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To Be or Not To Be: The Development of Soviet Deck Aviation

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Few issues were as contentious in the development of the Soviet Navy as the role of aircraft carriers and sea-based aviation. Despite the continued insistence by the highest naval authorities and scientific experts that surface combatants simply could not be protected in the open ocean without the support of ship-borne aviation, Soviet leaders – for a variety of reasons – resisted aircraft carrier development until the final decades of the Cold War. In examining one of the most defining and telling asymmetries of the Cold War at sea, the author argues that while the USSR was economically and technologically capable of building aircraft carriers of any class, bureaucratic infighting, misperceptions of cost and practicality, and the inherent flaws of a totalitarian system ultimately created an impossible gap in capabilities between the two sides. The priorities and direction of Soviet weapons and defense technology development during the Cold War was largely a factor of the military-political situation taking shape at home, and in the world. As a rule, the navy was assigned missions that corresponded to its capabilities at a given point in time, rather than the other way around. Often, the navy lacked the material resources needed to implement its core mission. The availability of these resources, in turn, depended on the country's economic situation, its scientific potential, the technological state of its industry, as well as the subjective influence of political and military leaders on the priorities of technological development. The impact of the country's socioeconomic imperatives was undoubtedly also felt in the sluggish pace of development of ship-borne aviation and aircraft carriers in the USSR.
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Keywords: Cold war; Deck Aviation; Stalin; aircraft carrier; naval aviation; shipbuilding

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Central Naval Museum, St Petersburg

Publication date: 2005-04-01

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