Monday, December 31, 2018

The Soviet Period Military Experience.

The Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, seized power in November 1917. It immediately began peace negotiations with the Central Powers and took control of the armed forces. Once peace was concluded in March 1918 by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the demobilization of the old Russian imperial army began.

Adhering to Marxist doctrine, which viewed standing armies as tools of state and class oppression, the Bolsheviks did not plan to replace the imperial army and intended instead to rely on a citizens’ militia of class-conscious workers for defense. The emergence of widespread opposition to the Bolshevik seizure of power convinced Lenin of the need for a regular army after all, and he ordered Trotsky to create a Red Army, the birthday of which was recognized as February 23, 1918. As the number of workers willing to serve on a voluntary basis proved to be insufficient for the needs of the time, conscription of workers and peasants was soon introduced. By 1921 the Red Army had swelled to nearly five million men and women; the majority, however, were engaged full-time in food requisitioning and other economic activities designed to keep the army fed and equipped as Russia’s beleaguered economy began to collapse. Because they lacked trained leadership to fight the civil war that erupted in the spring of 1918, the Bolsheviks recruited and impressed former officers of the old army and assigned political commissars to validate their orders and maintain political reliability of the units.

The civil war raged until 1922, when the last elements of anticommunist resistance were wiped out in Siberia. In the meantime Poland attacked Soviet Russia in April 1920 in a bid to establish its borders deep in western Ukraine. The Soviet counteroffensive took the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw before it was repelled and pushed back into Ukraine in August. The Red Army forces combating the Poles virtually disintegrated during their retreat, and the Cossacks of the elite First Cavalry Army, led by Josef Stalin’s cronies Kliment Voroshilov and Semen Budenny, staged a bloody anti-Bolshevik mutiny and pogrom in the process. The subsequent peace treaty gave Poland very favorable boundaries eastward into Ukraine.

The onset of peace saw the demobilization of the regular armed forces to a mere half million men. Some party officials wanted to abolish the army totally and replace it with a citizens’ militia. As a compromise, a mixed system consisting of a small standing army and a large territorial militia was established. Regular soldiers would serve for two years, but territorial soldiers would serve for five, one weekend per month and several weeks in the summer. Until it was absorbed into the regular army beginning in 1936, the territorial army outnumbered the regular army by about three to one. For the rest of the decade the armed forces were underfunded, undersupplied, and ill-equipped with old, outdated weaponry.

During the 1920s most former tsarist officers were dismissed and a new cadre of Soviet officers began to form. Party membership was strongly encouraged among the officers, and throughout the Soviet period at least eighty percent of the officers were party members. At and above the rank of colonel virtually all officers held party membership.

A unique feature of the Soviet armed forces was the imposition on it of the Political Administration of the Red Army (PURKKA, later renamed GlavPUR). This was the Communist Party organization for which the military commissars worked. Initially every commander from battalion level on up to the Army High Command had a commissar as a partner. After the civil war, commanders no longer had to have their orders countersigned by the commissar to be valid, and commissars’ duties were relegated to discipline, morale, and political education. 

During the 1930s political officers were added at the company and platoon levels, and during the purges and at the outset of World War II commanders once again had to have commissars countersign their orders. Commissars shared responsibility for the success of the unit and were praised or punished alongside the commanders, but they answered to the political authorities, not to the military chain of command. Commissars were required to evaluate officers’ political reliability on their annual attestations and during promotion proceedings, thus giving them some leverage over the officers with whom they served.

THE 1930s
The First Five-Year Plan, from 1928 to1932, expanded the USSR’s industrial base, which then began producing modern equipment, including tanks, fighter aircraft and bombers, and new warships. The size of the armed forces rapidly increased to about 1.5 million between 1932 and 1937. The rapid expansion of the armed forces led to insurmountable difficulties in recruiting officers. As a stopgap measure, party members were required to serve as officers for two- or three-year stints, and privates and sergeants were promoted to officer rank. The training of officer candidates in military schools was abbreviated from four years to two or less to get more officers into newly created units. As a result the competence and cohesion of the leadership suffered.

In the 1930s Soviet strategists such as Vladimir K. Triandifilov and Mikhail Tukhachevsky devised innovative tactics for utilizing tanks and aircraft in offensive operations. The Soviets created the first large tank units, and experimented with paratroops and airborne tactics. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) Soviet officers and men advised the Republican forces and engaged in armored and air combat testing the USSR’s latest tanks and aircraft against the fascists.

