I was always under the impression that the USSR had the advantage over NATO for much of the cold war until the 80's, when the stagnating Soviet economy hurt their weapons programs whist Reagan's militarization programs (M1 Abrams, Apache helicopters, Bradleys, Humvees, etc.) started getting deployed in Europe. However, reading this thread, especially posts by a user called 'ikalugin', suggests to me that the USSR has parity over NATO in pure technical terms anyway. Are there any truth to his claims, or is it just the almost universal Russian superiority complex?

Some examples of superiority of USSR equipment outlined in the thread:

-Late T-80 models being superior to M1A1 tanks and, by extension, other NATO MBT's

-Late model T-64 being the same as T-80's therefore by extension they're better than NATO MBT's as well

-Superiority of MIG-29 and SU-27 over F-15 as well as the Soviet pioneering of data links

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    What reasons do you have for thinking the Soviets had technical parity with NATO? Did you bother doing any research at all, or is it just "some random guy said this"? – Semaphore Oct 10 '14 at 21:14
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    I invite you to summarise those supposed "good reasoning" in your own question rather than dismissively tell others to delve into an 18 page quagmire of a thread. – Semaphore Oct 10 '14 at 22:27
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    Jeez - the T64 was seen as a Dud when it came out, even compared to the T55. The T70 was supposedly way better, but was easy enough to kill in practice in the MidEast. The Mig29 is a poor fighter, made to kill b-52s at altitude, not dogfight. – Oldcat Oct 10 '14 at 23:19
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    this seems to be lifted directly from a piece of Soviet propaganda. – jwenting Oct 11 '14 at 5:11
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    It seems that while sure, many answers will be opinion based, is it fact or opinion that for a long time America's weapons engineers were working to best their own re-badged weapons systems because Soviet "engineering" was primarily the result of theft of American designs? If that were the case, then surely the answer to this question of "technical superiority" is pretty well a given. – seizethecarp Feb 7 '18 at 19:55

The Soviet threat was much overestimated by the US/NATO for all of Cold War, for a variety of reasons, in particular these two:

  • The Soviets had a tendency to inflate their announced strength, as a way to impress both their external opponents, and their own population. Eric Schlosser, for instance, quotes a case where the US Strategic Air Command makes plans for nuclear war on the assumption that USSR had 100 of the then-new ICBM, as they boasted, whereas only 6 (six !) such missiles actually existed. Outrageous claims and impressive military parades on the Red Square were designed both the make the Americans hesitate before launching a "pre-emptive war", and to ensure internal stability of the country.

  • The "Red Menace" was a very convenient gimmick to flourish when trying to negotiate extended defence budgets. Painting the Soviets as having at least parity, or much more, with US/NATO has been a recurring theme in top US military circles in their dealings with the Senate and Congress.

If we want to make a military summary, it is fair to say that throughout the Cold War, USSR could muster more troops than USA/NATO, but Americans had better equipment. When considering planes, for instance, the MiG-25 was much faster in raw top speed than the contemporary F-14, and both USA and USSR were sure to point that out; but the F-14 was superior in actual fighting (much more agile, much better visibility...).

(As an exception, USSR almost always kept the lead for the number of nuclear warheads, and they had the biggest of them all.)

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    The real strategy on both sides was to make the fear of losing so possible that neither side would risk going to war and possibly escalating to nukes. – Oldcat Oct 10 '14 at 20:47
  • There were also things like the ruse with the Myasishchev M-4 long-range bomber. The USSR flew a formation of ten of them over a parade, then a formation of 18. Western observers assumed that there were at least 28 planes but, in reality, the second pass was the first ten aircraft plus eight new ones and there were only 18 in total. – David Richerby Feb 6 '18 at 23:03

The United States has always had up to the present time a large, in fact, dominating military capability over the Soviet Union and this has always been well known to our military leaders and strategists, including the President.

The average American on the street with no specialized knowledged of military economics, logistics and technology, has often had an exaggerated idea of the threat posed by the Soviet war machine. This is largely because politicians tend to speak out mainly when there is some threat of some kind, so the news tends to disproportionately create stories which emphasize some threat or other, even though in the large, the Soviet empire has never posed a serious threat to the United States.

The Soviets themselves, and their successor state, the Russian republic, has always been acutely aware of their inferiority and has focused its resources on developing specific technologies that give them a defensive or deterrent capability.

ikalugin's comments about the various types of dysfunction in the NATO organization have a certain validity. NATO's purpose, however, is to be more or less a bureaucratic/diplomatic soldier's club, not an effective fighting force. In the event of a war, the Russians would be fighting the combined military forces of the United States, not NATO.

In a real war, technical superiority is usually secondary to material and manpower quantity, and in both of these departments the United States dominates Russia, especially in its productive capacity. For example, Russia has about 300,000 men in its army and the United States has over 1 million, and the American soldiers are much better trained, equipped and supported. If you factor in the US economy, which is 8 times the size of the Russian economy, it is obvious the US would annihilate Russia in any all-out war.

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    Thanks for your answer. However, I know about the economics during the cold war and that is why I opened a question which focused purely on technical equipment parity. Therefore at present, whilst it is once again very well written, your answer does not answer my question. Also I could argue that under exercise REFORGER it was estimated that the US would deploy combat ready reserves to Europe within 30 days, some heavy units taking no less than 5 days to arrive (without OPFOR actions too) whilst the Soviets plan to cross the Rhine in 7 days should 'festivities' start, but thats another qn. – Evil Washing Machine Oct 10 '14 at 22:16
  • I answered your question by saying his claims "have a certain validity." His claim that NATO suffers from a "Lack of good equipment" is both not really true, and irrelevant, because, as I said, if there was a war Russia would be fighting the United States, not NATO. As far as the cold war tanks are concerned, the M60 was technically similar to the T-62, neither one having any critical advantage. In actual warfare scenarios, like the Yom Kippur War, M60s usually beat T-62s because the crews were better trained. – Tyler Durden Oct 10 '14 at 22:29
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    In general, virtually all US/NATO equipment is superior to Russian stuff. The only weapon classes I can think of that cold war Russian stuff was better or at least more flexible was RPGs, mine systems (both aquatic and land-based), and anti-ship missiles. These are all areas that the US avoided doing development in deliberately because it was either counter to our way of warfare or was strategically counter-productive. – Tyler Durden Oct 10 '14 at 23:16
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    this is wrong on so many levels it's not even worth going into all of them. The USSR had a massive superiority in both manpower and equipment numbers. NATO had an advantage in quality and technology (mainly computers). As to the size of the Russian (neo-Soviet) military, you're just guessing. The number you mention is a very low estimate, and is also for just their ground forces while the US number you quote is for their entire military, no comparison at all. – jwenting Oct 11 '14 at 5:10
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    These comments are WHY this question should have been closed from the beginning. The question is asking for opinions on a topic with much dissension. Please move this to chat. All of the high rep users in this discussion chain KNOW better. – CGCampbell Oct 12 '14 at 14:24

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