The origin of the word "optics" is Greek (from Ancient Greek ὀπτική meaning "visible", "look"), and optics as a science originated in the ancient world. Scientists observing light noticed an interesting phenomenon - it diffracts when passing through water, ice, or precious stones. After this, the first instruments for optical research emerged. In 300 B. C. the ancient mathematician Euclid wrote a paper on the rectilinear propagation of light and laws of reflection.
Dozens of scientists from various countries contributed to the development of optics. The achievements of modern optics are based upon the discoveries of the ancient astronomer Cleomedes; Arab doctor and scientist of the 11 century Alhazen; Italian mathematician of the 16 century Francesco Maurolico; French mathematician and physicist of the 17 century Rene Descartes; Dutch inventor of the 17 century Christiaan Huygens; English scientist of the 17–18 centuries Isaac Newton; and a number of other outstanding personalities.
Russian scientists joined in the development of optical science later, which is explained by the absence of technical conditions for discoveries in this sphere: for a long time there was no domestic lens production, and optical equipment was imported from abroad when it was required.
Domestic research and development in the sphere of optics is directly related to rule of Peter the Great (Peter I). Thanks to the Tsar's reforms, the country received glasses for vision improvement and domestically produced optical devices for the needs of the army and fleet. The forward-looking monarch realized that a strong country had to provide itself with strategic technical innovations, therefore optical production was established in Russia. It was Moscow (before the capital was moved to Petersburg) where an optical workshop was established under the supervision of Peter I, and it specialized in the production of spyglasses for military purposes.
The history of the Russian optical business is closely connected with leading scientists from various countries of Europe. In the time of Peter I, unique conditions were created to let foreign researchers work in Russia and transmit their invaluable experience to Russian colleagues. Intellectual collaboration between Russian and European scientists began in the 18 century and has been developing to this very day.
The first Russian scientist who significantly contributed to the development of the world of optical science was Mikhail Lomonosov. In the 1740s, Mikhail Lomonosov made a number of great discoveries that gave Russian science priority in various important spheres.
It was he who recommended the use of colored glass (photo filters) to produce a high-contrast image, developed an original method for the production of ultra-thin mirrors by means of polishing glass surfaces, and discovered a formula and developed a method for melting optical glass and smelting alloys for metal mirrors. In 1752, Lomonosov wrote his famous "Letter on the Use of Glass."
In the 19 century, Russian scientists continued studying the nature of optical phenomena, e. g. Nikolai Lobachevsky - the famous Russian mathematician and Professor of Kazan University - devoted a lot of time to such research work. However, Russian scientists paid less attention to practical issues, since the need for optical instruments was generally covered by importation. In Europe, it was a time when glass and optical instruments made by the large Carl Zeiss company were very popular, and it was Germany that became Russia's primary supplier in the sphere of optics. Gradually, the development of capitalism and industrial growth created the preconditions for the emergence of Russian domestic optical production.
History of Shvabe
Theodor Shvabe opened his unique company in 1837 in the most prestigious trading place in Moscow. On the main shopping street, the innovative entrepreneur placed his trading company and a workshop for the production and sales of optical equipment. For the citizens of Moscow, Shvabe was not only a merchant selling glasses and pince-nez - he left his mark on the history of the capital as a humanist enlightener. It was Shvabe Company that acquainted Moscow with the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison.
One of the first astronomical observatories in Russia was also established thanks to the assistance of Theodor Shvabe. On the roof of the building where this company was located, there was a small astronomical tower with hatches in the dome, and from those hatches people could observe the stars with the help of spyglasses. From the very first years of his activity, the talented entrepreneur Theodor Shvabe managed to gain the citizens' respect. His company became a place where people came not only to improve their vision, but also to acquaint themselves with the state-of-the-art inventions of the time.
In the mid 19 century, Shvabe Company produced all types of optical devices known at that time. The customers were offered not only glasses and magnifying glasses, but also a wide variety of goods for photography and daguerreotype: objectives, lenses, folding tripods, daguerreotype plates, photographic paper.