The terror purge of the officer corps instituted by Josef Stalin in 1937–1939 took a heavy toll of the top leadership. Stalin’s motives for the purge will never be known for certain, but most plausibly he was concerned about a possible military coup. Although it is very unlikely that the military planned or hoped to seize power, three of its five marshals were executed, as were fifteen of sixteen army commanders of the first and second rank, sixty of sixty-seven corps commanders, and 136 of 199 division commanders. Forty-two of the top forty-six military commissars also were arrested and executed. When the process of denunciation, arrest, investigation, and rehabilitation had run its course in 1940, about 23,000 military and political officers had either been executed or were in prison camps. It was long believed that perhaps as many as fifty percent of the officer corps was purged, but archival evidence subsequently indicated that when the reinstatements of thousands of arrested officers during World War II are taken into account, fewer than ten percent of the officer corps was permanently purged, which does not diminish the loss of talented men. Simultaneous with the purge was the rapid expansion of the armed forces in response to the growth of militarism in Germany and Japan. By June 1941 the Soviet armed forces had grown to 4.5 million men, but were terribly short of officers because of difficulties in recruiting and the time needed for training. Tens of thousands of civilian party members, sergeants, and enlisted men were forced to serve as officers with little training for their responsibilities. Despite the USSR’s rapid industrialization, the army found itself underequipped because men were being conscripted faster than weapons, equipment, and even boots and uniforms could be made for them.

The end of the decade saw the Soviet Union involved in several armed conflicts. From May to September 1939, Soviet forces under General Georgy Zhukov battled the Japanese Kwantung Army and drove it out of Mongolia. In September 1939 the Soviet army and air force invaded eastern Poland after the German army had nearly finished conquering the western half. In November 1939 the Soviet armed forces attacked Finland but failed to conquer it and in the process suffered nearly 400,000 casualties. Stalin’s government was forced to accept a negotiated peace in March 1940 in which it gained some territory north of Leningrad and naval bases in the Gulf of Finland. Anticipating war with Nazi Germany, the USSR increased the pace of rearmament in the years 1939–1941, and prodigious numbers of modern tanks, artillery, and aircraft were delivered to the armed forces.

In violation of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact signed in 1939, Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941. Much of the forward-based Soviet air force was destroyed on the ground on the first day of the onslaught. All along the front the Axis forces rolled up the Soviet defenses, hoping to destroy the entire Red Army in the western regions before marching on Moscow and Leningrad. By December 1941 the Germans had put Leningrad under siege, came within sight of Moscow, and, in great battles of encirclement, had inflicted about 4.5 million casualties on the Soviet armed forces, yet they had been unable to destroy the army and the country’s will and ability to resist. Nearly 5.3 million Soviet citizens were mobilized for the armed forces in the first eight days of the war. They were used to create new formations or to fill existing units, which were reconstituted and rearmed and sent back into the fray. To rally the USSR, Stalin declared the struggle to be the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, comparable to the war against Napoleon 130 years earlier.

At the outset of the war, Stalin appointed himself supreme commander and dominated Soviet military operations, ignoring the advice of his generals. Stalin’s disastrous decisions culminated in the debacle at Kiev in September 1941, in which 600,000 Soviet troops were lost because he refused to allow them to retreat. As a result, Stalin promoted Marshal Georgy Zhukov to second in command and from then on usually heeded the advice of his military commanders.

The Soviet Army once again lost ground during the summer of 1942, when a new German offensive completed the conquest of Ukraine and reached the Volga River at Stalingrad. In the fall of 1942 the Soviet Army began a counteroffensive, and by the end of February 1943 it had eliminated the German forces in Stalingrad and pushed the front several hundred miles back from the Volga. July 1943 saw the largest tank battle in history at Kursk, ending in a decisive German defeat. From then on the initiative passed to the Soviet side. The major campaign of 1944 was Operation Bagration, which liberated Belarus and carried the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw by July, in the process destroying German Army Group Center, a Soviet goal since January 1942. The final assault on Berlin began in April 1945 and culminated on May 3. The war in Europe ended that month, but a short campaign in China against Japan followed, beginning in August and ending in September 1945 with the Japanese surrender to the Allies.

