Examples of Soviet engineering or technology that was superior to the US/West during the Cold War

I’ve learned a lot about WWII and the Cold War and am fascinated by the rapid growth of technology during those periods. What are some examples where the Russians were superior? Doesn’t neccesasrily have to be military related either. (Not trying to start a communist vs capitalist debate either)

Not really a debate. Off to GQ.

I believe that their tanks, especially the T-34 came as quite a shock to the Germans, who thought their Panzer IIIs and IVs were the best in the world. The Panther was probably the Germans taking examples of the T-34 and copying it (as well as trying to make it superior of course).

The AK-47 was most likely copied from the Sturmgewehr 44, but it brought it together and made it so it could be mass produced AND a weapon you could give a peasant with very little training or maintenance and know it would work. Until fairly late in the game I’d say this was the preeminent battle rifle in the world. Same with the RPG-1…others had the concept, but the Soviets brought it all together and made it work AND made them in staggering numbers because the design was so easy to produce, use and maintain.

Are you kidding me? Mig 15 vs F86 sabre, or AK47 vs M16. These are classic debates!

Part of it depends on what you mean by superior. US tech was sometimes the equivalent of an F-1; impressive in some ways but for many jobs, quite inferior to a pick up truck.
They put the first satellite in orbit and the first man in space.

Arguably, their space technology was superior in that it was more cost efficient, if less high-tech. US space tech was marred by patronage.
The AK-47 (and its variants), the RPD, the SVD, the PKM and the RPG7 were also arguably very well suited weapons. The Soviets were the first to apply the lesson that the main rifle could well afford to sacrifice range beyond 300m for rate of fire.

The BMP (and its variants and later developments) were worrisome to NATO and ushered in the well-armed, lightly armored mechanized infantry vehicles.

Well, the Soviets definitely were no slouches in the Cold War despite some immeasurably backwards elements. However, superior in a loaded word in technology. Technology is always a compromise, and often technological advancement allows you to improve one thing, but always at a cost to something else. Someone else, with different resources, may find a different arrangement. Further, technology is always and everywhere optimal only for specific goals and design tradeoffs.

That said, the Soviets were clearly competitive in the field of aerospace technology. Their planes were top-notch. Now, I will grant that the US eventually got its tail end in gear as far as warplanes. The Soviets completed blindsided us with the Mig line, however, as the Air Force command demanded missile sledges instead of actual planes. It was in fact not superior planes, but superior pilots which kept us competitive throughout Vietnam.

Soviet rocketry is also believed to have been extremely advanced then and now, and their submarine program.

One additional area which is often overlooked is the development of computer science. The Soviets had a painful computer shortage, but at the very least one advantage was that it left a lot of time for their professors to think about data at a fundamental level.

The MIG-25 was one of (if not the) fastest fighters of the time.

I’d say that the Mig 15 and the F86 were actually pretty closely matched (I think the F86 might have been marginally better, actually, though it’s a debate as you say)…the shock, to the west anyway was that the Soviets could build something like that at all (though, as with many Soviet technologies, it borrowed heavily from others…Germans and British in this case, especially captured examples of German air craft and engines as well as captured German engineers and scientists). Much could be said about the Soviet space and rocket program…again, it borrowed heavily from German examples and engineers/scientists (then again, so did ours :p), but they made it work, and while a lot of times their technology was not as sophisticated as, say, the US, their engineering was often top shelf if crude. We would go for the more elegant design, they would go for the more brute force and over engineered one, but for most of the 50s and 60s at least their space program was on par or superior to everyone else, including the US. I think that if the US had failed with the first Apollo landing (which was a distinct possibility) that the Soviets might have continued to push and perhaps would have been the first country on the Moon (I think that unlike the Soviets, we would have continued to try until we made it though, but that might have been for the good of manned space flight, as once we did it we kind of lost interest and so did they).

Not a problem, the USSR took the Mig airframe from German technology and the engine, British technology. If they had designed the engine, they would still be trying to get it to run. When the British “sold” them the technology (license) for the engine, the USSR promised it would not be used for military applications. So they immediately put it into the Mig 15 and put canons on the Mig, but it wasn’t for the military, nope, not at all. Oh, by the way, they never paid any of the license fees either.

Didn’t the Soviets pioneer corneal surgery to correct nearsightedness? Back then it was not done with lasers–the cornea was taken out, frozen, shaved down, and reinserted.

Not meant as snark, but the East Bloc seems to have pioneered the use of PEDs in sports as well.

They went a different direction on many things, leading to a different line of development. They had a functional and but limited, cramped, noisy and smelly space station while we went for a reusable very cool looking spaceplane that didn’t really serve either purpose all that well.

Soviet vacuum tubes are highly sought after by guitar players for their tube amps. Does that count?

Also by amature radio operators. Their high power amplifier tubes are very good.

Russian multiple barrel rocket launchers ‘katyusha’ in the 107mm and 122mm calibre are par excellence and keep on improving. America has MLRS but nowhere near as popular.

Then the good old RPG-7. Still going strong and with no effective American equivalent.

This. The Soviet rockets were superior to the Americans’ at least early on. Where we had them beat was in the LEMs. That why we landed on the Moon and they didn’t.

Honest question: weren’t Soviet mobile SAMs considered better than ours?

While it was still in service, the Alfa submarine was the fastest around (though it was somewhat noisy) : it could run above 40 knots submerged.

But the Soviets/Russians also pioneered the supercavitating torpedo, and AFAIK they’re still the only ones to have figured a way to make that work at all. It’s a completely different design than conventional torpedoes : instead of a relatively slow moving and quiet-ish torpedo that worms its way as close to its target as possible before kicking into overdrive and pinging like crazy ; the Shkval torpedo is more like a rocket : unguided, makes hella noise from the get go but since it can reach ~240 mph underwater it crosses the distance between submarine and target so fast the latter doesn’t have the time to evade or even really fire back (and since it’s unguided, the usual countermeasures do not work either)

SS-N-22 Sunburn; far more potent than the Harpoon.

That’s just one metric, though. Fastest, but not much use other than that.

I think the S-300/SA-10 air defense systems also are considered superior to most Western ground-based SAMs.

as far as the Kalashnikov goes, it depends on how you define “superior.” I’ve owned a couple of (civ-legal) AK-pattern rifles, and their manufacture is best described as “approximate.” if you point one at the ground and pull the trigger, you can’t be 100% sure you’re going to hit your target. But you can bury one in soft, wet peat for a month, dig it up, rinse it off, and it’ll function just fine.

not really; it’s not that Russian/Eastern European tubes are “Better,” it’s that they’re the only ones still making the fucking things.


Sovtek, Svetlana, JJ, Electro-Harmonix, etc. regardless of brand, they’re all made in either Russia or former Eastern Bloc countries. So as far as vacuum tubes go they’re very good, but they can’t be “better” than others because there’s no “others” for them to be better than.