Where did the names of Russian and Soviet weapons come from

Autor: František Chmelař / Franta02 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 138.715

Now I don't even know exactly what I was originally looking for. After one of my "googling" sessions, I clicked on the link http://www.izvestia.ru/armia2/article3108410/, which turned up an article by Dmitry Litovkin, published in the Izvestia newspaper on September 18, 2007, titled "Where the name of the weapon comes from", with the subtitle "Izvestia finds out how new weapon names are invented". Although I was looking for something completely different, I didn't give up and read the article. After reading it, I came to the conclusion that it may be of interest to many of you who, like me, are "afflicted" with the military disease and who either have not come across this article or do not speak Russian well enough to understand it. Here is the article itself, the outline of which is a translation of Dmitry Litovkin's article, which I have tried to translate into English understandable to normal mortals and to add some details and observations...

Where did the names of Russian and Soviet weapons come from

Even "Izvestia" found out how the names of new weapons are invented

F. CH.'s addendum:

or why nobody knows the names and types of Soviet and Russian weapons...


The Astrakhan shipyards began building Russia's first military corvette - the sailing ship "Orel" - which was built on the orders of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, and the name of the corvette "Orel" was a symbol of the power and greatness of the country, which at that time had no military fleet.

First Russian warship - sailing ship
First Russian warship - sailing ship Orel"

Note F. CH.: From historical materials it has been established that Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, who was called "Tishaishi" (born 19 March 1629, Moscow - died 29 March 1629, Moscow. January 1676, Moscow, was Russian Tsar from 1645 to 1676) built the first Russian military corvette in 1668, the "Eagle", which was not very large. The corvette was built on the Oka River and made its maiden voyage on the Volga River.

Map of the part of Russia with the Volga and Oka rivers

In the port of Astrakhan he was captured and burned by a detachment of Stepan Ryazin (a Don Cossack, born Zimovaya on the Don around 1630, executed by dismemberment on 6 (16) June 1671 on the Red Square execution ground in Moscow, leader of the Don Cossack uprising of 1670-1671). However, a drawing of "The Eagle" by an unknown Dutchman has survived. A match between the model of the ship on the Admiralty building and the picture was discovered. In 1886 the Admiralty needle was repaired, the boat was removed from it and placed in the Naval Museum. A faithful copy was then attached to the Admiralty's needle.

Endnote by F. CH.


In contemporary Russia there is considerable chaos in the names and titles of ships, aircraft, tanks, and other military equipment. Why is one missile called menacingly "Palcat" (Bulava) and another romantically "Topol" (Topol)? Where did the tradition in the Russian Navy of naming submarines after a number of cities come from? The editors of Izvestia newspaper tried to get to the bottom of it and conducted their own investigation.

A U.S. military attaché asked me, as a former naval officer, why Russian weapons systems and equipment have such complicated and convoluted names.

For example, for ships, it's the project number, series, abbreviation, proper name, and even a tactical number.

"This is a tradition", I found the explanation, "Russians introduce themselves to each other by surname, first name, paternal name (otчество) and also the name of the profession. The diplomat nodded his head in understanding. I preferred to discreetly omit the fact that the tactical number changes every year. Let foreigners think it's part of military secrecy or disinformation to give the impression that we have so much here and so many different types. This conversation got me thinking about who actually gives names to Russian weapons systems and military hardware.

"It's all folk creativity", this is how I was literally impressed by the deputy general designer of NPO Mashinostroyenia, Alexander Leonov, from the sub-Moscow town of Reutovo. "For us, the creators, it is often just as mysterious why our cruise missile is called this or that. In the documents prepared by the military it has one name, in our documentation it has a second name, and in the decision to accept it into the armament it may well have a third name."

"We have a system in place!", objected Vladimir Mikheev, deputy head of the Defence Ministry's armaments administration (Управление вооружений Минобороны). "We have a special regulation for this and also a methodology."

Some officers claim that they are the authors of the name of this or that weapon system. But designer Leonov doesn't give them much credit: "Many people take undue credit in this field."

"Fire" (Солнечный ожог) flies through the radar

It's easy to get confused about the names of Russian technology. When I was in military school, I couldn't for the life of me remember the numerical designations of our weapons. At first glance, completely meaningless numbers and letters were stored in my head. For example, 3M54 Moskit - a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. It is in the armament of destroyers of the project 995 series of the type Sovremennyj (Современный). It has a range of 150 km. And that's it.

