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Brief overview of Soviet webbing Afghanistan gear and chest rigs used by the Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan

This article started as a thread on our Twitter page and gained some modest popularity. Since there is almost nothing on webbing in this blog, I have decided to make an article out of the thread. Later on I hope to have time to make an article on every webbing presented in this list here.

Standard issued Soviet webbing Afghanistan

The issued belt, quite naturally, was the main “webbing system” for most Soviet soldiers and officers. Just put couple of pouches on, a flask and you are good to go. This was used throughout the war and beyond. In fact, it is used till this day, even with the same belt and pouches. Such "webbing" is far from comfortable or practical. Soviet belt does not have any loops to hold bags and pouches in one place, so they can move freely around it. The only realistic advantage of this "system" is the wide availability. In terms of reenactment, the belt is absolutely must have piece of equipment and we did have an article on how to choose a correct one. We also have an article on why it is correct to keep your belt buckle shiny.

But the Soviet Army had an actual webbing in its possession, based on the standard belt. This webbing was a step above belt, though, again, it was very far from being practical. In fact, it was just one piece of equipment - the harness, which supposed to move load from the hips to the shoulders, which, in turn, is not the correct way, physiologically speaking.

Added harness didn’t bring more comfort. In theory and by the book it was supposed to be used with full load of equipment - including NBC kit, poncho and the rucksack, but this was never used in Afghanistan. So, the webbing didn't see much use there either - it was an overkill for 2 pouches and a flask. This webbing will be described and shown, in detail, in our upcoming book - Red Alert: Structure of Soviet Infantry Regiment.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
Heavily armed AGS-17 platoon at the beginning of the war.

Soviet Self-made webbings

Despite popular belief, Soviet soldiers actually started making webbings themselves very early in the war. First ones were self-made from the life vests. These vests were supplied in the BTRs and BMPs, to save the crew in case passing water body went wrong. In Afghanistan this feature of the IFVs wasn't in big demand, so some vests were available. Soldier would usually cut pockets inside the vest to put magazines and grenades into them - it was that simple. Needless to say, this was far from a great option. “Pouches” were not of the gear size, there wasn’t any way to secure the vest and, overall, it was not intended for loading equipment in the first place.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
Photo from "Uniforms and History of Soviet Airborne" book

Before we go any further, here is an honorable mention most people don't know about. It is the pontoon bridge engineers vest. While similar to IFV life vests in appearance, these were bigger and had a belt to tighten them. This was a better option for load carrying, but was very unit specific - apart from 45th Engineering unit no one else used them in big numbers.

Captured Chinese Chi-com Type 56 chest rig

Chinese webbing, known as Chi-com, was the most common type of chest rigs throughout the war for both sides. Supplied together with Type 56 AK rifles, the webbing started to appear in big numbers in Afghanistan by the end of 1980. Given the overwhelming military power even in small units, it didn’t take long for the chest rig to be captured by Soviets.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan

This chest rig is arguably the best choice for the conditions of Soviet Afghan war. It is robust, was relative easy to get and the downside of only one magazine per pouch was compensated by the lightness of the whole ensemble and low profile when in prone position.

A single chi-com could hold 3 magazines and four grenades (or other items), though sometimes it was either stretched to hold two magazines per pouch. Rarely, a single RD-54 magazine pouch was sewn to the bottom of the rig to add another 2 magazines to the load. But this modification was far from being comfortable.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
Photo from "Soviet Weapons of the Afghan War"

Soviet made chest rig webbings

While Chicom, and, by extent, chest rig is closely associated with Mujahadeens, Soviets quickly came up with their own version. It was a chestrig made from two pairs of RD-54 pouches. For obvious reasons, it was mainly popular among airborne and Spetsnaz troops, but sometimes infantry units got these as well.

These were really easy to make and overall good chest rigs. Being robust enough, they hold one more magazine than a chicom, 4 grenades and can still maintained low profile of the operator. These were used throughout the whole war, passed from veterans to young conscripts.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
RD-54 webbing from a famous photoshoot

By second half of 80s, Soviet light industry finally picked up the idea and started producing its own chest rigs, commonly known as “Poyas-A, model 1986”. These had three pockets, two magazines each, four grenade pockets and two loops for flares. These were very good rigs, weirdly only produced in pathetic numbers. They are rarely seen outside some specific Spetsnaz units, though would be loved by soldiers of all ground units. Soviet industry locked up later on producing m88 rigs, but these never made it to Afghanistan

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
Three Poyas-A in one reenactment photo

Miscellaneous webbings of Afghan War

Couple more webbings to mention. Firstly the BVD. This is almost a mythical webbing system very desired by collections, never been popular in Afghanistan. It was designed by someone with little to now practical field experience and this was the root of the problems.

It was very oversized. Had to be worn over a winter coat and a body armor to actually fit well. The number of pockets was a complete overkill - half of these would never be used by soldiers. And some of the pockets were weirdly off size, not being able to hold stuff securely

Little known there was a pre-BVD webbing, generally resembling the usual one in functionality but produced in such small numbers that only about 3 of them are known in collections today.

Soviet webbing Afghanistan
Whole range of curios webbings

And there were self made webbing, produced by both sides. Soviets usually made some sort of chest rigs from whatever material was available, to a different level of success.

Mujahadeens were a bit more innovative and had better style. These were sometimes captured and even used by the Soviet side. Overall, webbings in Afghan war were really poor in terms of comfort even for the period - most countries at the time had much better solutions.

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