Published Airpower Journal - Spring 1988
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Soviet Maskirovko

Charles L. Smith

IN developing the scenario for a NATO-Soviet conflict used in Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy placed a great deal of emphasis on Soviet maskirovka.1 Maskirovka is frequently mentioned in passing in many other novels, articles, and monographs dealing with the USSR. But there have been all too few attempts to describe maskirovka as an entity. That is the purpose of this article. Maskirovka is most simply defined as a set of processes designed to mislead, confuse, and interfere with accurate data collection regarding all areas of Soviet plans, objectives, and strengths or weaknesses.


In studying the USSR, most Westerners are faced immediately with several problems. A primary example is that of attempting to understand the Soviet/Russian perspective on events. The Russian "mindset" has been influenced by many factors of which Americans are generally unaware or the significance of which have been elusive. For example, the term American imperialistic interventionists as used by the Soviets may be interpreted in the United States as a reference to our involvement's in Cuba, the Philippines, or Vietnam. To the Soviets, it brings to mind the fact that during the Russian civil war, the United States, as well as Britain, France, and Japan, had military forces fighting against Bolshevik forces in Russia. This is one example of the difference in perspectives.

Another major problem is that Russian terms are not always easily translated into English. Maskirovka is an excellent example. In US military terms, maskirovka is often referred to as "camouflage," "concealment," and "deception." Translators frequently use the term camouflage, and the use of this single English term inherently gives the reader a biased perception of what is actually presented in the Russian. For example, research in translated Russian works where the term camouflage has been used creates a view that is different from research where the term concealment has been selected. This is complicated by the Russian word kamufliazh, which translates into English as camouflage. In the Russian context, the term refers to what in the West is classified as disruptive painting (fig. 1),

Another example is the selection of decoys, dummies, or models for the Russian use of false objects. In English there are subtle differences between these terms.

Maskirovka is actually a very broad concept that encompasses many English terms. These include: camouflage, concealment, deception, imitation, disinformation, secrecy, security, feints, diversions, and simulation. While terms overlap to a great extent, a complication is that the Russian term is greater than the sum of these English terms. Thus, those in the West should attempt to grasp the entire concept rather than its components. Maskirovka is not a new concept in the USSR. Its roots can be traced to the Russian Imperial Army. Several Soviet authors trace it back to Dmitry Donskoy's placing a portion of his mounted forces in an adjacent forest at the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380. Seeing a smaller force than anticipated, the Tatars attacked, only to be suddenly overpowered by the concealed force.2

This concept, because of the Soviet "mind-set," permeates the entire nation. It is practiced throughout Soviet society and is not just a military term. It is a part of published Soviet data and figures as they relate to the economy, agricultural, or industrial production. An example of this, which pertains to both industry and the military, occurred in the period before World War II and at the onset of Operation Barbarossa. Tile USSR had purchased 100-mm artillery pieces from Germany before the war, and German intelligence estimates of the capabilities of the Red Army were based in part on the use of these guns. Following their invasion in June 1941, the Germans were shocked to encounter much more powerful Soviet 130-mm artillery pieces. The USSR had purchased the German guns and scrapped them while producing their own guns at the same time--a classic instance of maskirovka.


Due to its complex nature, the concept of maskirovka is incompletely understood in the West. This article contains three simplified models to illustrate the concept by reflecting its implementation, organizational, and doctrinal-philosophical aspects. Obviously, these are not all-inclusive but rather provide a beginning framework for understanding. The implementation aspects include form, type, environment, and nature of activity (fig. 2).

These factors have been subdivided into additional categories. Within the Soviet military, gaps in the implementation of maskirovka are considered a breach of security and are recognized as a threat to survival.


The forms of maskirovka, as shown in figure 2, consist of concealment, imitation, simulation, demonstrative actions, and disinformation. These may be employed singly but are most commonly conducted in conjunction with one another.

Concealment. This is one of the primary forms of maskirovka and involves a series of measures to eliminate or reduce possible detection of revealing signs of troops, equipment, plans, or production. Construction or modification of ships under overhead awnings is a form of concealment as is the use of smoke screens on the battlefield. In the Russian context, this form of maskirovka is similar to the English term concealment, plus camouflage. It involves the use of such things as nets, screens, and other devices (fig. 3). The construction of tanks and armored personnel carriers within automobile plants is another means of concealment.