In the West, the same Mosquito has been given the somewhat more distinctive name "Sunburn" - SS-N-22 Sunburn - (Solneчный ожог).

It makes sense - the 3M54 flies at around Mach 3 (which is 1000 m/s!), and is characterized by fairly complex zigzag maneuvering (the "zmeka" maneuver - "zmeika"). Its flight is not seen by radars, anti-aircraft missile complexes are unable to shoot it down. The strike is so powerful when it hits the target that even without a 500 kg warhead it flies through the ship from stern to bow and continues to fly for some time. The designers took this into account and therefore used a bursting warhead with a contact fuse that initiates it on contact with the deck or side of the attacked ship. In addition, they multiplied the effect of the BN explosion by the fact that the missile's hull is made of titanium, which is also a very "hot" metal. The result of the combination of a not-so-weak warhead and a titanium hull is that it takes one 3M54 missile to sink a destroyer, but only two to sink an aircraft carrier. Well, there's the "blessing".


F. CH. note: This is a nice example of the confusion in nomenclature and numbering of Russian weapons. This time, however, the author of the original article got it mixed up, because the 5M54 anti-ship missile belongs to the Biryuz complex, while the Moskit anti-ship missile is like the 3M80, according to GRAU. That pretty much completes it...

Loading the 3M80 anti-ship missile complex Moskit onto the carrier's deck

"Duke" versus "Satan"

The RS-20 "Duke" (Воевода) intercontinental ballistic missile is called the SS-18 "Satan" in the West. No wonder. It can easily deliver 10 nuclear warheads, each with individual guidance, to a distance of over 10,000 km. A single strike and Washington, D.C., with a surrounding area the size of Colombia, ceases to exist. "The Satan is equipped with a PRO (proto missile defence) system, its own launch shaft will protect this missile from a direct hit by a nuclear warhead. "The Satan will reach its target even if it is hit by a very strong electromagnetic pulse that would normally disable any other electronics... But why didn't they call it, say, "Knight of the Apocalypse... Dang it!"

The RS-20 "Voevoda" ("Voevoda") strategic cruise missile, NATO code name SS-18 "Satan"

"Black Eagle" is not an aircraft

The origin of some names of tank and artillery systems or aircraft is often a big puzzle. Take for example the name "Black Eagle" - a normal person would expect it to be the name of an aircraft. Nope, that's a mistake - in this case it is a prospective Russian tank. It is the predecessor of the T-90 tank, was type designated "Object 640", was a developmental link in the Russian tank line, and was created by mounting a new turret on the chassis of the T-80U tank. But on balance, why not the name Black Eagle, after all its successor, the T-90, actually does "fly", admittedly a bit low and not always, but it does fly. That's its speed and chassis characteristics. They just used the name one step earlier.

Tank "Black Eagle, type designation "Object 640"

But a question creeps into my mind - why "Eagle" and not, say, "Bear"? But the designers can't answer that. For example, the unparalleled aerial acrobats - the Su-30MKI and MiG-29OVT fighters have no names. Well, for example, the fifth-generation experimental fighter with negative wing sweep from Sukhoi's Su-47 design office has a name: "Berkut". Berkut is both a river and the name of the first Soviet anti-aircraft complex to protect Moscow, designed by Raspletin S-25. But here they said it was supposed to be an abbreviation of the names of project leaders Beriji (son of the infamous "kata") and Kuksenko. Somehow I don't see the abbreviation there, though, so I don't know what the truth is. But official sources say it was.

Experimental fifth-generation Su-47 negative wingspan fighter aircraft Berkut"

Fire-breathing guy "Buratino"

The heavy rocket launcher Buratino has very little in common with its long-nosed, wooden namesake. With a single salvo, it is capable of firing 30 unguided 120mm calibre rockets with a warhead made up of a thermobaric mixture. When such a missile hits a bunker or hardened emplacement, the warhead explodes, but not all at once. It first releases a chemical mixture that, over the course of a few seconds, flows into all manner of cracks, holes and inconsistent areas. Then the mixture ignites itself. What follows is a huge explosion that cannot be survived. The result of Buratin's "work" is a moonscape.

