The USSR had the largest armed forces in the world and, indeed, the largest peacetime military establishment in history. They were controlled by the Ministry of Defense, which was commanded and administered almost exclusively by career military officers, virtually all of whom belonged to the CPSU. The uniformed military were well represented in government and CPSU policy bodies and had a good deal of say on national security policy; their advice was generally not welcomed on other issues.
Military service was compulsory in the Soviet Union for all males beginning at the age of 18. The terms were changed repeatedly, but from the late 1960s onward conscripts served for three years in the navy and for two years in other units. Total military manpower in 1989, not counting KGB and MVD troops, was estimated to be 4,178,000. The largest branch of the forces, with 1,596,000 troops, was the ground forces. The USSR also had an air defense of 502,000 troops; a navy of 462,000; an air force of 330,000; and strategic rocket forces of 287,000. About 1 million persons in service were in construction battalions, special railroad detachments, and support units.
Approximately 500,000 Soviet troops were stationed in four East European countries—East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary—and smaller contingents were temporarily based in allied countries in the developing world.
As a result of years of investment in defense research, development, and production, the forces had gigantic stocks of hardware. In 1989 the USSR was believed to deploy more than 60,000 tanks, 6800 combat aircraft, 620 major surface ships and submarines, 8500 surface-to-air missiles, and 2400 intercontinental and submarine-launched strategic missiles loaded with nuclear warheads.
Starting more slowly than the United States, the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal overtook the Americans’ in size in the mid-1970s and peaked at about 45,000 weapons in 1986; about 10,100 of those warheads were strategic weapons designed to strike the enemy’s home base, and the rest were tactical weapons for use on the battlefield. Largely because of arms-control agreements with the West, the Soviet nuclear stockpile was reduced to about 40,000 weapons in 1989 and 35,000 in 1991. Most strategic forces were stored at bases and launch sites in interior locations in Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, and the RSFSR. Tactical weapons were widely dispersed, and thousands were held by Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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