Imitation. Imitation involves the creation of false objects that appear to be real. Use of collapsible and pneumatic mock-ups of military equipment on the battlefield is one kind of imitation. A number of Soviet articles on maskirovka cite the successful uses of these objects during the Great Patriotic War (l94l-45).3 On several occasions during the war, turrets from damaged tanks were placed on wooden frames to imitate actual tanks. This technique has also been demonstrated in Soviet exercises. During one exercise, a damaged bridge was repaired but still appeared damaged while a decoy bridge was erected upstream. The "enemy" made repeated strikes against the decoy while not bothering the repaired structure. Another example of imitation would be the construction of an airfield or factory that is not used.

Simulation. Closely related to imitation but of a more active nature is simulation. This involves creating the distinctive signs and activity near features or objects that concealment is designed to hide. Creation of a dummy antiaircraft site using collapsible mock-ups is imitation; however, equipping the site with devices that emit noise and smoke, together with movement of troops around the facility, is simulation. This latter technique was widely used by the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War.4 One false artillery position that simulated such activity was struck by 117 bombs in one day.

Demonstrative Actions. Demonstrative actions or feints serve to mislead an enemy or opponent regarding plans or military operations. A Soviet offensive may begin with attacks in several locations to divert the enemy's attention to areas away from a main thrust.5 The zones of demonstrative actions may be subjected to excessive aerial and ground reconnaissance prior to an intense artillery barrage. The actual point of the main thrust may not be subjected to the same level of activity until the enemy has begun to respond to the false attacks.

Disinformation. As practiced by the Soviets, disinformation has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Examples such as sending false letters and providing untrue information to Western journalists have been widely publicized. One department of the KGB, or Committee of State Security, deals with disinformation of this nature at many levels. Disinformation can take many approaches. When the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941, they were using Soviet-produced maps. These proved to be highly inaccurate, showing factories and towns where there were swamps or showing trails where major roads existed. The drive toward Murmansk was greatly slowed when the Germans realized that a road that they thought their tanks could use did not exist. This forced the vehicles to travel over rough, rocky terrain at much slower speeds.

Disinformation by all military units regarding impending operations has also been widely noted. Prior to the Soviet amphibious assault at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea in September 1943, false orders were published stating that this would be a diversionary landing and that the actual main landing would occur two days later farther to the west. When the actual landing began, the Germans were waiting for the "real" assault.


Another means of approaching the concept of maskirovka is to analyze its various types (figs. 2 and 4).

These have been well documented in Soviet military writings. Here again, these may be divided into several sub categories. Several of the types generally conform to bands of the electromagnetic spectrum and function against military reconnaissance systems such as aerial photography and radar or against target acquisition systems. Other types are designed to counter radio, acoustical, or other attempts to gather information. Specific resources or methods are designed for use in the various types of maskirovka.

The relationship between these, factors was discussed in an article written by two East German officers. The article was later republished in Voyennaya Mysl', the journal of the Soviet General Staff and most prestigious of all Soviet military journals.6 Adding additional significance is the fact that the entry in the Soviet Military Encyclopedia on maskirovka is very similar to the earlier article.7


Maskirovka can also be divided into a variety of types that cut across the forms previously described. For example, optical/light maskirovka is used to counter reconnaissance systems that involve photography as well as human observation. It may employ a series of nets or screens, either artificial or natural, surrounding the sides and top of a complex or installation. Another form may simply be signs giving false identities to facilities. Also included in this type of maskirovka are the use of camouflage clothing, the utilization of terrain to mask movement of forces, and the use of smoke screens. The primary purpose of screens and nets is to alter the apparent shape of the object as well as its shadow. The Soviet definition of optical rnaskirovka includes the near or reflected infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus, activities include those designed to counter "camouflage-detecting films." Special paints are employed in the manufacture of screens and nets to present realistic imagery.8 Blackouts and night-vision devices serve to ensure light maskirovka. One device is designed to constantly point downward, thereby allowing light to be applied where required without being detected (fig. 5).

Optical and light types of maskirovka may be employed to achieve several forms of maskirovka. The most obvious is the use of nets, screens, and blackouts to conceal items, while mock-ups and dummy lights serve as a form of imitation. In such instances, nets and screens that are badly in need of repair may be placed over mock-ups to indicate poorly executed maskirovka.9 Construction of an apparently real runway complete with dummy aircraft at an airfield is another form of imitation. Movement of empty vehicles using their headlights along secondary roads at night or during the day with the goal of replicating a buildup of forces in an area is the application of lighter optical means to achieve simulation or demonstration.