Heavy rocket launcher caliber 120 mm TOS-1 Buratino (heavy rocket launcher TOS-1

"Tulip" fires "Bravely"

The "Tulip" in our story does not represent the flowers that made Holland famous, it is in fact a mortar system 2S4. It's a nifty little thing - 240mm calibre, and it includes a Brave mine ("Смельчак") with laser guidance. It has a 90% probability of hitting a 2 to 3 metre diameter circle at a distance of 5 km. The "Tulip" can also fire virtually vertically, so that it can destroy targets only a few tens of metres away from its own position. It's a really nice little flower.

Minometer round 240 mm 2S4 Tulipan (2S4 Tulipan)

Mine"Odvážlivec"("Smelchak") for 2S4 mortar"Tulipán"

How "Stormless" became "Uragán"

At the military school, we were asked a question by the speaker: "How is military journalism different from civilian journalism?".

He then immediately gave us the answer, "A military correspondent describes the same thing with different words, whereas a citizen journalist who writes about many different things uses the same words over and over again."

I have dignified this very joke many times in the military. I'm talking to a naval officer about his anti-aircraft missile complex "Shtil" ("Still", hereafter I'll just use the romanized name "Still") and he can't understand what I'm talking about at all. We're both pointing to the same launcher, talking about the same tactical capabilities and uses, but each talking about a different weapon. How is that possible? The explanation, of course, is simple: the name of the weapon "Still" means nothing to the sailor. In fact, he commands the anti-aircraft missile complex (hereinafter PLRK) "Uragan". It would be even more interesting at the moment if a ground troops officer joined us. For him, it would be PLRK "Buk". It turns out that they introduced such a motley crew quite programmatically. Weapons have to be sold. Foreign customers like soundbite names. "Shtil" ("Still") - for the foreign market, it clears the air of all living things. For the internal market, i.e. the Russian one, the name "Uragan" or "Buk" is more appropriate. Thus, the most powerful naval PLRK of the S-300F series "Fort" (Fорт - "Fortification") in the export version will be called "Rif" ("Риф" - "Reef") and if on solid ground, it becomes "Favorit", only it's rebranded as an S-300PMU.

Naval PLRK "Still-1" (in Czech "Bezvětří", but the name in Czech doesn't really fit here)

Why Cities Navigate the Oceans

In Soviet times, most military ships and submarines, but especially strategic nuclear submarines, had only tactical numbers. The great "declassification" occurred in the mid-1990s, when the country's economic problems put the navy on the brink of survival. That's when sailors decided to save the ships by way of sponsors. Thus, the Russian Navy's strategic and strike nuclear submarines "cities" - Yekaterinburg, Tula, Kursk, Tambov and many others.

Atom Submarine K-114 Tula Project 667BDRM Dolphin

There is also another history tied to the ships' names, namely the famous names of "Peter the Great" and "Admiral Kuznetsov", who were sailors in body and soul. However, today sailors call the first ship "Petrushka" or also "Petrucha", and the second one "Kuzja". Why? In recent years, "Petrucha" has become an "admiral ship" and sailed from the Severomorsk anchorage to the Fleet's combat deployment polygon with all the vetting committees and chiefs from Moscow. What also makes these ships excellent is that instead of diesel engines, they have atomic hearts beating, armed with fifty cruise and anti-aircraft missiles, some of which are equipped with nuclear warheads.

Project 1144.2 heavy nuclear missile cruiserPeter the Great

The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov of the Soviet Union Navy

The rocket can also be stamped "Galoshes"

I have no idea with whom the author of the Soviet PRO (projection missile defense) system, Petr Grushin, was messing. In the West, they called his unique anti-missile Galosh (Galosh - "Gалоша"). This "Galosh" was capable of attacking and destroying a nuclear warhead traveling at speeds in excess of 5000 m/s! For those who find this figure less clear, as they think in km/h, I translate it into this unit: 18,000 km/h. Good, isn't it? In the Soviet Union at the time it was called "System A-35", in the West "Galosh". Each country had its own logic in creating names...