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 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.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sowing the Wind: The First Soviet-German Military Pact and the Origins of World War II

Sowing the Wind: The First Soviet-German Military Pact and the Origins of World War II

Before dawn on June 22, 1941, German bombers began to rain destruction down on a swath of Soviet cities from Leningrad to Sevastopol. It was the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the largest military operation in the history of the world.

Was the Russian Military a Steamroller? From World War II to Today

Was the Russian Military a Steamroller? From World War II to Today

Joseph Stalin supposedly claimed that " quantity has a quality all its own," justifying a cannon-fodder mentality and immense casualties. The problem is, Stalin never actually said that, but it fits our stereotype about the Russian military so neatly that everyone believes he did.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ZiS-5 (3-K)

ZiS-5 (3-K)

Aside from the ZiS-5 we know and love, there was another project with this designation, which started in early 1941. The gun was based on the 3-K model 1939 76 mm AA gun, and was noticeably longer than the ZiS-5 that ended up on the KV in late 1941.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Soviet Mixed-Power Fighters

The 1-153 M-63 was the last Soviet biplane fighter to enter full scale production. Production Chaika fighters were constantly under test at the NIl WS during 1939-40, with both ski and wheeled undercarriages. It was very difficult to improve performance because, on the one hand, the design was practically at the limit of its development, and on the other it was clear that high speeds could not be achieved with the biplane configuration. To increase speed, two ramjets designed by I Merkulov were mounted on the fighter, and in September 1940 flight tests were undertaken to test the installation. During one of its last test flights the 1-153DM with DM-4 ramjets attained a maximum speed of 273mph (440km/h) at 6,500ft (2,000m) – the ramjets increased top speed by 31.6mph (51km/h). In spite of their high efficiency, the mixed powerplant was not considered suitable for the biplane fighters.

In 1935 young engineers Alexey Borovkov and Ilya Florov proposed an original biplane fighter, and this was produced in 1937 as the ‘Type 7211’. Later, in 1938-39, new biplane fighter based on this machine and designated 1-207 (I – istrebitel, fighter, or literally ‘destroyer’) was developed. By the spring of 1939 the two prototypes had been built, the first powered by a 900hp (671kW) Shvetsov M-62 and the second by an M-63 of the same power. The third prototype, powered by an ungeared M-63, was ready by the autumn. The first two had a fixed under- carriage, while the third had retractable gear. All three had open cockpits. In the spring of 1941 the fourth 1-207 prototype, powered by a geared M-63 and fitted with an enclosed cockpit with a sideward-hinged canopy was completed. All of these aircraft had four 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns, and two 551lb (250kg) bombs could be carried beneath the lower wings. When tested, they bettered the Polikarpov 18 1-15 biplane and 1-16 monoplane in climb rate and service ceiling, and were superior in manoeuvrability to the 1-15 but inferior to the 1-16. During flight tests in 1940 the third prototype reached a speed of 301mph (486km/h) at 17,400ft (5,300m), which for that period was inadequate. Moreover the configuration was also out of date, and for these reasons the type did not go into production.

The ‘D’ was designed as a mixed power fighter with a piston engine and Merkulin ramjet booster operating in the same duct. A 1,500 kW (2,000 hp) Shvetsov M-71 engine was intended to be the main powerplant but it is unclear how the thermodynamic cycles of the two engines were to be linked. Similar aircraft were built later in the German-Soviet War using the main engine to drive a propeller and a compressor to supply air to a ramjet/afterburner booster, both the Su-5 and MiG-13 were produced in limited numbers but the performance gains were limited and soon eclipsed by turbo-jet engines. The ‘D’ was to have been a gull- winged monoplane with high set wing, of stressed skin construction with exceptionally smooth skin stabilised by underlying corrugated structure. A heavy armament of two 37 mm (1.457 in) Nudelman-Suranov NS-37 cannon and two 20 mm (0.787 in) ShVAK cannon was included, but all work was abandoned with the German invasion of 1941.
In order to augment the fighter’s speed when necessary, the designers decided to equip it with one of Valentin Glushko’s liquid- propellant auxiliary rocket motors, including 0 the RD-l, RD-l KhZ, RD-2 and RD-3 with nitric acid and kerosene pump supply.

