Total Soviet Computing Power

A glimpse of the past, from the public release "CIA Historical Review Program", a September 1986 memorandum titled "Total Soviet Computing Power". Its abstract says:

We have estimated the total computing power for the Soviet Union for both general-purpose and scientific applications. In general-purpose computing the USSR has the equivalent capacity of 50 to 500 Cray-1 supercomputers, or about 10% of the total US general-purpose computing power. If used for scientific computing, the Soviet computing inventory has a capacity equivalent to 1 to 10 Cray-1's, or about 1% of the total US scientific computing power.

To the Soviets, the acquisition of a single Western supercomputer would give a 10%-100% increase in total scientific computing power. Acquisition of a single VAX-11/780-class superminicomputer would give the Soviets only a tiny increase in total capability, roughly 0.01%, for either scientific or general-purpose computing. In terms of computational power per ruble spent, however, the Soviets certainly will find it highly attractive to acquire Western computers of all classes.

The large gap between the US and Soviet computing powers is a result of shortages of all classes of computers in the USSR. The Soviet shortfall is particularly large for scientific computing, due to the absence of true supercomputers in the USSR. Although smaller computers can be used for scientific computing, they are very inefficient for demanding tasks such as advanced weapons system design. The Soviet Union will probably not be ready to produce a large-scale scientific computer comparable to the Cray-1 before the early 1990s.

... how time flies, and computer power increases ... and how crude graphics were in 1986! The paper estimates order-of-magnitude values based on comparing inventory vs personnel vs budget data – rather like an "astrophysical" approach to comparing apples and oranges based on acreage, weight, and dietary consumption. Hmmmmm ...

(cf. local copy "Total Soviet Computing Power", ...) - ^z - 2021-05-16