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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Reserves and Wartime Mobilization

The Soviet Union had the world's most elaborate system of wartime mobilization, although it was not certain that the system would be as impressive in action as it was on paper. Soldiers retained a reserve obligation until age fifty. For officers, the reserve obligation extended to sixty-five. Thus, Western specialists estimated that over 50 million males were reservists. Local voenkomaty maintained records of residences and other data that would be important in mobilizing the reserves.

Reserves were divided into two categories of three classes based on age and the amount of refresher training they were supposed to receive after mobilization. Reserves were subject to periodic call-ups for active duty or training in the local garrison. The amount of reserve training actually conducted varied greatly.

In 1989 the Soviet Union had about 9 million servicemen who had been discharged from active duty in the preceding five years. Only 3 million of them would be needed to bring all active Ground Forces divisions to full strength in less than three days. Western analysts speculated that large numbers of additional divisions could be created within two to three months using civilian trucks and large stockpiles of older weapons and equipment. Such forces could be employed effectively against NATO's second echelons, as well as against less formidable opponents.

Reserves, together with additional manpower and equipment mobilized in wartime, would substantially augment the considerable strength of the peacetime Soviet military. Long favored by the political leadership, the military has received a large proportion of the human and material resources of the Soviet Union. Guided and controlled by the CPSU, the military's strategic leaders have organized, trained, and equipped the Soviet armed forces to capably fulfill their assigned missions.

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The single most complete work on the Soviet Armed Forces is Harriet and William Scott's The Armed Forces of the USSR. The Department of Defense's Soviet Military Power, the eighth edition of which was published in 1989, contains information about Soviet forces that is not available to the public elsewhere. The Military Balance, issued annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is a consistently accurate and independent source of information on the size of the Soviet defense effort. Coverage of current developments in Soviet weapons, tactics, strategy, and military leadership can be found in the regular columns and feature articles of many defense-oriented journals. The Air University Library Index to Military Periodicals, edited by Emily Adams, is an excellent resource for locating these articles. The Soviet Armed Forces Review Annual, edited by David Jones, provides coverage of changes in the Soviet military from year to year. Richard Gabriel and Ellen Jones have written extensively on the troops behind Soviet weapons and equipment. Inside the Soviet Army, by a Soviet officer who defected to the West and writes under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov, also contains revealing insights into the operation of and life in the armed forces. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989