Today, I want to quickly review a truly superb two volume book called “The Russian Army on Parade” and “The Russian Commemoration Parade at the 75th Anniversary of Victory in World War Two” both written by Jim Kinnear (and Andrey Akesenow for the 2nd volume). Here are the links to publisher from whom you can order both books:
These two books are absolutely unique and, in my opinion, invaluable.
First, let’s talk about the parades themselves.
Both in the Soviet times and in the post 1991 Russia, the Victory Day parades have had a very special meaning to both the Russian people and for their enemies. These were not just “patriotic shows” (which they definitely are), but also a way to show to the Russian people and their enemies the latest achievements of the Russian military industry. Furthermore, for military specialists, what might look like a boring parade of military hardware to a civilian can yield extremely valuable information not only about the hardware itself, but also about the Russian military thinking. One example:
Russian tanks tend to be very different from their western counterparts. They are all the product of compromises: the ideal tank is light, can cross rivers or even float, small, indestructible, fast and has unstoppable weapons – but in reality such a tank cannot be built as these criteria, and many many more, are mutually exclusive. For example, tank building countries can put so much armor on their tanks that they would be close to impossible to breach (at least in theory), but the weight and size of the tank will make them huge which, in turns, limit the kind of bridges they can cross, what kind of river banks they can climb or how big they will look in the targeting systems of the enemy. Then there is the issue of costs. Would you rather have one (purely theoretically) “perfect” tank costing X or 10 “somewhat less than perfect” tanks for the same price (or even less!)?
So, as most weapons systems, tanks are the results of very complex compromises and a trained eye will even see what kind of terrain and tactics one tank has been designed for, as opposed to another tank. Furthermore, if you look “deeper” inside the tank (even by its external features) you can make some good guesses on the kind of sensors or communication systems these tanks probably have. Of course, the Soviets and the Russians always knew that, so they carefully decide what they do want to show or don’t want to show. They can even deliberately try to hide the real capabilities of any weapons system/platform from “unfriendly eyes”.
I mention all of the above to explain that these two superb volumes (filled with hundreds of excellent color photographs!) are not just for hardware geeks and technology fanboys, they are a voyage through Russian military thinking!
The first volume covers the Russian military parades in the 1990s, then those in the 2000s and then those in the 2010s. It concludes with an commented index of all the hardware shown between 1992-2019.
The second volume covers “only” the truly amazing parade in 2020 for the 75th commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
One might wonder, what about the Soviet, pre-1991 parades?
Here you have to remember that the development cycle for a weapons system/platform can take years or even decades, so almost all the current Russian military technologies have deep roots in Soviet military thinking. Furthermore, the design philosophy of a complex weapons system can change over time, but often rather slowly. This is simply an issue of common sense: why re-invent the wheel when it already works? Of course, if the geostrategic environment changes dramatically, and instead of being deployed in eastern Europe the Russians now have NATO literally right across their border, things will change, and they have changed, often dramatically.
These two volumes focus on post-Soviet, Russian, military parades, they will give the reader an superb insight into Soviet military thinking (as opposed to the crap western propaganda like to spew about it during the Cold War). Of course, the fall (or, more accurately, the dismembering by the Party elites) of the Soviet Union in 1991 had a major impact on Russian military thinking and while much of the superb Soviet military and scientific capabilities still lies at the root of modern Russian weapon systems/platforms, a new generation of (often much younger) engineers and scientists has produced (quasi) purely ‘Russian’ technologies (such as the Su-57 or the “Armata” series).
Thus, these volumes are also a extremely interesting way to look not at hardware, but at the evolution of Russian designs and their underlying force planning philosophy.
I highly recommend these two volumes to all those who want to understand why Soviet/Russian designs are so different from their western equivalents. And no, it is not true to say that Russians like cheap and sturdy while westerners prefer high tech (that is purely propaganda). But I think that it is true to say that Russian designs are by and for soldiers and war whereas western designs are mostly by and for engineers and for big, juicy, military contracts.
If you want to see what kind of designs result from about 1000 years of existential, survival, warfare, then you can’t do better than getting these two volumes. You will not be disappointed.