A. Bolonkin, Dr.Sci.,1992HOW THE SOVIET UNION LOST TO THE U.S.
The Soviet Union's successful orbiting of the world's first satellite on October 4, 1957, followed by the first successful manned space flight on April l2, 1961, raised a great stir and enabled Soviet propagandists to trumpet to the world that the communist system was superior and that the U.S. was behind in technology. These successes evoked considerable enthusiasm, especially among Soviet young people, and increased the number of supporters of communism in the West.
As a result, the first news of the U.S. lunar program caused great uneasiness among the communist leadership, and the CPSU Central Committee ordered that efforts to put a man on the moon be begun immediately; the first man on the Moon had to be a Soviet.
There thus began a strange space race in which the contestants competed under unequal conditions. The U.S. program was open, the schedules were published, and complete public reports were made on every failure. But nobody knew about the Soviet program except those directly involved in carrying it out, and even they knew only about their own narrow areas of work.
It was like a horse race in which one horse was running in the open on the racetrack and the other in a covered tunnel, with an unknown starting time. The spectators would know only the results at the finish line.
The Soviet lunar program involved two stages: the first involved a flight around the moon, and the second a manned landing on the moon. The technical head of the entire program was Vasiliy Mishin, who had replaced Sergey Korolev as General Designer of the rocket experimental design bureau after the latter's death. This bureau was located in Podlinki, a small town near Moscow. Near it were a large rocket research center (formerly Research Institute 88 or NII-38) and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
In its main outlines the Soviet program was similar to the U.S. program, except that it was planned to have two rather than three Soviet cosmonauts fly to the moon. One of them was to remain in lunar orbit while the other descended to the surface of the moon.
The first stage of the program called for a flight of the L-l lunar vehicle to the moon in the mid-1960's. The L-l was a modified version of the famous Soyuz vehicle, which had made flights around the earth.
(On the first vehicle of the series, the Soyuz-l, V. M. Komarov, one of the most able of the Soviet cosmonauts, was killed after a day long flight around the earth on April 24, 1967).
It was to be launched by a Proton rocket, which was capable of putting up to 20 tons into earth orbit. Meanwhile, intense work on the powerful N-l rocket and the L-3 lunar vehicle had been begun in the time of S. P. Korolev. The L-l was later renamed the "Zond."
The first launch of the first-stage program (an unmanned flight around the moon) was a failure. To accelerate the lunar vehicle to the second space velocity, an additional stage (unit D) was installed on the Proton rocket, but during installation its command switches were misfired, so that deceleration rather than acceleration was produced. The rocket had to be blown up.
The second launch was more or less normal.
But in the third launch, the rocket collapsed and exploded on launch. It was found that a rubber seal left in the manifold of the turbo-pump unit had cut off the fuel supply a few seconds after the launch.
Thereafter, major malfunctions, failures and explosions occurred in 507. of the launches. Nothing was reported about any of the unsuccessful launches, of course.
At the same time, 20 candidates were being trained for the lunar program. The first two-man lunar crews consisted of cosmonauts Leonov and Makarov and cosmonauts Bykovskiy and Rukavishnikov.
They were actually taken to Somalia in order to familiarize them with the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
But the frenzied haste continued to do great harm to the program. On its last unmanned flight, the vehicle successfully orbited the moon, but on its return to the earth its parachute system did not operate properly: it detached at great height, and the spacecraft fell to the ground and broke up. Fortunately, the film with photographs of the back of the moon survived, enabling the communists to announce a successful flight and to again raise the cry that the communist system was superior.
But Soviet experts had already realized that the race to land a man Americans a beard the Apallo-8 made a flight around the moan, and the entire program (the race to be first) became pointless. V. P. Mishin did gain permission for one further unmanned test flight. But the spacecraft suffered a loss of tightness during the flight, making it a failure.
Failures also dogged the second stage of the program. The first three launches or the N-l rocket, designed to carry astronauts to the moon for a landing, ended in crashes.