The unit considered most suitable for the Su-7 was the RD-l , delivering 661lb (300kg) of thrust. In addition, metal plate on the wooden section of fuselage was lengthened to protect the structure from flames emitted by the turbosupercharger. During the flight tests, which began in late 1944, 84 RD-l engine starts were performed on the ground and in flight. From 31st January to 15th February 1945 18 engine test starts were made on the ground using an ether/air starting system, and from 28th Au- gust to 19th December that year the investigations were continued using the RD-l KhZ rocket motor.

Frequent failures of the RD-l prolonged the tests, but finally, in late 1945, flights conducted by test pilot Komarov showed that when the rocket was started at 20,600ft (6,300m) it increased maximum speed by 56mph (91km/h). However, the RD-l was underdeveloped and often failed, and after five changes of the liquid-propellant booster the designers decided to abandon it altogether. Nevertheless, the development and testing of mixed-powerplant prototypes was an important stage in the development of high speed jet aircraft.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich I-250 (a.k.a. Samolet N) was a Soviet fighter aircraft developed as part of a crash program in 1944 to develop a high-performance fighter to counter German turbojet-powered aircraft such as the Messerschmitt Me-262. The Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau decided to focus on a design that used something more mature than the jet engine, which was still at an experimental stage in the Soviet Union, and chose a mixed-power solution with the VRDK (Vozdushno-Reaktivny Dvigatel Kompressornyi – air reaction compressor jet) motorjet powered by the Klimov VK-107 V12 engine. While quite successful when it worked, with a maximum speed of 820 km/h (510 mph) being reached during trials, production problems with the VRDK fatally delayed the program and it was canceled in 1948 as obsolete.


By the end of the Second World War the USA and Great Britain had developed practical jet fighters, even if they came a bit too late to take part in the action. Germany achieved even greater success, using jet fighters operationally in the closing stages of the war. The Soviet Union had fallen behind in this area, which is due to the Soviet government's scant attention to jet aircraft development and the lack of indigenous jet engines. True, as early as 1939 the design bureau led by Nikolay N. Polikarpov (OKB-51) had begun working on mixed-power fighters; the lead was quickly followed by other design bureaux headed by Aleksandr S. Yakovlev (OKB-115), Semyon A. Lavochkin (OKB-301), Artyom I. Mikoyan (OKB-155), Pavel O. Sukhoi (OKB-134) and Semyon M. Alekseyev (OKB-21). (OKB = opytno-konstrooktorskoye byuro - experi- mental design bureau; the number is a code allocated for security reasons.) These fighters employed ramjets or liquid-fuel rocket motors to give them a performance boost as required, but for various reasons none of them achieved production and service.

Several rocket-powered fighters were brought out as well, including the BI developed by A. Ya. Bereznyak and A. M. Isayev, the '302' designed by A. G. Kostikov and the Mikoyan 1-270 (aka izdeliye Zh). (Izdeliye (product) such and such was a common way of coding Soviet military hardware). However, the dangers associated with the rocket motor running on corrosive and/or toxic fuels and oxidisers, coupled with the motor's limited operation time, meant this was not a viable powerplant for a high-speed aircraft. Early research and development work on turbojet engines in the USSR dates back to the late 1930s. In 1938 Arkhip M. Lyul'ka and a group of engineers who shared his ideas came up with the project of the RTD-1 turbo- jet rated at 400 kgp (881 Ib st). Approving the project, the People's Commissariat of Aircraft Industry (NKAP - Narodnyy komissariaht aviatsionnoy promyshlennosti) allocated funds for manufacturing a prototype engine; mean- while, Luyl'ka was transferred to Leningrad to continue his work on jet engines at SKB-1 (Special Design Bureau - spetsiahl'noye konstrooktorskoye byuro). The RTD-1 evolved into the RD-1 (reaktivnyy dVigatel' - jet engine) delivering 500 kgp (1,102 Ib st) In early 1942 the Council of People's Commissars, one of the Soviet Union's highest government bodies, considered several jet fighter projects, including Mikhail I. Goodkov's proposal to re-engine the LaGG-3 fighter with an RD-1 turbojet. Concurrently the jet engine development programme was dusted off in accordance with Iosif V. Stalin's personal orders. In reality, however, the work really got underway in 1944 when Lyul'ka was put in charge of the gas turbine engine R&D section at a newly-established institute specialising in propulsion research.