In 1853, Shvabe Company took part in the Russia-Wide Manufacture Trade Show displaying a large telescope, a number of microscopes, scales, and sundials. The début was successful: Theodor Shvabe was awarded the Great Silver Medal, and it was noted in the prize paper that Theodor Shvabe, a Moscow merchant of the 3rd guild, was highly appraised "for excellent optical, physical, and mathematical tools and instruments manufactured by his company that gained mass popularity in a short period of time and is currently the leader in Moscow." After participation in the Russia-Wide Manufacture Trade Show, Shvabe Company became one of the major suppliers of optical and physical devices to the Royal Household.
Since then, Shvabe Company regularly took part in industrial exhibitions. In 1865, in Moscow, the 13-th All-Russia Exhibition of the Products of Russian Manufacture took place, where Shvabe was awarded the Gold Medal.
Kuznetsky Most street, where Shvabe Company was located, became the first Moscow street with gas lighting. It was the end of 1865, and in 1883, electrical street lighting came to the streets of the capital. It is interesting that today one of the spheres of Shvabe Holding's activity is the production of lighting equipment for the urban environment.
In 1873, Shvabe Company was transformed into the Th. Shvabe Merchant House. By 1882, 100 people worked at the optical company, and its annual output was worth 125,000 rubles. At that time, this was a huge amount (the average wage of a worker in Russia was 15 rubles). Participation in another Russia-Wide Industrial Exhibition was a landmark in the history of Th. Shvabe Merchant House. The company presented its products in two exhibition sections: "Scientific devices and instruments" and "Medical accessories," and today both of these spheres are the leading areas in the activities of Shvabe Holding. Following the results of the All-Russia Industrial Exhibition of 1882, Th. Shvabe company was awarded the right to display the national emblem on its products and banners. Thus, in the late 19 century, Th. Shvabe Merchant House was an innovative company and manufactured state-of-the-art products at that time - and to this day the company presents modern equipment at specialized international exhibitions.
At the turn of the 20 century, Russian optics are actively developing. Huge progress in the theory was achieved thanks to the famous works by Pyotr Lebedev, Boris Golitsyn, Torichan Kravets, Pyotr Lazarev, Dmitry Rozhdestvensky, and Abram Ioffe. Pyotr Lebedev - Professor of Moscow University and an internationally acclaimed scientist - was the most significant figure among the theoreticians of the time. He set a goal to experimentally prove Johannes Kepler and Leonhard Euler's hypothesis of the existence of light pressure. He did succeed. In 1990, Lebedev presented the results of his experiments at the Congress of Physicists in Paris. According to witnesses, his proofs of the existence of light pressure produced an impression on the scientists of the world just as strong as Marie and Pierre Curie's report on the discovery of radium.
The unique research by Dmitry Rozhdestvensky laid the foundation for the study of light dispersion. In 1915, being a practical optics enthusiast, the scientist founded the production of optical glass in Russia, and after October 1917, he became the head of all optical production in the country.
Abram Ioffe, another outstanding scientist, is considered a pioneer of semiconductor research. In youth, the scientist became interested in the study of the photo-electrical effect. Ioffe's works not only revealed the essence of this phenomenon, but also presented clear evidence of the quantum nature of light and the atomic structure of matter, which played an important role in the further development of the science of light, electricity, and properties of matter.
The early 20 century was marked by the accelerated development of science and optical production. In 1905, in Petersburg, an optical-mechanical workshop was opened at the Obukhov State Steel Plant. The establishment of that production was motivated by the needs of the army: both naval artillery and coastal defense artillery required new, advanced sighting systems. Before that time new sights had been ordered from abroad, and after the emergence of domestic production there was no more need to collaborate with foreign partners and spend substantial sums. In 1906, the workshop started producing several types of optical artillery sights at a considerably higher level than that of foreign counterparts. The workshop's specialization did not change afterwards. It continued manufacturing optical instruments for military purposes: prism field glasses and binoculars, stereoscopic telescopes, directional theodolites with optical sights, etc. In 1912, the workshop opened a specialized department for repair, adjustment, and zeroing of distance gauges and rangefinders.
In 1905, the famous German companies Carl Zeiss and C. P. Goerz opened their workshops in Riga (it was a Russian city at that time). They produced non-standard binoculars, Goerz panoramas, and large and small stereoscopic telescopes. After World War I began, the companies were nationalized, moved to Petrograd, and merged. In 1916, the first state optical plant in Russia was established on the basis of the united companies - State Petrograd Optical Plant GAU. In the next decade, that plant renamed plant number 19 changed its location several times: Voronezh, Perm, Podolsk, and eventually Banki in the Pavshino District of the Moscow Region (today Krasnogorsk).
In 1906, a branch of Th. Shvabe Merchant House opened in Irkutsk. After that, the company purchased a land plot in Sokolniki (a district in Moscow) and started the construction of a plant there. Simultaneously, a four-storey house on Kuznetsky Most street was built. By that time the physical and mechanical production of the company had become one of the largest in Europe, and the number of workers increased to 300.
In 1910, the Trade and Industry Department of the Russian Empire approved the trademark of Th. Shvabe Merchant House.
In 1912, in order to increase production, Th. Shvabe Merchant House was reorganized into a Th. Shvabe joint stock company with a registered capital of 1 million rubles. The range of products produced by the company exceeded 4,500.
At the junction of epochs
On the eve of World War I, Th. Shvabe joint stock company received an order to produce an anti-aircraft sight. Military engineer staff captain Vasily Chetyrkin considered the Shvabe plant an ideal place to realize his idea. The anti-aircraft sight was produced in a very short timeframe, and its characteristics attracted the attention of the Defense Department. The device was eventually called Captain Chetyrkin's Rangefinder.
During World War I, the joint stock company actively functioned and produced surgical, geodesic, surveying, physical, optical, chemical tools and instruments, as well as disinfection equipment and orthopedic devices required during the war. At that time, Shvabe received orders from the General Military Technical Directorate, Kazan and Shostka gunpowder factories, Second Engineer College of Kiev, sanitary institutions of the country, including the Red Cross, military hospitals and numerous educational institutions.
On August 31, 1917, Th. Shvabe JSC was reorganized into Geofizika JSC. The capital assets of the company equalled 2,500,000 rubles. The material strength of Geofizika JSC and its skillful management allowed the company to survive the hard revolutionary times. In late 1919, the company was nationalized, and the primary specialization of the plant became geodesic instruments and microscopes.
From the very beginning, the Government of the Soviet Union paid significant attention to the development of optical science and the production of optics. In 1918, the State Optical Institute (SOI) was established at the initiative of Dmitry Rozhdestvensky.
In 1921, the Government invested considerable funds in the purchase of optical devices and equipment abroad, and the purchasing committee worked abroad for two years. The devices were imported "in hundreds of boxes," as Dmitry Rozhdestvensky said.
By 1923, SOI reached the level of the top world's institutions with its state-of-the-art equipment and soon earned international acclaim. The institute was visited by the leading scientists of that time: Niels Bohr, Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, Jean Baptiste Perrin, Max Planck, Chandrasekhara Raman, Paul Ehrenfest, et al.
The group of scientists undertook a number of important studies in the SOI that contributed to the further development of Russian optical science.
Development of the industry
In 1922, an optical club was established on the basis of the SOI, which in 1925 was reorganised into the Russian Optical Society. Its primary objective was to unite specialists working in the sphere of optics. In the following decade, the development of State Optical Institute continued. When SOI was just established, there were 24 scientists working at it, and by 1933 their number increased to 250. In 1936, the total number of the Institute's employees reached 600.
At the same time, the companies of the optical industry experienced structural changes. In 1922, the General Committee of the Supreme Council of National Economy introduced a resolution establishing the Fine Mechanics Trust that united the nationalized companies Geofizika (Th. Shvabe), Metron (E. S. Tryndin and Sons), Geopribor (Tauber and Tsvetkov and JSC), and Aviapribor (Reinin's Plant). The office of the Trust was located in the building of the former Th. Shvabe Company shop on Kuznetsky Most. The plants of the Trust produced geodesic, surveying, medical, optical devices, as well as chemical instruments, disinfecting chambers, patient care tools, and various types of clocks.
The authority in the sphere of medical tools and instruments that Theodor Shvabe brought his company played an important role for the reputation of the Geofizika plant - it was considered one of the best factories in Russia for the quality of its medical products.
According to specialists' estimates, the production cost of optical glass produced in Russia in the mid 20s exceeded the price of imported products by four times. In addition, experts believed that the country could provide itself with the production of optical devices only during peace time, and, in case of war, the shortage of optical products would be approximately 75 percent of the country's needs. In relation to the increase in production volumes in the country, there was an idea to unite the entire optical mechanics industry in one trust. In 1930, the All-Union Association of the Optical Mechanics Industry (AUAOMI) was established. The structure of this organization can be considered a prototype of today's Shvabe Holding that includes the leading Russian optical companies. In 1930, AUAOMI included the Moscow plants Geofizika and Geodezia, Leningrad State Optical Mechanics Plant, Leningrad Optical Mechanics Plant, Leningrad Optical Glass Plant, SOI, Fine Mechanics Plant No. 19, and Izium Optical Plant. AUAOMI existed in this form until 1936, and in that year, the Association became part of the reorganized People's Commissariat for the Defense Industry (PCDI).
During the same period, the Geofizika plant became a training center for specialists in the optical mechanics industry, and the company established a technical college and a large training school. The authority of the specialists of the plant was very high at that time, their opinion and estimates were highly valued, therefore Geofizika's best workers, mechanics, engineers, and designers were regularly on long-term business trips as consultants and advisers at the construction of new optical works. The rapid development of the optical mechanics production works in Sergiev Posad and Krasnogorsk was largely due to the assistance of the plant from Stromynka street.
The dynamically developing optical industry required new highly qualified specialists, that was why the issue of training young Soviet optics specialists was urgent at the time. In 1930, the Leningrad Institute for Fine Mechanics and Optics opened in the cultural capital, and in Moscow, optics specialists were trained at the N. E. Bauman Moscow Higher Technical College and Moscow Institute of Engineers in Geodesy, Aerophotography, and Cartography (MIIGAiK).
Progressive reorganizational changes in the optical industry were accompanied by further development of optical science, and the first world-class scientists emerged in the USSR. One of them was Sergey Vavilov who in 1932 was appointed Academic Advisor of SOI. Vavilov's primary scientific interest was in the sphere of physical optics (luminescence, the study of light nature, photometry, etc.), but the scientist paid a lot of attention to applied science as well. His name is related to the beginning of mass production of electron microscopes.
In 1934, Sergey Vavilov and his graduate student Pavel Cherenkov discovered Vavilov-Cherenkov radiation. For this achievement Soviet scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for the first time in 1958. Pavel Cherenkov, Igor Tamm, and Ilya Frank were awarded a prestigious prize "For Discovery and Interpretation of Cherenkov Radiation." Igor Tamm made a speech at the celebration ceremony in which he underlined the substantial role of deceased Sergey Vavilov in that important scientific discovery: "In the Soviet Union, we call it Vavilov-Cherenkov radiation, and not just Cherenkov radiation."
Today, Vavilov and Cherenkov's discovery has found applications in experiments in the sphere of elementary particle and cosmic ray physics. Practically, every study in this sphere is performed with the use of Cherenkov counters.
In the 1930s, the optical industry in the USSR actively developed, existing facilities were modernized, and new plants were constructed. In 1937, the Fine Mechanics Plant was transferred from the People's Commissariat for the Defense Industry to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (PCIA), renamed the PCIA Special Plant, and soon became one of the leading optical mechanics facilities of the country.
In September 1935, the construction of a mirror reflector plant started near Moscow. In 1939, it produced the first batch of 1.5 m diameter searchlight mirrors for anti-aircraft guns. In the same year, the Lytkarino Optical Glass Plant was established.
The Zagorsk Optical and Mechanical Plant was called the child of the second five-year plan at the time. Its construction began in the memorable year of 1935, when a number of large facilities were commissioned, including the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, Gorky Automobile Plant, and Stalingrad Tractor Factory. In April 1936, the Zagorsk plant manufactured its first products. These products were presented by the workers at a demonstration dedicated to May 1.
The decision to build the Kazan Optical Mechanics Plant was taken by the USSR Labor and Defense Council on October 11, 1936. It was to be a copy of Leningrad State Optical Mechanics Plant (SOMP).
Among the remarkable dates in the history of Russian and Soviet optical companies, the year of 1934 occupies a special place, when the Chelyuskin steamship was icebound in the Chukchi Sea. The crew and passengers disembarked onto the ice and were waiting for rescue. The Chelyuskintsy (this is what the crew and passengers were called by the whole country) remembered the day when in the sky they heard the sound of aircraft and saw pilots drop bags with warm clothes, food and medicines in a targeted way. A significant contribution to the rescue of these people was made by the workers and engineers of the Geofizika plant, who received an order to urgently produce a batch of the OPB 1M optical bomb sights. It was the products of this plant that helped the pilots precisely target parcels from the continent. In autumn 1934, the pilots who saved the Chelyuskin expedition visited the Geofizika plant. The operation of the sight in severe Arctic conditions was praised by the aviators.
In the pre-war years, optical mechanics plants of the country acquired a status of secrecy. In 1939, approximately 25,000 people worked at them. First, the plants were transferred to a special security category and in May 1940 they were assigned numbered tags: No. 217 (Geofizika), No. 356 (Geodezia), No. 349 (Leningrad State Optical Mechanics Plant), No. 350 (Leningrad Optical Mechanics Plant), No. 354 (Leningrad Optical Glass Plant), No. 357 (Progress), etc.
World War II affected the development of the optical industry. A number of optical centers were evacuated to the inland part of the country. The products of the optical mechanics plants were mainly oriented to military purposes.
In October 1941, Fine Mechanics Plant No. 69 was moved to Novosibirsk, Plant No. 217, to Sverdlovsk, and Leningrad State Optical Mechanics Plant was evacuated to the site of the Kazan Optical Mechanics Plant. In autumn 1941, Zagorsk Optical-Mechanical Plant was evacuated to Tomsk, however, by 1943, the majority of its equipment was returned to the original site.
The workers of the plant who remained in Moscow organized a workshop to repair broken and damaged tank sights, artillery panorama pictures, and anti-aircraft optical tools. In 1942, the workshop was reorganized into Military Plant No. 589. The majority of its staff consisted of employees of Geofizika who had not been able to evacuate to Sverdlovsk. Meanwhile, in Sverdlovsk, the material and technical facilities moved from Moscow served as a basis for the construction of a new optical mechanics plant. Both Muscovites and local people worked there.
In February 1942, the USSR People's Commissar for Armaments made a decision to establish a new factory on the vacated site of Plant No. 69, which had been evacuated to Novosibirsk in 1941. This became State Union Optical Plant No. 393, later renamed the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant.
Optical mechanics plants significantly contributed to the victory over Nazi Germany.
In post-war years, optical science and industry underwent rapid development in the USSR. Under reparation conditions, Soviet plants received plenty of equipment from German optical factories, and over 300 optical mechanics specialists came to the USSR from Germany to help master the new equipment and put it into operation. At that time around 34,000 people worked at the optical plants of the country.
In 1946, the construction of optical glass production capacities began at the Lytkarino plant. The capacities of the plant were designed to produce 1,200 tons of glass per year. In the future, these volumes completely covered the demands of the country's industry for optical materials.
Gradually, the plants began increasing the share of civil production. Thus, in 1946, the first photographic camera Moskva-1 was produced in the USSR. A little later Krasnogorsk Plant started the production of the Zorky camera, which became one of the symbols of the city. And in 1952, Soviet engineers developed the first domestic reflex camera Zenit. The new product became so popular that three years later the millionth camera came off the assembly line. The compact amateur camera became the ancestor of a whole generation of reflex cameras that improved every year and gained popularity not only in the USSR but also abroad.
There were other important innovations of the optical industry at the time, e. g. the production of the first electron microscopes, geodetic surveying rangefinders, and radar rangefinders that were successfully used in cartographic works in the Antarctic.
The second half of the 1950s became one of the most successful periods in the history of domestic optical science and instrument engineering. Revolutionary discoveries by scientists and space exploration provided additional opportunities for the development of the optical industry.
In 1956, Soviet specialists designed the world's first tank sight with independent two-plane sight line stabilization that allowed tanks to conduct precision fire while moving. Foreign analogs of this sight were developed 17 years later.
Kazan was one of the largest centers of the optical industry at that time. On April 12, 1957, a branch of S. I. Vavilov State Optical Institute (BSOI) opened in the city. Originally, this organization combined fundamental and applied research with the development of processes for the production of equipment and instruments for military tasks and the national economy. In 1966, BSOI was reorganized into the State Institute for Applied Optics (SIAO).
After the war, the achievements of optical plants became an integral part of the space exploration era. In 1957, the Soviet AFA-39 camera took the first photographs of the surface of Earth from an altitude of 200 km. In 1959, the first images of the hidden hemisphere of the moon were made. The pictures of Earth's natural satellite were taken by means of the AFA-E1 photographic system installed on an interplanetary automated station.
