17 May 1999. Nizhny Tagil. The area around the Okunev Palace of Culture is filled with people, dozens of representatives of enterprises from all over the country. On the gun carriage there is a coffin, on the pads there are several modest medals of a retired colonel. Uralvagonzavod says goodbye to his chief designer - Vladimir Ivanovich Potkin.
Where does this discrepancy of human recognition and scarcity of state awards come from? Tough question.
Uralvagonzavod has always been proud of its chief designers of armored vehicles. Behind each of the predecessors of Potkin are their famous cars.
Tank T-34 - Chief Designer Alexander Alexandrovich Morozov, Major General, Hero of Socialist Labor, laureate of the State Prize, Order (and this is only before leaving Tagil).
Tank T-62 - Chief Designer Leonid Nikolaevich Kartsev, Major General, winner of the USSR State Prize, orders, medals.
Tank T-72 - Chief Designer Valery Nikolaevich Venediktov, Lieutenant-General, Hero of Socialist Labor, twice winner of the State Prize, etc.
Of course, in addition to these "titular" tanks each chief designer has modifications of these tanks, other products and prototypes. In this regard, Vladimir Ivanovich, as the chief designer, was formally not much different from his predecessors.
The main offspring is the T-90 tank and its modifications; a complex of engineering vehicles based on the T-90 tank, civilian products and new development of armored vehicles, which in their characteristics have stepped far ahead from the world level and lost their “father” halfway. The main difference is that Potkin's predecessors worked in a planned socialist economy. Here are the tasks, here are the terms, here are the resources - create, the main designer. At one time, Venediktov justified his retirement by saying that he could not participate in trials for health reasons. It was true, but not all. Valery Nikolaevich was the cleverest man, and he could not see where the country was heading, and understood that this was not his time.
As successors, he chose the head of the design department, who made a name for himself on the famous tank races, where the fate of the Tagil tank was decided in the most severe competition. It was there that the leadership character of the future chief designer manifested itself, the ability to choose associates, set supertasks before them and strictly ask for execution. It showed his iron grip and the ability to be above the situation.
Coming to the leadership of KB, Potkin quickly reorganized the management structure. He should have received first-hand information. It was not his deputies who reported on the state of affairs to him, but the heads of design departments, heads of pilot production services, testers.
He always knew the size of the enterprise. In the pocket of his jacket was a piece of paper with current data on bank deposits UKBTM. Vladimir Ivanovich was preparing to meet troubled times fully armed. And this time rolled. The management of industry and the state as a whole has rapidly collapsed. In the press, bacchanalia reigned over the army and the defense industry.
One of the major publications in all seriousness wrote that there was a tank factory in Nizhny Tagil, the production of which, after factory tests, goes straight to the metallurgical plant across the road. And there new tanks are cut and sent to the mixture. It would seem that serious people offered to collect foreign correspondents and in their eyes cut the tank conveyor of Uralvagonzavod.
And in such circumstances, Potkin is seeking adoption of the T-90 tank. And then he starts work on his improvement.
He will wait for his time.
Soon GABTU proposed a technical task (TK) for the development of a fundamentally new product. According to the technical specifications, it was supposed to leave far behind everything that exists both here and abroad. The cruiser is for armament and defense, and the fourth generation combat aircraft is for electronic equipment. This work did not go to Kharkov, Peter did not take it, Venediktov refused. And this is also in the Soviet times that are blessed for the defense industry. And here the lack of money in the Ministry of Defense, at the allied enterprises, life is barely warm.
Undertaking such work under these conditions seems complete madness. But Potkin wanted to do just that, and he takes on this topic. The harder the situation, the higher the heat of work in the KB. Vladimir Ivanovich had an amazing gift to stimulate the activities of his subordinates. Guilty, he did not read morality, did not shame, did not threaten. He will look hard, say a few words not for printing, and that is enough for half his life. Reached jokes.
Once in the desk of one of his deputies, colleagues found a large photo of Potkin. In response to the malicious questions, he frankly said:
- You know, guys, sometimes laziness falls on me. Well, reluctance to work and everything. Then I open this box, look at the photo of the chief, and as if whip on the back. Mother honest, so much work, and I'm cool here!
But no enthusiasm could compensate for the collapsed cooperative ties with co-executive enterprises.
With the assistance of the management of the UVZ and the GABTU, Potkin creates and heads the Council of Chief Designers, which included the chief designers and directors of enterprises producing tank components. The council meets regularly and resolves technical, organizational and financial issues. Each council meeting begins with a report on the state of affairs of Potkin with a detailed analysis of successes and failures. It was necessary to see with what intense attention the participants in the meeting of their chairman listened and how nervous those who reported on their shortcomings were nervous.
Financing of work (scanty, but still) GABTU carried out through UKBTM. And everyone knew that if the money came to the account of UKBTM, then tomorrow it will be distributed and sent to co-contractors in accordance with the volume of work performed. Vladimir Ivanovich's honesty was a reference. But he had a strict demand. And it never occurred to anyone to put a state penny in his pocket. And KB made this car. Yes, it was tested after the death of Potkin, but it was made with him.
How much energy was spent by journalists to present the look of a new tank ... A pitiful sight compared to what was really done by the Tagil residents.