Thermal. Thermal maskirovka is employed to deny information to enemy reconnaissance and guidance systems that employ sensors in the thermal portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Here also the method of employment varies with the form. There are two primary ways of employing thermal maskirovka to facilitate concealment. Both have the objective of reducing the thermal contrast between the object to be concealed and the background surrounding it. Special air-or water-cooling systems, insulation, and other methods may be used to reduce temperatures or dissipate heat. Thermal screens and special paints may also be employed. On one exercise, a field kitchen was located under tall coniferous trees and excess heat piped underground away from the site to other parts of the forest. This piping and the tall trees effectively dispersed the heat. A second method is to increase the temperature of the overall background. This may be accomplished through the use of heaters. Heaters may also be used to initiate and simulate activity in a different location. At the same time that the field kitchen was being concealed, a fire was placed on an iron plate under a canvas cover away from the kitchen.10 This created a thermal replication of the kitchen. Reconnaissance or other thermal sensors would detect the simulated kitchen but not the actual one, thereby causing an enemy to make an invalid assumption.

Radar. Radar maskirovka employs several techniques to counter all forms of radar. Figure 6 shows two primary techniques for countering radar. One is to analyze topographic maps and relief models to determine areas of "radar shadow" or dead space where known ground-based radars cannot scan. Another technique to deceive ground-based radars is to place an object behind a net containing metallic or other radar-reflecting strips. The first technique involves the elimination or reduction of any radar return, while the second bombards the sensor with radar energy. Another means of accomplishing the first method is through the use of special coatings and may be considered in the design of weapon systems. In a 1973 article, one Soviet naval author in discussing maskirovka of ships pointed out that right angles on ships create bright returns on radar scopes or imagery.11 The Typhoon-class submarine, which appeared in 1983, has very few right angles on the superstructure, a form of stealth technology.

Radar reflectors are a passive means of jamming radar systems. These may be corner, pyramid, spherical, or dipole reflectors that are designed to reflect radar energy back to the sending radars. When suspended in pairs along a road or scattered in an area, corner reflectors create a bright return on a radar scope that masks any activity along the road or within the area (fig. 7).12 The sensor will indicate that something is present but will give no indication of its nature. This makes it difficult to accurately detect movement along the road or activity in the area, thus adding an element of confusion and possibly concealing any activities. Corner reflectors may be issued or produced in the field from wood and metallic foil. During the mid-1970s, each Soviet motor rifle battalion was provided 30 Corner reflectors.

Radar reflectors may also be used for imitation and simulation. Corner reflectors placed inside or beside dummy tanks will imitate the radar image of a tank.13 Radar reflectors may be placed on motorcycles that travel up and down roads to simulate heavy traffic. An article in the Soviet Military Encyclopedia by Maj Gen A. I. Palii, of the Engineer Troops, contains a discussion and sketches showing the use of radar reflectors to alter the landscape as it appears on radar (fig. 8).14

Reflectors can be used to create false bridges as well as to make coves appear to be solid ground. One Soviet book points out the success of similar reflectors used by the Germans to deceive 100 American and British aircraft who dropped their bombs on a lake in Berlin.15

Sound. Complete silence is obviously a major means of sound maskirovka. Troops, equipment, and other facilities should operate as quietly as possible in combat to avoid detection. The reverse of this is employed for imitation simulation and demonstrative actions as well as for disinformation. During the preparations for the L'vov-Sandomierz offensive in 1944, Col Leonid Brezhnev, as political officer for the 18th Army, was responsible for creating the sounds of two tank armies on the left wing of the 1st Ukrainian Front. This was an area where there were very few troops. Using loudspeakers, the Soviets were able to convince the Germans that a major thrust was to come from this location. At least one German division was deployed from the region of the real Soviet attack to defend the left wing of the front from an anticipated attack by the false tank armies.16

Radio/Radar. Radios are both a blessing and a curse. They allow speedy communications but often reveal locations of facilities otherwise concealed. Analysis of the pattern of radio use may, for example, help identify command posts. One means of reducing this problem is to disperse radio antennas away from command posts, thereby focusing an enemy's attention on another area. Radios also serve as a means of simulation, demonstration, and disinformation. Apparent inadvertent transmissions may actually be designed to spread false information. A simulation such as the one Secretary Brezhnev was involved with required false radio transmissions to replicate the Soviet tank armies. In other instances, large Soviet tank units were relocated while their command and other radios remained in the old positions and continued broadcasting.

Environment and Activity

Maskirovka may be conducted in any environment to deny information to sensors. Sound maskirovka on board a submerged submarine is designed to counteract acoustical sensors within the aquatic environment. Regardless of the environment, the form and type of maskirovka may be either active or passive. While most aspects of maskirovka involve some form of activity, others (such as silence) require none. The best example of active and passive actions is in an area of radar. The use of special radar-reflecting or absorbing netting and possibly radar reflectors tied down in an area is considered passive. Moving reflectors up and down a road is considered active, as is jamming an enemy's radar systems using false transmissions or dispersing radar-reflecting chaff. In the Soviet military, these active methods are part of normal maskirovka, while in the West they are considered radio electronic warfare.


