribery. Officers inspecting units accepted bribes in return for overlooking training deficiencies, accidents, or disciplinary breaches. The misuse of state property, and vehicles in particular, was also widespread. According to the Law on Universal Military Service, however, officers could be discharged for committing acts that disgraced their titles.
Upon reaching the rank of senior lieutenant or captain, many officers began to prepare for competitive examinations to enter one of seventeen military academies. Candidates for admission must have held a regimental command position and received excellent ratings and have been endorsed by the political directorate of their command or service. The two- or three-year program of a Soviet military academy was similar to command and staff training or war colleges in Western countries. Each armed service and combat arm had its own academy. The Frunze Military Academy, the most prestigious at its level, specialized in combined arms training but was attended predominantly by Ground Forces officers. Advanced study in military academies involved major military science research projects that were frequently published in books or articles. Military academies awarded diplomas equivalent to master's or doctoral degrees in the West. They also conducted correspondence courses leading to similar degrees.
Graduation from a military academy was practically a requirement for advancement to higher rank. In particular, graduation from the Voroshilov General Staff Academy, the highestlevel academy, was a prerequisite for appointment to important Ministry of Defense and General Staff positions. Among its graduates have been the ministers of defense of the Warsaw Pact countries. High rank has brought a salary of as much as 2,000 rubles monthly and other perquisites that come with being part of the elite. For example, many generals had summer homes reportedly built with government construction materials and military manpower.
Officers were not under pressure to advance in rank, and higher ranked officers were not forced to retire early from the armed services. In theory, an officer could serve as a junior lieutenant until age forty. Mandatory retirement began at forty and went up to age sixty for major generals. Above this rank, general officers could get extensions and were effectively exempt from mandatory retirement. In practice, many officers who resisted retirement were put to work in civil defense or DOSAAF organizations. High-ranking officers often moved into the Ministry of Defense's Main Inspectorate as senior inspectors or became the heads of higher military schools or academies.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents