Document created: 6 February 03
Air University Review, March-April 1977

Soviet Civil Defense

U.S.S.R. preparations for industrial-base war survival

Captain John W. Dorough, Jr.

This article is based on open-source Soviet literature and discusses the Soviet plan for industrial survivability. The extent to which these programs are actually being carried out has not been determined.

IN the formidable volume of strategic material published daily, the subject of civil defense has, until recently, received such scant attention that one might logically assume its relationship to strategic stability is nonexistent. Since civil defense is not perceived as a direct threat, it does not arouse the same level of concern as discussions of strategic delivery vehicles, numbers of weapons, throw weights, etc. Nonetheless, civil defense can have an important influence on the ability of our strategic forces to perform their deterrent mission and therefore has strategic implication. The effect of Soviet civil defense preparation is damage limitation of a U.S. retaliatory strike, which could in reality lessen the credibility of our strategic deterrence.

Recently, numerous books, articles, and reports have indicated that Soviet civil defense preparations have been expanded to include protection of at least a portion of their industrial base. The stated objective of their preparations is industrial war survival, which they feel is essential to national survival and ultimate victory in the event of a nuclear war. Soviet emphasis on this aspect of their civil defense preparation suggests a view diametrically opposite to the American thinking which professes that a nuclear war is inconceivable and thus funds for civil defense are unnecessary or even provocative. It is important to note, however, the new fiscal emphasis placed on civil defense by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in his FY77 Annual Report.1

Although the status and extent of Soviet preparations are not fully confirmed, there is evidence that their efforts have been substantial. Civil defense preparations are well integrated into Moscow's strategic plans and are an integral part of Soviet military preparedness efforts.

The potential implications of the Soviet industrial war-survival plans have generated a great deal of interest in both academic and military circles recently in the United States, since Soviet civil defense preparation (of which industrial dispersal and hardening are integral parts) vis-ŕ-vis U.S. preparations is a possible major area of asymmetry. Such an asymmetry could translate to a matter of significance to high level U.S. officials when viewed in terms of net assessment. Secretary Rumsfeld evaluated Soviet civil defense in the following manner:

An asymmetry has developed over the years that bears directly on our strategic relationship with the Soviets and on the credibility of our deterrent posture. For a number of years, the Soviets have devoted considerable resources to their civil defense effort, which emphasizes the extensive evacuation of urban populations prior to the outbreak of hostilities, the construction of shelters in outlying areas, and compulsory training in civil defense for well over half the Soviet population. The importance the Soviets attach to this program at present is indicated not only by the resources they have been willing to incur in its support, but also by the appointment of a Deputy Minister of Defense to head this effort. 2

Soviet perceptions

The Soviets view protection of their industrial base as a vital element of their national survival program. The following quotations are provided to place the Soviet emphasis on industrial survival in proper perspective.

The Soviet view on the critical role of the economy in wartime follows from the doctrine that while a nuclear war maybe of short duration, the possibility cannot be excluded that the war may become protracted . . . the waging of a protracted war and the attainment of military preponderance may not be possible with only the weapons available to the armed forces at its start.3

Ensuring the stable [i.e., continuous] operations of facilities of national economic significance in wartime is a most important task. It must be taken into account that in a modern war with the use of weapons of mass destruction, victory will be gained by the country having an economy which, despite losses and damage suffered in the course of the war, maintains the capability of supplying its armed forces with everything they require, and of supplying the country's populace with foodstuffs and basic necessities.4

It is impossible to conduct war without the continuing supply of the armed forces with everything they need. . . . As noted, the supplying of the armed forces and of the population with everything necessary, the equipping of the civil defense forces with technical supplies for the successful execution of rescue and emergency repair work in the zones of devastation are only possible under conditions of sustained operation of the installations of the national economy in wartime.5

industrial base program

The Soviets are engaged in a comprehensive and orderly program designed to ensure the survival of their industrial base in the event of nuclear war. They have gained a great deal of expertise in the area and appear to perceive their program as a logical way to survive a major nuclear exchange and achieve an ultimate victory.

Their program consists of such measures as urban planning, accumulation of stockpiles and essential reserves, industrial organization, protection of the work force, industrial dispersal, and industrial hardening.

This discussion will focus on Soviet civil defense preparations for industrial dispersal and hardening and the subsequent impacts of each on U.S. targeting philosophy and targeting effectiveness.