Maskirovka has many organizational factors. The second of the three simplistic models shows the organizational factors (fig. 9). These factors include the level of implementation, mobility, and the branch of the armed forces involved.


Maskirovka is employed at all levels of military activity. At the tactical level, it often involves more concealment and imitation than simulation and disinformation. Here the primary objective is to make the location of small units difficult to determine. Operational as well as strategic maskirovka are based on successful tactical efforts. At these higher levels, larger units and greater areas are involved with greater emphasis on simulation, demonstrative actions, and disinformation.


The mobile or fixed nature of an object has a great bearing on the implementation aspects of maskirovka. In this regard, items such as tanks or field artillery frequently assume both modes. Thus, while in a fixed mode, a tank may be masked by netting. While it is in motion, such netting is uncalled for and other means of concealment are required.

Branch of Armed Forces

The aspects already described, as well as the doctrinal inputs detailed below, apply to all branches or services of the Soviet armed forces. Aspects that apply to small units in the Ground Forces apply also to naval troops, KGB border guards, troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), and to troops of the other forces and services. Maskirovka at the operational level would involve close coordination between the five branches and Rear Services of the Minister of Defense's forces, as well as with the KGB's border guards and MVD troops. This is especially true at the front and theater of military operations (TVD) levels during wartime when these may be under one commander.


All Soviet military operations are based on a carefully defined and structured hierarchy of military thought (fig. 10). These include military doctrine, science, and art, as well as numerous contributing factors.

Political strategy, technical capabilities, and many other factors have an impact on Soviet military doctrine, science, and art. An analysis of these factors is beyond the scope of this article; however, in the realm of maskirovka they all have led to the formulation of several principles.


Regardless of the type, form, environment, nature, and organizational aspects, maskirovka is governed by four major principles. These principles are not described in the Soviet Military Encyclopedia, but they are discussed by military personnel both in books and articles. in spite of changes in technology, these principles remain valid, and the Soviets believe they must be practiced for maskirovka to be successful. Several principles have sub elements that some Soviet military authors may regard as separate guidelines. They also have a certain amount of overlap. The four principles described below appear to be the most pertinent and consistent in Soviet military writings. These are activity, plausibility, variety, and continuity.

Activity. The principle of activity or aggressiveness stresses that all maskirovka must be persistent to give the enemy a false idea. The objective is to cause the enemy to make incorrect estimates of a situation.17 Once a form or type of maskirovka has been implemented, it may become necessary to change it. For example, after an airfield has been attacked and has once again become operational after repairs, maskirovka efforts might be made to make it appear still out of commission and abandoned.

Plausibility. All efforts at maskirovka must be plausible. This is an especially important principle. Regardless of the type or form of maskirovka involved, the enemy must believe what he sees is real when in fact it is not.18 At the tactical level, slit trenches must not be cut across natural contours but should blend with the terrain. Maskirovka that does not blend into the background will, in effect, pinpoint the location of the object. Placing a dark-colored net over a tank in an area of sand and light brush is obviously less plausible than using a matted sand-colored net. False targets should be located in sites where their presence would be expected; that is, a radar site would not normally be located in a deep depression.

Variety. Repetitious patterns of maskirovka must be avoided and variety employed. This is the principle of variety. Some German sources indicate that Soviet efforts at maskirovka during the Second World War were predictable. As German forces moved into new positions, they scanned the areas held by the Red Army in an attempt to locate specific positions such as command posts, They would suspect certain locations as the site of these positions based upon their past experiences. In many instances, such suspicions were confirmed. Several authors have pointed out that the Soviets tend to follow the "approved" solution to many matters, including locations for units and command functions. Soviet attempts at disinformation also were said to follow a pattern that, once recognized, revealed the maskirovka effort.

Continuity. The final principle is that of continuity both in peace as well as in war. It is difficult to successfully employ maskirovka on a new factory or installation after all construction has been completed. Maskirovka must be part of all plans and must be continued throughout an operation. An extremely significant example of a violation of this principle occurred in 1962 and led to the Cuban missile crisis. Maskirovka efforts were employed from the beginning of the operation to conceal deployment of missiles to Cuba. However, no efforts at concealment were made during the construction of launch sites. US reconnaissance assets were able to detect these sites based upon their pattern.