Jet aircraft and jet engine development became a priority task for the Soviet aircraft industry after the war. Huge resources were committed to this task; still, all the money in the world can't buy you time, and the research and development effort was certainly going to be a lengthy one, which meant the service entry of the first Soviet jets would occur rather later than desired. Therefore, to speed up the work the Soviet government chose to make use of Germany's experience in this field.

In order to augment the fighter's speed when necessary, the designers decided to equip it with one of Valentin Glushko's liquid- propellant auxiliary rocket motors, including 0 the RD-l, RD-l KhZ, RD-2 and RD-3 with nitric acid and kerosene pump supply.

The unit considered most suitable for the Su-7 was the RD-l , delivering 661lb (300kg) of thrust. In addition, metal plate on the wooden section of fuselage was lengthened to protect the structure from flames emitted by the turbosupercharger. During the flight tests, which began in late 1944, 84 RD-l engine starts were performed on the ground and in flight. From 31st January to 15th February 1945 18 engine test starts were made on the ground using an ether/air starting system, and from 28th Au- gust to 19th December that year the investigations were continued using the RD-l KhZ rocket motor.

Frequent failures of the RD-l prolonged the tests, but finally, in late 1945, flights conducted by test pilot Komarov showed that when the rocket was started at 20,600ft (6,300m) it increased maximum speed by 56mph (91km/h). However, the RD-l was underdeveloped and often failed, and after five changes of the liquid-propellant booster the designers decided to abandon it altogether. Nevertheless, the development and testing of mixed-powerplant prototypes was an important stage in the development of high speed jet aircraft.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Nuclear Submarine project.949A Antey

K-148 Orenburg (August 1985), K- 132 Irkutsk (March 1986), K-119 Voronezh(December 1987), K-173 Krasnoyarsk (January 1989), K-410 Smolensk ( December 1989), K-442 Chelyabinsk (January 1990), K-456 Viliuczinsk (December 1991), K-266 Orel (22 May 1992), K- 186 Omsk (8 May 1993), K-141 Kursk (May 1994), K-512 Tomsk (18 July 1995), K-530 Belgorod (May 1998)

Builder: Severodvinsk

Displacement: 14,700 tons (surfaced), 24,000 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 505930 x 59980 x 30920

Machinery: 2 OK-650b pressurized water reactors, 2 geared steam turbines, 2 shafts. 100,000 shp = 15/30 knots

Endurance: 50 days

Armament: 24 x P-700 antiship missiles, 4 x 533mm torpedo tubes, 4 x 650mm torpedo tubes (all bow), total 28 torpedoes

Complement: 107

Notes: These boats were slightly longer than the earlier Project 949 submarines, to allow more extensive rafting of machinery in order to reduce their acoustic signature. Three additional boats were not completed. The Kursk sank after an accident on 12 August 2000 about 100 miles from Murmansk. By 2006 about six of the class remained in active service, with the remainder laid up in reserve.
Eleven Project 949A Antey submarines were completed at Severodvinsk, of which five were assigned to the Soviet Northern Fleet.

At one stage it had been planned to develop a new fourth-generation follow-on to the Project 949A, but this plan was later scrapped.

The external differences between the two classes were that the 949A class is about 10 metres (33 ft) longer than its predecessor (~154 metres (505 ft) rather than 143 m (469 ft)), providing space for improved electronics and possibly quieter propulsion. Some sources speculate that the acoustic performance of the Oscar II class is superior to early Akula class submarines but inferior to the Akula II as well as subsequent (4. generation) designs. It also has a larger fin, and a seven-bladed propeller instead of a four-bladed one.

Like all post-World War II Soviet designs, they are of double hull construction. Similarly, like other Soviet submarine designs, Project 949 not only has a bridge open to the elements on top of the sail but, for use in inclement weather, there is an enclosed bridge forward and slightly below this station in the fin/sail.

A distinguishing mark is a slight bulge at the top of the fin. A large door on either side of the fin reaches this bulge. These are wider at the top than on the bottom, and are hinged on the bottom. The Federation of American Scientists reports that this submarine carries an emergency crew escape capsule; it is possible that these doors cover it. The VSK escape capsule can accommodate 110 people.

The Oscar Class is commonly referred to as Mongo by crews of US patrol aircraft in reference to their massive size.

