These Five Soviet Super Weapon Never Achieved Their Dreams

November 13, 2021 Topic: Cold War Region: Eurasia Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: HistoryCold WarSoviet UnionSoviet Military

These Five Soviet Super Weapon Never Achieved Their Dreams

No single weapon could have saved the Soviet Union, but several might have shifted the contours of its collapse.

Designed to hit Mach 3, with a service ceiling of around 70,000’, the T-4 resembled the B-70 visually, and in capability.  However, because the organization of airpower in the Soviet Union differed from that of the United States, T-4s were also considered for tactical missions, such as reconnaissance and the delivery of anti-ship missiles.  The idea of a T-4 carrying Kh-22 anti-ship missiles is very scary indeed. 

However, the demands of the technology proved too great for the USSR to move to production.  The tolerances required for such high speeds and altitudes were probably beyond the capacity of the Soviet aviation industry to reliably produce.  Moreover, the T-4 suffered from many of the same intercept and SAM issues as the B-70. Much as the case with the B-70, the T-4 spawned its successor, the swing-wing Tu-160. Only 35 of the latter were built, arriving roughly a decade after the projected service date of T-4.

Had the USSR pursued the T-4, it would have had to give up on large portion of its tactical air fleet.  However, it would also have had a high-level, supersonic bomber designed (in part) to deliver anti-ship missiles.  This would have complicated the defense of US carrier groups even more than the arrival of the Tu-22M, a smaller, shorter ranged bomber.  Production of the T-4 might also have wrought changes in US procurement, with potentially greater focus on the B-1A, and on the strategic interceptor force.  Although extremely expensive to maintain, at least some of the T-4 force would likely have survived the collapse of the Soviet Union to serve in the Russian Air Force.


The Soviet military combined grandiose vision and global aspiration with a defense-industrial base that had severe limitations.  In some cases, these limitations produced remarkable weapons, such as the T-34 and the MiG-21.  In other cases, the limitations precluded disastrous decisions, such as the giant heavy bombers, the huge battleships, and the giant tanks of the interwar period. The true lesson, however, is that while decisions about weapon systems often reverberate across an entire defense-industrial base, they only rarely change the fates of nations.

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APACWorld Politics Review, and the American Prospect.  Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.