Industrial dispersal. The Soviets have been involved in an industrial dispersal program for more than 15 years. Their approach to the program has been and continues to be the siting of new industrial complexes in towns and settlements with populations of 100,000 people or less. The program has several advantages for the Soviets. First, it is of great economic importance from the standpoint of accelerating and expanding their economic development; this is especially true regarding growth of such sparsely developed areas as Siberia. Second, it prevents high concentrations of industry in a small number of large industrial centers and helps the Soviets make better use of their abundant natural resources. Third, dispersal creates a proliferation of aimpoints for U.S. strategic planners and greatly complicates targeting tasks.

The Soviets have also expanded their industrial dispersal programs to include the Soviet bloc countries. The commonality of weapons, equipment, and procedures leads expert observers of the U.S.S.R. to conclude that the Soviets view their Warsaw Pact allies as a portion of a "single integrated economic defense system, and plan to substitute East European production capabilities for destroyed Soviet facilities." 6 A comprehensive program of this nature has reversal effects. At the very least it increased the number of aimpoints. It also raises policy questions of targeting (perhaps unwilling) Soviet allies in retaliation for Soviet aggression. All these effects complicate the task of the U.S. planner.

Industrial hardening. The Soviets have an ongoing program designed to harden their industrial base. Included in this program are underground facilities, new plant construction techniques, construction of duplicate plants, retrofit hardening of existing facilities, and expedient techniques. The first three hardening methods can be productively utilized only for new facilities and require a long lead time for fruition. The fourth method, retrofit hardening of existing facilities, has near-term implications but is expensive. The fifth means, expedient techniques, is relatively inexpensive and has short-term implications; it will be the focus of this discussion.

If current Soviet expedient hardening preparations for protection of their industrial base are implemented on a large scale, the effectiveness of a U.S. retaliatory capability could be significantly degraded. By utilizing relatively inexpensive and simple expedient techniques such as packing machinery in sandbags, the Soviets could make their industry relatively invulnerable to overpressures of a few pounds per square inch (psi). Depending on the specific precautions taken in mounting and protecting machines, they can be made to survive overpressures in the range of 40 to 300 psi. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate specific hardening techniques.7

Figure 1. Protective structures for valuable industrial equipment (a) enclosures, (b) hoods and housings, (c) canopies

The implementation of a viable and comprehensive Soviet hardening program, with resultant overpressure tolerances in the 300 psi range, could significantly reduce the effectiveness of a U.S. second strike. Dramatic reductions in the destructive capability of U.S. retaliatory forces may alter what we hold as a current notion of Soviet economic recovery time and jeopardize our ability to deny early enemy recovery to major power status and influence in the event our deterrence fails.

While industrial dispersal directly increases the number of aimpoints, an industrial hardening program has the same effect indirectly by reducing the effectiveness of U.S. weapons. Industrial complexes and installations that could previously be grouped into a single aimpoint would have to be retargeted individually or in much smaller groups, to ensure a destructive level of overpressure. For a weapon with a given yield, hardening levies stringent requirements on accuracy. For a 1 megaton weapon, for example, the acceptable miss distance or circular error probable (CEP) required to achieve a .90 probability of destruction (Pd) on a target hardened to 20 psi is four times as large as the acceptable miss distance required for the same level of destruction of a target hardened to 300 psi. If current accuracies were maintained, Soviet hardening would require a significant response in the form of increases in our warhead yields or increases in the number of weapons targeted. For example, a weapon with a CEP of .3 nautical mile requires a yield in excess of 4 megatons to achieve a .9 probability of destruction on a 300 psi target while the same level of destruction on a 20 psi target can be extracted by a yield of approximately 100 kilotons. Depending on the type of program chosen to counter the Soviet hardening, these effects may have significant implications for future U.S. weaponry and force structures.


Several initiatives deserve consideration in developing our response to the potential destabilizing effects of Soviet civil defense programs. Five of these initiatives will be discussed: a mirror-image defensive system, negotiation, revised offensive emphasis, a ballistic missile defense system, and national policy changes.

Mirror-image. The U.S. could embark on a program to mirror-image the Soviet program. This option would require a national reallocation of both manpower and funds.