The products of Soviet plants received high marks at international industrial exhibitions, and the works of Soviet scientists received wide international acclaim. Thus, in 1958, at the World Expo in Brussels, Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant (today part of Shvabe Holding) won the Grand-Prix for a set of replaceable objectives, an honorary diploma, and gold medal for the EM-5 electron microscope, FP-22 high-speed camera, and S-180 aurora research camera. At that time, a group of Soviet scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize "For the Discovery and Interpretation of Cherenkov Radiation," as was mentioned above. Among other achievements of that period, we should mention the discovery of a technology to connect optical parts by deep optical contact and growth of the first single lead sulphide crystals.
In the 1960s, the dynamic development of optical science and industry continued. More and more Soviet optical companies started participating in various domestic space programs. On April 12, 1961, the launch of the Vostok spacecraft with Yuri Gagarin on board was filmed with the use of a KT-50 cinematographic theodolite developed by Krasnogorsk Plant.
In the same year, the USSR developed and produced a space orientation instrument called Vzor for the Vostok spacecraft that was used for the first human spaceflight in history with Yuri Gagarin on board. The Geofizika Central Design Bureau was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor for the successful accomplishment of governmental tasks.
In the 1960s, Plant No. 217 also commenced active participation in space exploration programs by developing optical instruments for spacecraft. The viewfinders for orbital orientation of a spacecraft and astronomical viewfinders were unique and unparalleled in the world. The VSK3, VSK4, and VP1 viewfinders were installed on all the modifications of the Soyuz spacecraft, and the VShTV wide angle viewfinder was used on the orbital station Mir till its last days. In 1964, Plant No. 217 received an open identification - Ural Optical Mechanics Plant (UOMP). In that period, the plant occupied the leading position in the world in the production of aviation optics and became one of the pioneers in the development of laser equipment.
In the late 1960s, a number of nationally important projects were performed by Krasnogorsk Plant: unique high-precision astronomical unit for photographing space objects to determine the coordinates and trajectories by means of correlation with reference stars of the celestial sphere, and large high-resolution Mezon-2A objective used to photograph the surface of the Earth from an artificial satellite.
All the optical companies that have been participating in the performance of governmental space exploration projects since the 1960s are part of Shvabe Holding today.
The 1960s were marked not only by the active process of space exploration but also by the development of laser technology.
The invention of the first laser in 1960 became possible thanks to fundamental scientific achievements, first of all by Alexander Prokhorov, Nikolay Basov (USSR), and Charles Townes (USA) - all Nobel Prize winners for quantum electronics research.
Since the laser was invented, practically every year new types have been created for various purposes. In 1961, the neodymium glass laser was developed, and within the next five years, laser diodes, dye lasers, carbon dioxide lasers, and chemical lasers were invented. In 1963, Zhores Alferov and Herbert Kroemer (Nobel Prize for Physics, 2000) developed the theory of semiconductor heterostructures which were the basis for the creation of numerous types of lasers.
In the early 1960s, the Government of the USSR launched a wide-scale research and development program both in the sphere of lasers and laser-based systems and tools. In 1961, Mitrofan Stelmakh, a talented Soviet scientist and engineer, and Alexander Shokin, Head of the Governmental Committee for Electronic Technology, presented a motion to the Government on the establishment of a specialized institute for quantum electronics. Soon, Polyus Research Institute was established where research in the sphere of quantum electronics began immediately. In 1964, the first gyroscope in the USSR was developed at this institute.
Aleksey Bonch-Bruyevich significantly contributed to the development of laser science. For over 25 years, he was head of the physical optics department, one of the leading departments of SOI. From the early 1960s, Bonch-Bruyevich focused on issues of laser physics. In cooperation with the employees of the institute, he developed the first neodymium glass laser that was serially adapted by Soviet industry in 1964 - earlier than the production of such lasers began abroad.
In 1969, Luch Central Design Bureau was established with the goal of developing powerful lasers of various types and purposes (later, Astrofizika Scientific and Production Association). It was there that in 1980, the first LE-1 aerospace laser locator was developed. The team of developers was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize and two State Prizes, and the company was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.
The Special Design Bureau (SDB) within the Luch Central Design Bureau for the development of lasers (SDB-3, later, Granat Experimental Design Bureau) was headed by Viktor Orlov in 1969. In 1981, he was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor for the development of the 1K-11 Stilet self-travelling laser complex.