The Folitburo realized that they had finally lost the race to put a man on the moon. and they closed down the program. In order to somewhat moderate the impression created by the U.S. successes, they quickly worked out a second program that did not require a powerful carrier rocket. This program called or Dotting on the moon the "Lunokhod" vehicles, which could move around on the moon and send back pictures of the lunar surface. But only the specialists realized that the scientific value of the information obtained from such an automatic device did not bear comparison with the information obtained by the U.S. astronauts. Suffice it to say that each of the U.S. moon flights Draught back tens of kilograms of moon rock collected by the astronauts for study by geologists, while the Soviet unmanned devices brought back only a few dozen grams of moon rock, collected at a random location.
The entire world was watching when the Americans landed on the moon. But in the Soviet Union the event was shown only to 100 specially selected persons.
The entire world watched in suspense when a fuel cell exploded on a U.S. rocket. But the Soviet cosmonauts knew well that they could not count the story being told (in Carefully control led doses) only if there was a successful flight. Even though it might be impossible to conceal a cosmonaut's death (because Soviet propagandists announced the flights after successful placement in orbit), if they were unsuccessful and died they would rapidly be forgotten, as was the case with V. M. Komarov, G. T. Dobrovol'skiy, V. N. Volkov, and V. I. Patsayev, whose deaths were not mentioned for the next 20 years by a single Soviet reference work on space flight intended for the General public. This fact had an extremely adverse psychological effect on the cosmonauts.
During the 35 years of the space age, the world has achieved great successes in space exploration. Soviet scientists have attained a significant share of these successes, having launched the first artificial Earth satellite and the first man and the first woman in space.
After the 1972 U.S. lunar landing. The fame of Soviet space science waned. but its contributions have been large. From 1980 to 1989 the former USSR launched 90-125 satellites every year. This was five times the number for all other countries combined, including the U.S., which launched 16-27 satellites annually.
Since 1976 the former USSR has sent 450 tons of cargo into space each year: of this, about 20 tons were placed in interplanetary space. Sixty-six Soviet crews of two or three people had flown into space by the end of 1988; 30 of these crews were international.
Soviet crews have worked for more than 5,500 man-days in space. They hold most of the world's records for duration in space, and many aviation records as well.
Their achievements have been the result of a huge Financial commitment by the previous regime, which was eager to prove the advantage of the Soviet system over "rotten capitalism." Leaders put huge resources into the aerospace industry, financing its prestige without limit. About 9 million people, excluding civilian and military students and veterans, worked in the industry.
The centrally planned system had both advantages and drawbacks for the aerospace industry. Says Boris Rayshenbakh, a well-known scientist and member of the Soviet Academy of Science, "The main advantage of former Soviet aerospace programs was central planning and state financing. The main obstacle was mismanagement by communist leaders."
On the plus side/Soviet scientists and engineers had stable jobs that were independent of specific projects. This enabled preservation of technical expertise, which allowed for continuous improvements in product quality.
The basic disadvantage of the Soviet approach was the separation of research. manufacturing, maintenance, and design into independent organizations.
This situation may be compared with that of a basketball team in which every player is paid for his individual score but not for the final result of the game. Clearly, every player on this "team" will be paid only according to his personal interest.
Huge damage was done to the Soviet economy by the secrecy surrounding the aerospace industry. The nation's military, aviation, and aerospace activities became big closed branches of the economy, working only for themselves and giving nothing to the civil sector.
After the Soviet empires collapse. The output and living standard of the people deteriorated quickly, for several reasons. Ties between interdependent plants broke down because they were located in different countries. Other causes included central leadership's indecision and lack of skill in conducting economic reforms; transition to the free market without privatization of factories and land: and an inappropriate policy (by Western countries, the World Foundation, and the World Bank) that presses Russia to adopt a development model for non-industrialized countries. Moreover, many former communist officials retained their old positions.