Research and Writings

Maskirovka has been the subject of many articles in Soviet military periodicals and books. Several of these are accounts of research either within the USSR or from foreign sources. Obviously, because of the nature of the topic, many specifics are not presented in their analyses. Soviet articles "based on foreign sources" often serve as a means of discussing or presenting techniques and technologies that the Soviet military believes would add to its maskirovka efforts. Because of this, articles and descriptions of this type should be carefully scrutinized. While the implications have not been ascertained, a 1969 Soviet book described in detail several means of reducing radar returns. Items analyzed included West German ceramic plates that disperse radar energy, a West German three-layer absorbing material, and a corrugated-surface material designed in Britain that also absorbed radar energy.19

The same purpose is served by articles that cite examples of "good" or "bad" maskirovka from the Great Patriotic War. To a large extent, these reviews of military history provide insights into current views and ongoing debates. Soviet maskirovka has also been studied in the West to a limited extent. One problem has been that of scale. Research and articles have included in depth studies of smaller components such as smoke screens without analyzing how these mesh into the entire concept, other approaches have been to discuss several main components without examples of implementation. Although these have added greatly to the understanding of maskirovka, additional studies and analysis are needed.


This article began by citing examples of maskirovka in the novel Red Storm Rising. The author of that book presents numerous examples of military maskirovka, including me use of noise decoys by submarines, dispersal of radio antennas and transmitters around command posts, and stealth aircraft. The article then focused on the Soviet armed forces and used three simplified models as a means of addressing the topic. As indicated in the article, maskirovka is a complex and well-structured Russian concept that is also well funded and carefully planned.

In spite of the numerous military examples included, the book Red Storm Rising uses maskirovka primarily to describe activities in the political arena. Some of the aspects described in the book differ from those employed by the military, but other factors are essentially the same. Disinformation rather than concealment may become the primary form, but the four principles still are of utmost significance.

Because of this, maskirovka must be understood in its broadest context by all who deal with the USSR.


1. Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1986).

2. F. Myshak, "Modern Camouflage," Tekhnika-Molodeghi, March 1968, 1-3.

3. C. Smith and J. Zebrowskii, Evolution of Soviet Doctrine on Maskirovka of Fixed Installations, Technical Report EL-858 (Vicksburg, Miss.: US Army Corps of Engineers, 1985).

4. Yu. Dorofeyev and V. Shamshurov, Engineering Measures Against Modern Weapons (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1974).

5. V. A. Yefinov and S. G. Chermoshentsev, "Maskirovka," in Sovetskaya Voennaya Entsiklopediya [Soviet Military Encyclopedia], vol. 5 (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1978), 175-77.

6. Kh. Adam and R. Gebel', "Military Camouflage," Voyennaya Mysl'[Military Thought], November 1971, 79-86.

7. Yefinov and Chermoshentsev.

8. V. Shchedrov, "Camouflaging Troops during Regrouping and Maneuvers," Voyennaya Mysl' [Military Thought], June 1966, 61-69.

9. Dorofeyev and Shamshurov.

10. V. Aleshinskiy, "Protection of the Unit Rear," Tekhnika i Vooruzlieniye [Technology and Armament], 1955.

11. M. Kuklin, "Camouflaging Ships," Tekhnika i Vooruzheniye [Technology and Armament], May 1973, 26-34.

12. Dorofeyev and Shamshurov.

13. S. I. Kondratenko and A. I. Molodtsov, Camouflage Training for Troops (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1969).

14. A. Palii, "Radiolokatsionnaia Maskirovka," in Sovetskaya Voennaya Entsiklopediya [Soviet Military Encyclopedia], vol. 7 (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1958), 5-6.

15. Yu. G. Stepanov, Protivo-Radiolokation' Naya Maskirovka (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1968).

16. N. Kobrin, "Operational Deception: Examples from WWII," Soviet Military Review, April 1981.

17. A. A. Beketov, A. P. Belokon', and S. G. Chermashentsev, Maskirovka Deystviy Prodrazdeleniy Sukhoputnykh Voysk [Ground Troop Concealment] (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1976).

18. V. A. Matsuienko, Operational Field Camouflage (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1975).

19. Stepanov.


Charles L. Smith (PhD, University of Georgia) is a distinguished professor at the Defense Intelligence College. His former position was research scientist, Center for Strategic Technology, Texas A&M University at College Station. Before retiring from the US Air Force in 1981, Dr Smith had tours as associate professor and head of geography, US Air Force Academy; faculty and staff with Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center; intelligence officer, 3d Tactical Fighter Wing, Bien Hoa, Republic of South Vietnam; and researcher at the Arctic, Desert, Tropic Information Center, Aerospace Studies Institute, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He was a contributor to the Air University Review. Dr Smith is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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