NBC package included, along with infrared and thermal sights; first production model Soviet tank fitted with a ballistic computer and laser rangefinder.
Issued to Soviet forces in the mid-1980s, it continues to be produced by both Russia and Ukraine and remains in their armed forces. It has been sold abroad to the People’s Republic of China, Cyprus, Pakistan, and South Korea.
After the war, the armed forces demobilized to their prewar strength of about four million and were assigned to the occupation of Eastern Europe. Conscription remained in force. During the late 1950s, under Nikita Khrushchev, who stressed nuclear rather than conventional military power, the army’s strength was cut to around three million. Leonid Brezhnev restored the size of the armed force to more than four million. During the Cold War, pride of place in the Soviet military shifted to the newly created Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), which controlled the ground-based nuclear missile forces. In addition to the SRF, the air force had bomber-delivered nuclear weapons and the navy had missile-equipped submarines. The army, with the exception of the airborne forces, became an almost exclusively motorized and mechanized force.
The critical question, therefore, was whether a determined Warsaw Pact offensive could be held. Numbers and geography favoured the pact, and there was not even confidence in the West's technological edge as a form of compensation. While the Soviet Union might lag behind, it was often nimbler in turning new technologies into usable weapons systems. Furthermore, infatuation with advanced technology could result in a disregard of other critical features of military equipment including ruggedness, reliability and ease of operation - which the Soviet Union did not forget. Soviet designers, it was argued, built around the limitations of their troops and their industry while the West pushed them to their limits, with the result that the systems arrived late, well over cost, and were often difficult to operate effectively. In addition, there was a tremendous duplication of effort within NATO, as many countries had their own industries to protect and were not so sure of alliance that they wanted to become wholly dependent upon others for vital equipment.
The strength of the Warsaw Pact led serious commentators to wonder by the mid-1970s whether it could get itself into a position to launch an attack from a standing start - without warning - relying on its armoured divisions based in East Germany. If NATO was to cope it would need to be able to respond quickly to the first indicators of an enemy offensive. The problem was not warning time as such but the speed at which a political decision would be taken to mobilize. The indicators might be ambiguous. Diplomats might be concerned that any response would be a provocation, triggering the event that it was supposed to be preventing.
The Soviet army’s last war was fought in Afghanistan from December 1979 to February 1989. Brought in to save the fledgling Afghan communist government, which had provoked a civil war through its use of coercion and class conflict to create a socialist state, the Soviet army expected to defeat the rebels in a short campaign and then withdraw. Instead, the conflict degenerated into a guerilla war against disparate Afghan tribes that had declared a holy war, or jihad, against the Soviet army, which was unable to bring its strength in armor, artillery, or nuclear weapons to bear. The Afghan rebels, or mujahideen, with safe havens in neighboring Iran and Pakistan, received arms and ammunition from the United States, enabling them to prolong the struggle indefinitely. The Soviet high command capped the commitment of troops to the war at 150,000, for the most part treating it as a sideshow while keeping its main focus on a possible war with NATO. The conflict was finally brought to a negotiated end after the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with nearly 15,000 men killed in vain.
Gorbachev’s policy of rapprochement with the West had a major impact on the Soviet armed forces. Between 1989 and 1991 their numbers were slashed by one million, with more cuts projected for the coming years. The defense budget was cut, the army and air force were withdrawn from Eastern Europe, naval ship building virtually ceased, and the number of nuclear missiles and warheads was reduced—all over the objections of the military high command. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness, exposed the horrible conditions of service for soldiers, particularly the extent and severity of hazing, which contributed to a dramatic increase in desertions and avoidance of conscription. The prestige of the military dropped precipitously, leading to serious morale problems in the officer corps. Motivated in part by a desire to restore the power, prestige, and influence of the military in politics and society, the minister of defense, Dmitry Iazov, aided and abetted the coup against Gorbachev in August 1991. The coup failed when the commanders of the armored and airborne divisions ordered into Moscow refused to support it.