An unstructured form of industrial dispersal has been underway in the U.S. for the last 10 to 15 years. Although lacking formal direction, there has been a dramatic shift of industry and business from the northeast to the southwest, and the trend appears to be continuing. It would appear to be advantageous and desirable for the U.S. to channel some of this movement for civil defense purposes. There are clear economic advantages (energy, ecology, social-engineering, regional economic competition, etc.) and military advantages (proliferation of aimpoints and weapon requirements) to be accrued from a well-planned dispersal program. In the absence of the economic incentives that underlie the current movements, such a program would require sizable federal expenditures and could be productively utilized and economically justified only for new facilities--an inherent limitation in the overall value of the program. Finally, within our free society, an effective industrial dispersal program would require a particular sense of resolve and commitment and a great deal of careful planning.

Figure 2 Hardened industrial machine

A comprehensive industrial hardening program would also be expensive. Since the United States does not have an industrial hardening program currently underway, it is only natural to ask if we could mirror the Soviet program. Since an expedient hardening program is a viable option only for the nation that initiates hostilities, such a program would not currently be a compatible option for the U.S. because of our traditional national policy rejecting a first-strike strategy. 

In addition to our current national policy, there are other considerations opposing such a program. First, if in times of international crisis, only a portion of the total industrial base were hardened (using expedient techniques), this selective hardening would limit the overall advantages of such a program. Second, if the entire U.S. industrial base were hardened, in times of crisis we could be faced with a difficult situation. On the basis of a Soviet feint, we might, at considerable expense, unilaterally debilitate all or a major portion of our industrial base for a period of several months or more; the recovery period required would depend on the extent of expedient preparations taken. Widespread hardening of this type could also obviate any Soviet requirement to target our industrial facilities, since our self-imposed incapacitation could be as great as any they might expect to inflict and could allow them to concentrate more on U.S. force targets. When considered in this light, an expedient hardening program does not currently appear to be a productive avenue for the U.S. to pursue.

Negotiation. A second initiative entails use of negotiation to minimize or eliminate the perceived asymmetry favoring the Soviets. Since current understandings and those concepts under consideration are designed to create a rough parity in offensive strategic capability between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., Soviet civil defense preparations assume even greater significance. U.S. strategic arms limitations (SAL) negotiators should insist that Soviet war-survival programs and capabilities be considered to ensure a mutual vulnerability and maintain the credibility of a U.S. "assured retaliation" as a deterrent. There appear to be two methods of accomplishing this. First, insist that the U.S. should be compensated for the imbalance caused by the existing and improving Soviet war-survival program. A precedent for such a request exists in the present SALT agreement, i.e., the numerical advantage the Soviets enjoy in their missile capabilities based on their claims of differences in offensive postures. Second, the U.S. could insist that the current Soviet civil defense program be disestablished and ban any similar program in the future. By pursuing either or both of these avenues, the U.S. could create a public awareness of the problem while seeking a negotiated solution.

Offensive weapons emphasis. Increased emphasis on U.S. offensive weapons capabilities is a third option available to U.S. planners. Acceleration of current programs for reduction of CEP in present and future weapon systems could tend to offset the value of Soviet industrial hardening; technology is available to allow such improvements. Concentrating on weapons with greater yield would also help alleviate the problem although CEP and the number of warheads available are the driving factors. The costs associated with such programs would have to be considered, as would possible destabilizing effects and the alleged risk of generating a new arms race. Current and future force structures would have to be re-evaluated to determine the optimum mix required to counter the effects of Soviet industrial hardening. For example, the use of low-yield, inaccurate weapons can no longer be depended upon to extract an acceptable probability of destruction on hardened Soviet targets. Accordingly, heavier reliance on weapons with improved yield and accuracy would appear to be more efficacious.

Ballistic missile defense system. A fourth initiative would be the development and deployment of a comprehensive and effective ballistic missile defense system. Although technology has not yet produced an effective ballistic missile defense system, the U.S. should accelerate work in this area. If the Soviets deploy such a system--charged particle, laser, missile, or other--the U.S. must have a system readily available to counter the threat. The cost of such a system, when technically feasible, could be high and under current fiscal constraints could require retrenchment in other areas, but cost considerations would probably be secondary, since unilateral possession of such a system would dramatically alter the strategic balance in favor of the possessor. Development and deployment of such a system by the U.S. would, of course, have to satisfy then current antiballistic missile treaty restraints.

Thus far we have considered four initiatives. If none of these, alone or in combination, rectifies the asymmetry, the U.S. could be forced to consider this final alternative.