In the 1960s, ruby crystal lasers and T-130, KM-20 and KM-43 laser gyroscopes were developed by the optical companies of the country.
Beginning in 1970, the team of Granat Experimental Design Bureau performed a number of fundamental studies in dozens of spheres on laser technology.
Civil and special products - balance of interests
Together with fulfilling orders for the defense industry, the optical companies of the USSR developed and serially produced unique medical equipment. Thus, they maintained the tradition established by Theodor Shvabe, whose company had produced medical equipment.
In 1973, the first laser surgical unit Skalpel-1 for bloodless operations was developed in the USSR. Meanwhile, the production of hemodialysis equipment ("artificial kidney") began. At the same time, the technology of the serially produced Zenit-V camera was used to develop a special Zenit-VE camera to picture internal organs of humans through endoscopic instruments. At the international Healthcare-80 exhibition that took place in Moscow, Soviet medical equipment created by optical companies was highly appraised by the world community.
At the same time, in the late 1970s, the share of military products manufactured at optical plants increased. During that period Soviet designers and engineers developed optical-electronic sighting stations for the IV generation of fighter aircraft. Furthermore, the production of astronomic sighting systems began at Ural Optical Mechanics Plant, as well as the engineering of gyro-stabilized optical-electronic systems.
In 1971, in association with a number of research institutes the first mobile infrared theodolite-radiometer Sobol was developed in the USSR on the basis of the Krasnogorsk Plant. The device was used to determine the coordinates of a flying object by its infrared radiation.
There were also a number of other remarkable events in the optical industry in the 1970s:
- In 1975, Geofizika Central Design Bureau was awarded the Order of the October Revolution for special achievements in new equipment production.
- In 1979, the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant was assigned the name of Sergey Zverev, former Chief Engineer of the plant and later Minister of Defense Industry of the USSR.
- In 1979, Zenit-EM was recognized as the best camera by "What camera?", a popular English magazine for amateur photographers.
By the beginning of the 1980s, the USSR was one of the few countries in the world that could boast a complete closed cycle of development and production of optical instruments and systems - from fundamental research to mass production. Soviet optical products successfully competed with their western counterparts in the quality-price ratio. Not only were Soviet cameras in demand abroad but also industrial and scientific optics.
Beginning from the mid 1980s, a number of production facilities were respecialized for the production of consumer goods: field binoculars were replaced by tourist binoculars and opera glasses, military sights were replaced by sports and hunting ones, military and defense night vision systems were replaced by video surveillance security systems.
The D. S. Rozhdestvensky Optical Society established in 1990 played an important role in the establishment and maintenance of scientific contacts among the companies of the industry.
Among the achievements of the industry in 1980–1990s, the following can be underlined:
- Serial production of civil equipment and devices - immunoenzymometric analyser, Sapfir medical thermal imager, remote control systems for Record, Rubin and Horizont television sets
- Development of the MK-100 metrological facility to control the parameters of thermal imaging equipment
- Production of experimental samples of reconfigurable filters for Venera 13 and Venera 14 landing modules
- Acquisition of IR-images of the Earth's surface and highly informative images with the use of Izumrud and Izumrud-M space equipment
- Successful testing of aircraft-based IR-equipment for mine and mine field detection at a height of up to 150 m
- Development of a noise-proof sun-blind ultraviolet direction-finding channel for helicopter and aircraft missile protection complexes
In 2005, Buran-M sighting complexes for armored vehicles were successfully tested and accepted for military purposes. In the same year, Gamma-L and Gamma-Z optical-electronic multi-zone remote sensing devices were developed.
In 2006, the Geoton optical-electronic Earth HD remote sensing system for the research of natural resources and prevention of natural disasters was put into operation. Specialists of the optical industry participated in the development of a new tactical ballistic missile system which was put into service by the Russian army.
In 2008, within the framework of the governmental policy for the reformation of the Russian defense industry complex and in order to improve the competitive performance of the Russian optical industry in the world market, Shvabe OJSC Holding was established - a structure that united the leading companies of the country.
Today, Shvabe encompasses 64 organizations, including research institutes, design bureaus, and scientific and production associations. The optical holding produces over 6,500 products that are supplied to 95 countries around the world.