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The Soviet Battlefield Development Plan

November 20, 2014


sbdpBy Clay Katsky

On November 1, 1982, an executive summary of The Soviet Battlefield Development Plan (SBDP) was published as a secret report for military officers. A strategic analysis prepared by the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, with contributions from the U.S. Army Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center, the Foreign Science and Technology Center, and the Missile Intelligence Agency, the information contained in this document was considered valid up only through the previous August 1982, and work on the next version was already under way when it was released. The SBDP was “Army Intelligence’s response to a request from the Commander of TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] for a Soviet counterpart to the U.S. Battlefield Development Plan,”[i] and was intended to give TRADOC decision makers an overview of the competition they faced, which would allow them to plan better for possible battlefield maneuvers. According to its preface: “Ideally, Army planners will be able to exploit our understanding of Soviet doctrine and force modernization, thereby giving the U.S. Army advantages in equipment, weapons, training, and tactics.”[ii] The stated goal of “forced modernization” hints towards a potential framework that contributed to the Soviet Union’s collapse and peaceful end to the Cold War.

Thousands of pages long, this hefty stack of intelligence was compiled as an Executive Summary “designed to give senior officers the key findings of the SBDP in a form they can read in a couple of hours.”[iii] Having been specifically put together for readers pressed for time, with the intention “to integrate the mass of intelligence information we have on Soviet military affairs in an interpretive framework,”[iv] this recently declassified tome should prove a valuable resource for researchers looking for primary source material pertaining to Cold War military logistics. Made available to the National Security Archive at the end of March 2014 in response to a FOIA request sent to U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, this intelligence report is a revelatory read for any Cold War historian, and also others interested in the theoretical and strategic aspects of military planning. Interesting revelations include:

  • Section 7 of the report, Forecasts of Operations, starts by offering six background bullets to give an overview of the how the Soviets’ “new operational concepts for the nuclear battlefield greatly enhanced their conventional war-fighting capabilities as well.”[v] The last point is especially interesting in terms of understanding how the U.S. foresaw Soviet battlefield behavior: “Their force structure, however, suggests that they want to retain as much choice as possible not to use nuclear weapons, for as long as possible. They do not want choices predetermined or automatic as a result of force design and doctrine. But once the nuclear use is decided, the first blow is, in their view, possibly decisive. Their forces are designed to provide successive strikes over days and weeks. How significant these lay-downs will be is not so clear to them.[vi]
  • …Crossing the tripwire.

    Also in Section 7’s Forecasts for Operations is an analysis detailing the implications of Marshal Ogarkov’s assignment as Chief of the General Staff in 1977, which the report says “marked the beginning of a new series of initiatives to carry Sokolovsky’s ‘force development plan’ further and to achieve it faster.”[vii] Ogarkov believed operational concepts had not kept pace with equipment development and advancements, and therefore the battlefield potential of new improved weapons systems needed to be maximized: “Figure 9 presents the kinds of improved weapons capabilities Ogarkov had in mind. It indicates the depths to which Soviet commanders at various organizational levels can place nuclear or conventional fires by using their organic missile assets.[viii] [ix]

  • A chapter assessing Soviet infrastructure examines Soviet transportation capabilities but focuses on the interdiction susceptibility of military transport routes. One section entitled How This Influences Their Ability to Fight Now and in the Year 2000 looks at both the strengths and weaknesses of recent trends in the their transportation sector: “Soviet transportation facilities are not the best in the world, but their shortcomings in this respect will not significantly impair their ability to conduct a successful invasion of Europe. However, the transloading points between the Soviet and Polish rail lines appear to be extremely vulnerable.[x]
  • A chapter of the report on Civil Defense opens with a history of the “largest and most comprehensive war-survival program in the world,”[xi] and then concludes with the Soviet’s three main objectives: “(1) An ability to protect people – the leadership first, the essential workforce second, and the remainder of the population third; (2) An ability to protect the sources of economic productivity, to assure the continuity of economic activity in wartime, and to permit the restoration of production following a nuclear attack; (3) An ability to sustain the surviving population and to prepare for longer term postattack recovery.[xii] In a section analyzing the survival of the Soviet people, the report states: “A minimum of 10 to 20 percent of the population in urban areas (including essential workers) could presently be accommodated in blast-resistant shelters.”
  • “The Soviets define reconnaissance as ‘information about the location, disposition, composition, number, armament, combat preparedness, character of activities, and intentions of the enemy in the interest of combat.’”[xiii] A chapter forecasting the future of Soviet reconnaissance and surveillance systems predicts and examines future aerial approaches. In the period from 1986-1990, the report states that the Soviets will deploy an airborne warning and control system, today commonly known as AWACS. “An AWACS so deployed could provide continuous target track data over a wide-area to an integrated ground-based air defense system. Continuous, low-altitude, target-tracking coverage would provide for an enhanced environment for wide-area ground control intercept (GCI). Wide-area GCI, when combined with a fighter look-down/shoot-down capability, can provide a significant frontal aviation low-altitude aircraft intercept capability.[xiv]
  • Perhaps most interesting of all, and buried deep in the document is a heavily redacted portion which explores the capabilities of Soviet reconnaissance and weapons systems including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device. A chapter on Firepower and Target Disruption focuses on artillery, but also “considers aircraft, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear warheads, and directed energy weapons,”[xv] and contains the prediction that the Soviets will soon employ an EMP weapon for battlefield use. “The Soviets are expected to have the capability to introduce a field artillery projectile with an EMP intended to damage solid-state electronic devices within about 300 meters of the round when the EMP event is initiated. The device would be powered by an explosive generator and would likely be mounted in a 203-mm carrier projectile. It would be employed to disrupt seriously or destroy proximate battlefield electronic devices, including communications and computers.[xvi]

[i] SBDP, page (3)

[ii] SBDP, page (3)

[iii] SBDP, page (3)

[iv] SBDP, page (3)

[v] SBDP, page (46)

[vi] SBDP, page (47)

[vii] SBDP, page (47)

[viii] SBDP, page (47) – (49)

[ix] SBDP, page (48)

[x] SBDP, page (173)

[xi] SBDP, page (231)

[xii] SBDP, page (233-235)

[xiii] SBDP, page (600)

[xiv] SBDP, page (604)

[xv] SBDP, page (668)

[xvi] SBDP, page (695)

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