National policy changes. Despite a current lack of support for policies of this nature, a fifth initiative available to the national command authorities would entail national policy changes. By adopting a first-strike policy from a day-to-day posture, the U.S. could extract a higher level of destruction on Soviet economic, military, and political targets. By eliminating the Soviets' unilateral privilege of initiating a nuclear exchange, the U.S. could effectively negate the value of their civil defense plans by denying the Soviets the luxury of the advanced warning required to implement their expedient industrial hardening programs. A reasonable U.S. civil defense program combined with a first-strike option might well alter the strategic balance in a manner favorable to the U.S., but not enough to prevent devastating damage to the U.S. from Soviet retaliation. A first-strike policy, however, has traditionally been unpalatable to the U.S. and is a poor substitute for a full range of deterrent / response options.

The use of biological/chemical warfare would not enable the U.S. to destroy more of the Soviet industrial base, but it could debilitate a large part of the population base that mans it. Such a program could also negate much of the value of civil defense preparations designed to increase population survival against a nuclear attack, if chemical and biological preparations were not incorporated in their plans. Chemical/biological warfare is, however, indiscriminate and, as such, is clearly abhorrent to civilized values and therefore would not be a desirable option for the U.S.

IN LIGHT of the Soviets' long head start in civil defense preparations, their extensive industrial dispersal and current hardening programs, and their geographical advantages, there is considerable doubt that even an extensive U.S. civil defense program could, by itself, eliminate this asymmetry in the current strategic balance. Defense Civil Preparedness Agency officials estimate that full implementation of even a crash program for U.S. industrial hardening and dispersal would require 10 to 15 years.

Use of SAL deliberations to air the asymmetry and negotiate compensation would be the cheapest alternative, but as we pursue it, we should recognize that the probability of success of such a venture is tenuous. 

An accelerated effort to develop viable ballistic missile defense technology would undoubtedly be the most expensive option, but it could provide the U.S. with a significant advantage in the future. In any case, this area should be pursued to preclude a unilateral Soviet breakthrough.

The two changes in national policy would be traumatic both domestically and abroad. The destabilizing effects of a declared U.S. first-strike policy or biological/ chemical warfare policy would certainly trigger adverse reactions from the Soviets and other nations. The main obstacle for such a declaration, however, would be the reluctance of the U.S. populace to accept something so inimical to basic American beliefs.

The most productive, single alternative would appear to be the accelerated exploitation of our advantages in technology to increase U.S. strategic capabilities; this could be accomplished within current SALT constraints. Greater warhead accuracies, yields, capabilities, and numbers could at least partially offset Soviet civil defense measures by assuring our capability to inflict an unacceptable level of destruction on their dispersed and hardened industries.

Regardless of which initiative or initiatives the U.S. elects to pursue in countering the asymmetry created by Soviet civil defense preparations, we must apply it with determination. The logical first step, and one in which the military should perhaps take the initiative, is the education of the public on the Soviet civil defense program and its implications on the continued effectiveness of U.S. strategic deterrent forces. Unless the United States takes the steps necessary to keep nuclear war on a "no-win" basis, the Soviets may be tempted to test their theory that a nuclear war can indeed be fought and won.



1. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Annual Defense Department Report FY 77 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976), pp. 74-5.

2. Ibid., p. 57.

3. Leon Gouré, War Survival in Soviet Strategy: USSR Civil Defense (Washington, D.C.: Current Affairs Press. 1976), p. 133.

4. Major-General M. Muradian, "Raising the Readiness of Civil Defense," Kommunist (Yerevan), November 3. 1971, cited by Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko, Vooruzhennyye Sily Sovetskovo Gosudarstva, 2d ed., 1975, p. 114. Also cited by Gouré, p. 134.

5. Marshal of the Soviet Union V. I. Chuikov, Grazhdanskaya Oborona v Raketno Iadernoi Voine, 2d ed. (Moscow: Atomizdat, 1969), pp. 32-3.

6. Gouré, p. 140.

7. P. T. Egorov et al., Civil Defense Moscow 1910 (Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola, 1970), p. 116, translated by Scientific Translation Service and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Figure 2 is adapted from T. K. Jones's "Soviet Civil Defense," an unpublished study of 1976.


Captain John W. Dorough, Jr., (M.S. Troy State University) is an Air Operations Officer assigned to the Interceptor Divisions, Directorate of Strategic Offensive and Defensive Studies, ACS/Studies and Analysis, Hq USAF. He Was an OV-10 forward air controller In Southeast Asia, and his last flying assignment was as a T-38 Instructor. Following an ASTRA tour at Hq USAF, he was reassigned to F-11s at Nellis AFB. Captain Dorough is a graduate of Squadron Officer School.



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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