In December 2012, construction began on a special purpose research and rescue submarine, designated project 09852, and allegedly based on project 949A (Oscar II class) submarines. The submarine is designed to carry smaller submarines. Some sources speculated that the boat being built/modified is actually the incomplete “Belgorod”. However, another source gave a different account stating that the boat is similar to AS-31 Losharik, a far smaller special purpose submarine.


Soviet Interceptors – Cold War

SR-71 Blackbird (two-seated training version in the photo) – one of the most amazing aircraft ever built and real engineering wonder that came out Skunk Works facilities under brilliant lead of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Predominance as strategic level reconnaissance airplane, among others, realized through high-altitude and Mach 3+ flying. (Photo: US Air Force)

Despite the fact that Blackbird was not seriously endangered by the Soviet air defense, thanks to its flight speed and high-altitude operations, SR-71 operated outside the Soviet borders. A typical mission consisted of flight near the Soviet border and collecting data from deep inside the adversary’s airspace thanks to high-tech radar, optical and sensor equipment installed onboard SR-71. Although details about the installed equipment never went into public, there are official claims by the US Air Force that SR-71 could cover in one hour the ground area of 260,000 km2. In order to secure the longest possible flight range, soon after being airborne SR-71 would go for air refueling. After returning from the zone of action one more refueling would be performed; all in favor to prolong the time of being airborne. During the mission the flight speed of SR-71 was limited to Mach 3.2 although the airplane could reach even higher speeds. Its predecessor, A-12, could develop top flight speed of Mach 3.56 and the operational ceiling of more than 27,400 meters. Although the flight speed and altitude granted safe operation, unobstructed from the enemy’s air defense, the interception of SR-71 was tried out many times, but without real success. Still, optimally deployed Soviet anti-aircraft missile systems or MiG-25 interceptors posed some threat. With introduction of Soviet MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors, this threat became truly realistic.

The American projects of different types of Mach 3 airplanes, triggered reaction on the other side of the Iron curtain. Soviet attention was focused on US B-70 and SR-71 projects. Both types of airplanes had their first flights in the first half of 1960s. Although B-70 remained at prototype level, the Soviet answer in the form of Mach 3 interceptor went into full scale serial production and was widely introduced into operational units. Soviet MiG-25 was a sober answer, in accordance with the doctrine and capacity of the Soviet aviation industry and as a result of arms race between the West and the East. The question of this race was who could build faster and higher flying airplane.

The first prototyped MiG-25 took off in 1964, and it was introduced into operational service in 1970. At that moment MiG-25 was unreachable regarding flight speed and operational ceiling to any western fighter or interceptor airplane. MiG-25 reflected practical simplicity. To be able to withstand thermal stress caused by high speed aerodynamic heating, the airplane, including wing spars and fuselage frames, was mostly made of stainless steel. The robust structure of MiG-25 was reliable and easy for maintenance.

The use of titanium instead of stainless steel was also an option, but this option was abandoned because of high price and unsolved problems related to material processing. The problem of the cracks inside welds of thin-shell titanium structures presented unsolvable issue. Finally it was decided that the main materials would be different steel alloys that would constitute 80% of the MiG-25 structure. 11% of structure would be made of aluminum and 9% out of titanium. Two powerful turbojet engines provided enough thrust; so theoretically, MiG-25 could reach the flight speed of Mach 3.2 at an altitude of 27 kilometers. However, the operational flight speed was limited to Mach 2.8 considering that at flight speeds higher than that the engine turbines tended to overheat, resulting in possibly damaging engines beyond repair.

MiG-25 was definitely for the West one of the greatest Cold War enigma. High flight speed was one of the NATO concerns, although, in reality, MiG-25 could hardly compromise the mission of, for example SR-71, first of all because of poorer avionics and also not being able to keep continuous flight speed above Mach 3. Inaccurate intelligence triggered general opinion in the West that MiG-25 was actually a highly maneuverable fighter airplane, instead of interceptor. The large wing surface was wrongly interpreted; as a matter of fact, MiG-25 needed big lifting surface because of maximum take-off weight (it was made of steel!) of more than 35 tons. The American response to wrong intelligence data was the initiation of a new program which would result in one of the best fighter-interceptors of the Cold War and the post Cold War era – it was McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle.