The new economic relationships have hurt the aviation and aerospace industries most. The state is decreasing the share of R&D allotted to new production orders. Most research and aerospace programs are being closed down. Living conditions are at a low level, especially for scientists and engineers; salaries for these specialists are now two to three times lower than for blue-collar workers, and their purchasing power is 10-15 limes less than it was in 1988. The amount of food a scientist or engineer can buy on his monthly salary can fit into a small plastic bag.
The average person in the street is longing for Brezhnev's time.
Approximately 70,000 skilled aviation and aerospace specialists left the country's research institutes, design bureaus and plants in 1990. In 1991 this number more than tripled, and in 1992 it was even higher. The skilled specialists join small businesses, where the salaries are five to eight times higher. Many are ready to move to any country to assist in military production.
Research institutes now receive only 50% of their financing from the state government: the rest must be obtained from the plants. But Soviet industry is in economic difficulty now and does not want to support any new research.
According to Vladimir Laptev, deputy minister of the aviation industry, the number of military orders fell by 30% in 1991. Production of the military Su-25 aircraft was closed down. Continued production of the MiG-29 fighter is planned only for foreign needs. Production at the Moscow plant will be convened from the military MiG-29 to a civilian aircraft, the 11-114. The plant located in Nizhnii Novgorod will convert from production of the MiG-29 to the MiG-31 for antiaircraft defense.
The Komsomolsk Amure plant will continue to produce the MiG-29 for export without attack arms. An order for 50 of these aircraft has been received from China and others, and demand is expected to remain strong.
Production of the attack Su-24 has been cut in half. Approximately 100 Tu-160 supersonic bombers were built; apparently the Kazan plant will continue production. Also, according to Laptev, the number of plan is producing tactical aircraft has decreased from nine to six.
Often authorities order conversion of military plants into civilian production without consulting plant management. They do not take into account specific features of the plants' production technology or expertise. For example, the president of the Sukhoi design bureau. Michael Simakov, complained of the aviation ministry forcing conversion of his plant, which produced Su-27s, to production of packaging machines. The plant will not turn a profit if it uses highly skilled aviation specialists and expensive plant equipment for this end.
In the USSR, each military plant had a special shop to build civilian products out of materials left over from military production. For example, this Ulan-Ude plant, which produced MiG aircraft and helicopters, made washing machines. and the Perm plant, which built jet engines, made Small piston engines for boats. These plants focused on such output when the economic crisis began. but they could not use their huge capacity for this production only.
Soviet authorities complained of lack of financing, but they found 0.25 billion rubles to destroy short- and medium-range rockets. They were ready to spend 5.5 billion in 1991 rubles to destroy chemical weapons.
Some believe that Soviet military weaponry is not as good as that of the US They use Desert Storm as an example, because Iraq had many Soviet arms. But they overlook two things. First, the Iraqi army did not have current Soviet weapons. Second, and most important, modern weapons must be operated by skilled technical specialists, and Iraq did not have such people. If the Iraqi army had had modem U.S. arms and the Soviet army had invaded Iraq. the result would have been the same, but the Soviet soldiers would have been in Baghdad in three days.
Certainly, Soviet consumer products lag behind those of the West by 10-20 years. But the West makes a big mistake when it projects this lag onto the military sector.
The Soviet defense industry, especially aerospace, was a very classified,
isolated branch of industry. All inventions and innovations were kept top secret. Spinoff of innovations for consumer products was not encouraged. Only the defense industry used the secret chips, metals, alloys, materials. equipment, and technology.
Certainly the Soviet electronic defense sector fell behind U.S. and Japanese industry, but this lag is not as large as many people think when they see Soviet consumer equipment.
For example, the radio equipment on the Soviet radio location A-50 aircraft (Soviet AWACS), the counterpart of the U.S. E-3 Sentry, is 50% heavier, mainly because of additional components for different control systems and military codes.
The MiG-31's Zaslon radiological station can "see" 10 targets and attack four at the same time with air-to-air rockets. It has a phase antenna for long range with 170° of azimuth and 60-70° of elevation.
It is amazing that Soviet designers without good chips, equipment, or materials created airplanes and spacecraft that have better technical parameters than their Western counterparts.