V-1000 anti-missile missile complex System-A , the predecessor of the A-35

We're going to Macedonia too

At this time, arms sales come first, because money is necessary, and without it you can't do it at all. It is not only the quality and capability of the guns that secures and facilitates the sale, but also what they are called. You can hardly expect success in selling a product that you call, for example, "Wimp". Names need to be resonant, clear, understandable and also misleading. Take, for example, the tactical missile complex Iskander ("Iskander"). What or who is it? The name "Iskander" was given in ancient times to the great warlord Alexander of Macedon. At this point, the connections between the name of the famed warlord and the tactical missile complex become intertwined: the "Iskander," whether in antiquity or in the present, is simply the ruler of the world. The high qualities and capabilities are thus implicitly encoded in the weapon's name, as it offers an analogy between the past and the present.

Tactical Missile Complex 9K720 Iskander-M"

"Black Shark" in Russia, "Erdoğan" in Turkey

The Russian attack helicopter Ka-50 Black Shark ("Черная акула") is well known. Even the name has proven itself. But the opportunity arose to try to sell these high-tech machines to Turkey. And lo and behold - for the Turkish deal, the helicopter briskly changed its name to Erdogan. Why is that? Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was Turkey's prime minister during this period. The tender may have failed, but the pandering gesture was really nice.

Ka-50 attack helicopter Black Shark (Ka-50
Black Shark)

In the cartoon "The Adventures of Captain Vrungel", based on the 1937 book by Andrei Nekrasov, which first appeared in the Soviet magazine "Pioneer", Captain Vrungel says: "What you name the yacht, that's how it will sail!"

Whether the animated hero was right or wrong is beside the point. But the truth remains that Russian guns, regardless of their stone, tree-flower and other animal or animal names, are indeed very reliable and, most importantly, sell well.

A little trip beyond Russia

The U.S. Navy traditionally names its ships with the names of American presidents, sometimes still living. Tanks and armored vehicles are in turn named after famous American generals. This is a rather complex tradition of the US military. Variations of ship naming are considered by the Chiefs of Naval Operations and sent to the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy.

There are certain rules in ship nomenclature.

Submarine destroyers and frigates are named after famous sailors and Marines.

Cruisers are named after the heavy battles that shaped the U.S. Navy.

Atom submarines armed with ballistic missiles are named in honor of U.S. states.

Diesel submarines are named in honor of American cities.

Aircraft carriers are the most important link in U.S. sea power, given names in honor of "particularly prominent American political figures."

Many current presidents and ex-presidents have bestowed their names on warships. The most recent warships named after living figures were the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (President Reagan died in 2004, the carrier was launched in 2001) and the most recent was the aircraft carrier George Bush (this is George Bush Sr.) in late 2008.


Another practice, however, is implemented in the naming of missiles and armor. Here we can trace a tradition that the Americans borrowed from the British, who have long called these types of equipment by the names of famous generals. In the US, the tank M4 Sherman was the first to be named after this key (after the name of one of the famous leaders of the North-South war William Tecumseh Sherman). This was followed by the tanks of Lee (after General Robert Lee), General Grant to the current M1 Abrams (by General Creighton Abrams).

In foggy Albion, they name the big ships after royalty. Following this key, it has already been decided that the newest aircraft carriers, each 65,000 tons displacement, will be named HMS (His Majesty's Ship or Submarine) Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. These aircraft carriers are expected to be inducted into combat readiness in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

By default

So much, then, for this little reflection on why and what makes some Soviet and Russian weapons have the names they do. Sometimes you can trace a certain logic in the names, but often you happen to already think: "I win, I know why this line of weapons is named that!" and before you know it, some dissonance, atypicality, just the creator of the name has gotten off on the wrong foot and fallen out of line.

Sources of information and images:
The website of the daily newspaper "Известия"
Basic materials from the newspaper " Панорама ЛОМО"
Oka (a tributary of the Volga)
Алексей Михайлович
Разин, Степан Тимофеевич
Sailing ship "Eagle"
Smissile "Sovremenny" of Project 956 - generation of fighters
Encyclopedia of Ships - 3M80 Mosquito
Our "Voyvoda" is "Satan" for them
Чёрный орёл (танк) 1
Black Eagle (tank) 2
Su-47 Berkut
TOS-1 Buratino
2S4 Tulip and Daredevil
Atomic submarine K-114 "Tula" of Project 667BDRM Dolphin
The heavy nuclear missile cruiser of project 1144.2 "Peter the Great"
The aircraft carrier "Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov"
RACQUETTE SHIELD. Missile defense of the USSR
TRK Iskander-M
Ka-50 "Černý žralok" (Ka-50 "Black Shark")

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