The shroud of secrecy around MiG-25 was removed in 1976. On September 6, Viktor Belenko, a Soviet Air Defense pilot, defected with his MiG-25P to the Japanese airport Hakodate. The airplane was practically newly produced and gave the Americans a chance to take a close look for the first time into the modern Soviet aerospace technology. The airplane was built around two massive and powerful Tumansky R-15(B) turbojet engines, each rated at more than 10 tons of thrust. Welding was partially manual and rivet heads were not flushed in the areas where this could not influence the aerodynamic drag. The airplane structure was mainly made of nickel steel and not of titanium as it was largely assumed in the West. The airplane g-load was limited to 4.5 g and the combat radius was just 300 kilometers. The scale of airspeed indicator was marked red at Mach 2.8 and the typical interception speed was at Mach 2.5; all in favor of extending the lifetime of engines. The majority of onboard avionics was based on vacuum tube technology. Although vacuum tube technology was obsolete it proved to be very tolerant to peak temperatures developing at Mach 3+ airspeeds. Other than that, vacuum pipes were much easier to maintain, from the Soviet standpoint, and they were resistant to electromagnetic pulse, for example after nuclear explosion. After 67 days of detailed analysis the Americans returned to the Soviets Belenko’s MiG-25; in pieces of course.

Although the results of MiG-25 technical analysis proved that the Soviet aerospace industry was behind that of the Americans, this fact could be deceiving. One must not forget that the philosophy of the Soviet war strategists, since World War II, was based on massive military production of reliable and easy-to-maintain systems, scarifying at the same time their sophistication. Through that context, the legendary MiG-25 should be observed. Until 1976, the Soviet Air Defense Forces (Russian: Aviatsiya PVO – Protivo–Vozdushnoy Oborony) had in its inventory more than 400 MiG-25 interceptors. In interception missions the Soviet interceptors relied heavily on their ground control. Guided by directions and parameters from the ground control, the task of the pilot was to take off as soon as possible, intercept an enemy’s airplane and shoot it down. For this kind of mission performances of MiG-25, like flight speed, operational ceiling and maybe most important the rate of climb, were more than satisfying.

In 1982, MiG-31 was introduced in operational service of Soviet Air Defense, conceived on the good bases of MiG-25. MiG-31 was characterized by properties which presented an upgrade of MiG-25. MiG-31 could fly supersonically at low altitudes, didn’t have to rely so much on ground control during interception missions, could engage several targets above and below owing to its look up and look down/shoot radar, and had bigger combat radius. The highest airspeed, much like in MiG-25, was limited in operational use at Mach 2.83, although engines had enough power to accelerate an airplane to Mach 3+. Initially, MiG-31 had two D30-F6 turbofan engines, each rated at 15.5 tons of static thrust using afterburner. It has to be noted that MiG-31 had maximum take-off weight of more than 46 tons, which puts it on the first place of the list of the heaviest interceptors in the world.

Designers of MiG testing and designing office soon realized that the performances of their MiG-25 were promising the setting of a whole range of airplane records, under the supervision of the International Aeronautical Federation. With that idea in mind, three specially designed prototype airplanes - Ye-155P1, Ye-155R1 and Ye-155R3 were prepared. The structures of prototypes were made lighter by removing, for the occasion, unnecessary equipment.

The first flight speed record was realized on March 16, 1965, for speed over closed circuit, without payload and with 1,000 kilos and 2,000 kilos payload. The test pilot Aleksandar Fedotov achieved an average flight speed of 2,319.12 km/h over a closed circuit of 1,000 kilometers.

On July 25, 1973, Fedotov reached the altitude of 35,230 meters with 1,000 kilos payload, and 36,240 meters with no payload. In the highest point of flight trajectory the airspeed of the airplane dropped to only 75 km/h. A few years later, on August 31, 1977, Fedotov set the absolute altitude record for turbojet-powered airplanes, reaching the altitude of 37,650 meters.

The climb rate records were demonstrated on June 4, 1973, when Boris A. Orlov climbed to 20,000 meters in just 2 minutes and 49.8 seconds. On the same day Pyotr M. Ostapenko reached 25,000 meters in 3 minutes and 12.6 seconds and 30,000 meters in 4 minutes and 3.8 seconds.

Overall, MiG-25 prototyped and prepared record breaking airplanes set 29 records, out of which 7 were absolute world flight speed, altitude and climbing records. Some of those still stand today