For example. Soviet liquid-propelled rocket engines for main stages, such as the Glushko design bureau's RD-170. have better specific impulse than U.S. engines of the same class.
And the new C-300 anti-rocket missile built by the scientific-industrial association Almas ("Diamond") provides better data than the famous U.S. Patriot missile. It has over 48 rockets and can attack more than six targets that fly over 2,600 mph from 55 ft to high altitudes and range over 57 mi. Its designer, Soviet Academy of Science member Boris Bunkin, said, "The rockets are supplied and transported and are kept ready for action in special launching containers. They don't require repair and service for 10 years."
The rockets, which are launched vertically, can launch, it fast attack targets that fly from any direction. Preparation time is 5 min from not-ready status, rate of fire is 3 sec. Earlier versions, the C-75, C-125, and C-200, all designed by this association, brought down U.S. and other aircraft in Vietnam.
Russia also has the world's largest cargo plane, the An-225 which can take off from unpaved airports, has a basic weight of 600 tons, and can deliver 250 tons of useful cargo within a range of 2,500 mi. at 500 mph. More than 80 passenger cars can fit into the cargo cabin.
The Research Institute of Technical Glasses developed methods for strengthening silicate glass to 150-200 kg/mm2. (This compares with 2-5 kg/mm for conventional glass and 10-15 kg/mm2 for special types.) This high-strength glass may be used as a load-bearing element in construction.
Several other interesting projects have been designed in Russia. In some cases, only modest investment would be needed for controlling them.
One such project is MAKC, a pole=target two-stage aerospace vehicle. The An-225 is used as the first stage. The second stage contains the fuel tank. which is used only once, and a reusable orbiting airplane, Tie project is ahead of its German arid British counterparts, the Sanger and Hotol, because the An-225 already exists, as does a powerful industrial and testing base created for the Buran-Encrgiya the Space Shuttle analog. The MAKC project may be Many other projects arc also in progress. ranging from the small YaK-112 aircraft to a small supersonic airplane for businessmen.
Russia holds major opportunities for foreign students who wish to become
specialists. Such training is two to three limes cheaper than in the West because of the low tuition at Russian universities and the low cost of living as measured in dollars, especially considering the high quality of Russian education.
What can we conclude from the current situation in the former USSR?
Russia and the other former Soviet republics have huge industrial bases and skilled scientists, engineers, and worker. They are now very interested in collaboration and cooperation with the U.S. and other Western countries.
Production of complex equipment may be two to three times cheaper there than in Western countries. R&D especially may be profitable for Western companies. Products may be three to 10 limes cheaper. A monthly salary of $150-$200 looks like a dream to Soviet scientists and engineers because of the current exchange rate. Such a salary would provide a rather high living standard because of low apartment rents, free medical and educational services. and low taxes. This living standard corresponds to that of a U.S. engineer with a $2,000 monthly take-home salary.
Most of the former Soviet Union's defense industry projects need a minimal dollar investment and Western experience and management to achieve world-class quality and to be sold on the world market. Even electronics, the most backward branch of Soviet industry, needs only Western chips or equipment for improved production. Aircraft equipped with Western navigation devices can compete with those of well-known Western companies.
The U.S., Germany, and other Western countries have provided large credits to the republics of the former USSR. Many oppose these credits, pointing to problems at home. This conflict might be resolved if credits were given for purchases in the creditor nation.
After WW II, Western European nations restored their industries thanks to the Marshall Plan. An analogous problem exists now, but there is a difference: The Russian economy is not destroyed. It just needs capitalist experience to assist its transformation to a free market economy. Russia has skilled specialists and workers and tremendous natural resources. Its people are eager to assimilate Western values.
In the future, Russia will be a vast market that will grow as living conditions improve. The West must not lose this chance to support positive changes and the former Soviet Union's transformation into democracies. We should not allow the destruction of Russian industry and science, especially its best branch, aerospace and aviation.
The victory of Russian extremists could have terrible consequences for the U.S. and the world.
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