The tank passed the test cycle, and they confirmed the compliance of the characteristics specified in the TOR. Yes, he was not put into service - he simply outstripped his time. But the technical solutions found and implemented in this work will be used for a long time in domestic tank building. And do not forget the conditions in which all this was done.
Dashing winds raging in the country, did not bypass UKBTM. There, too, appeared democrat Democrat, demanding everything at once. And above all, they demanded a change in the profile of the KB.
Potkin's answer was brief as always: either the design bureau will continue to make tanks, or look for another Chief Designer. The team chose the first option and was not mistaken. For all the troubled times in UKBTM there was no case of delay in the issuance of salaries. She was small, but did not allow misery.
Introducing a regime of austerity, Potkin managed to allocate significant funds for technical re-equipment. And gradually drawing boards disappeared from the design bureau, and in their place appeared personal computers integrated into a local area network. The researchers materialized a long-term dream of a stand for a comprehensive study of the parameters of the product. And in the mechanical area - new machines.
Potkin not only retained the design bureau in difficult times, but increased his potential many times over. Having seized the leadership in the application of computer technology, the design bureau is not inferior to it at the present time. The current leadership of UKBTM gives this issue priority.
Chief Designer closely followed the loading of all parts of the enterprise. At that time, when in the assembly shop experienced products were assembled, the designers, without losing sight of the assembly, were working with might and main on the modernization of the serial tank, engineering machines, excavators, and PUMs. And in the advanced design department on computers screens, the prototype of the Terminator tank support vehicle was already spinning.
And another distinctive feature of Potkin - he never treated people reprehensibly. His attitude towards the employee corresponded to the attitude of the latter to his duties. Somehow, by chance, the position of the head of the department was chosen (there was such an episode in the life of the design bureau), the lead designer, who, according to Vladimir Ivanovich, did not correspond to this position.
Potkin did not miss a chance to express his negative attitude towards him as a boss. In the end, the man asked for the previous position. And that's it! He is again a respected specialist. Moreover, when the distribution list for government awards came, Potkin deleted his name from the prepared list and entered the name of this specialist.
But one should not think that the KB in those days only worked without raising its head. There were holidays, celebrations, anniversaries. True, from holidays Vladimir Ivanovich recognized only the New Year and the Day of the Tankman. These holidays were supposed to award, encouragement, amateur. On the eve of the holiday, the “generality” of the enterprise gathered in the director’s rest room for a “glass of tea”. And there was no strict boss and subordinates, but there were colleagues. Tired, concerned, but happy with their work together.
But if things went more or less tolerantly in the design bureau, then everything was much worse at the factory. The release of tanks was rapidly declining, until it stopped altogether.
At the beginning of the announced conversion, the plant management decided to start making road-building equipment. And UKBTM developed by his order design documentation for tracked and wheeled excavators and a whole range of loaders, the so-called PUMov. But in conditions of general stagnation, the demand for these products was small, and the cost of non-core products is very high. The plant without tanks was quietly dying.
There is documentation on the tank, but the native army is unable to order it. There is a potential foreign buyer, but there is no permission to enter the foreign market. It seemed that someone intentionally decided to strangle the plant. When it seemed that the plant would not save anything, it was permission to go with the T-90 tank to the external market.
Inspired by the leaders of UVZ, GABTU and UKBTM went to India to agree on the contract. Again, bad luck. Despite the feeling of deep respect for the chief designer (it was not without reason that India’s Vladimir Potkin was called “the papa-tank”), the Indians needed a T-90 with a more powerful engine and a modern thermal imager. There were such ideas in the design bureau, but 1,5 – 2 was required to implement them, and the plant could not wait.
A short meeting, and the next day the chief designer offers the Hindus a new complete set of tank. Those take her to cheer. The delivery time of three tanks for testing is six months. It was a risk on the verge of an adventure. But it was impossible to return without results. Better to die. So it was one of them.
It was the hardest half a year. Coordination of the supply of components with enterprises that ceased to produce them, round-the-clock tests of newly designed units, endless failures, breakdowns, defects. Better not to remember. And the chief designer already had two heart attacks, and the doctors strongly recommended to go to the hospital. One answer: "I will send tanks - I will lie down!" I did not have time. He died 13 May 1999 of the year in his office, like a soldier in a battle post.
But the tanks were assembled and shipped on time. They were brilliantly tested. A contract was signed. Plant breathed, stirred. Again, armor, guns, equipment, materials. Lived dozens of businesses.
And on that day, when the planes with experienced tanks flew to India, the boarding accompanied the last designer’s final journey. Thousands of people. Guard of honor, gun carriage and modest medals for military service. Later, posthumously, Potkin was awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, IV degree, for developing the T-90 tank, but his merit, as one of the few who pulled the tank industry out of the deepest darkness, was ignored by officials.
Each time chooses its heroes. And UKBTM is grateful for the fate that Vladimir Potkin was at his helm at the helm of God, the leader from God, and the last 15 years since his death confirmed the correctness of the tank construction course set by him in the 21st century.
And the rewards ?! Yes, happiness is not in them, so, in any case, Vladimir Ivanovich considered.