Shvabe Think-tank

The Optical Holding presented 128 exhibits at ‘Army-2017’ forum

Nikolai Poroskov


Perhaps, no other enterprise of the national defense industry complex (OPK) notifies of its ideas and innovations as often, as Shvabe Optical Holding Company does. The enterprises of the holding carry out about 2 thousand R&D works in the field of military and civil products, they register about 170 patents annually, including the international ones. It looks as if the holding has its own ‘think-tank’. Where is it located? What does it look like? Sergey POPOV, First Deputy General Director (R&D) of Shvabe Holding, answers these and other questions in the interview with Nikolai POROSKOV, Observer of the Independent Military Review.


- The optical industry has always been known for its research intensity, its products are in demand, it is recognized throughout the world: photonics is one of the driving forces of the economy. We continue to realize our scientific potential for one simple reason – of more than 18 thousand people working for the Holding around 5 thousand are scientists, they are engaged in advanced research and development of new products: - they are our think-tank. We feel confident in the innovation field.

- Was the structure with the wealth of scientific workers formed during the work or was it pre-planned during the creation of the holding?

- Before joining the holding companies had already had an experience of attracting scientists. The State Institute of Applied Optics, the Vavilov State Optical Institute, Orion Scientific and Production Association, Polyus Research Institute have dissertational Committees and postgraduate study departments providing training for young scientists. Moreover, we have strengthened design offices at the enterprises, recreating the sectoral science lost in the 90s.

- "Photonics is the driving force of the economy ..." Where is this citation from?

- This phrase is from the Concept of the Development of Photonics in Europe. It is often quoted by Arkady Dvorkovich, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, the curator of the national photonics; academician Yevgeny Velikhov ... The money, albeit little, invested in this industry, give a fairly solid return.

- I think it is the ability of the holding companies to generate ideas so quickly that allowed them to bring a lot of new products to ‘Army-2017’ international military-technical forum. What are you going to surprise the participants and guests of the exhibition with?

- Our list of exhibits contains more than 100 product samples, for example: the system of optical surveillance and reconnaissance for drones and helicopters; thermal sights for armored vehicles (BTT) and anti-tank weapon systems. The ‘heart’ of such complexes are thermal imaging cameras, which are manufactured in the holding company.

At ‘Army-2017’ forum we will show a number of different sights for sniping and hunting weapons, as well as various kinds of target designators. As a recent development we will present a unique optical sight of constant multiplicity with ‘eternal’ illumination of the aiming grid, for which no batteries are needed. An aiming dot is formed due to optical fiber.

One of the focus area of the holding is photodetectors. It is a combination of microelectronics, photonics, absolutely new technologies: growth of heterostructures, microlithography. The photodetector is an element of all thermal imaging devices.

The application of a photodetector device working in the short-wave end of the infrared band, i.e. 0,9-1,7 micrometers of SWIR range is worth describing. This range is not thermal, and the image is built by reflecting radiation from objects, and not due to own radiation of the object. Therefore, the images of objects are comparable with visible images: the contrast of the reflected radiation, obtained due to the difference in the reflection coefficients of the object and the background, is fixed.

The camera also works in fog and in smoke. The Institute of Climate in Obninsk created fog in a huge chamber. A standard video camera was the first to stop identifying objects, it was followed by the observers, as for the SWIR-camera, it continued detecting not only the objects, but even the special marks on them. The cameras operating in this wave-range are good for marine forces, aviation, vehicle operation and armored vehicles. The SWIR camera detects camouflaged objects: soldiers’ camouflage uniforms, military equipment under camouflage nets. This camera detects models of missiles and tanks and other military equipment. It can trace mortar projectile in the air, which allows to accurately determine location of the gun.

At the exhibition in Munich, I saw three companies that exhibited analogues of our camera. This is an infrequent case, when we, Russia, are ahead of many, because we know how to grow heterostructures, make matrices and manufacture a finished product on their basis.

- Radar-MMS company was testing optical surveillance systems for Russian drones. Is this area developing?

- It is developing actively in terms of reducing mass and dimensions for midrange UAVs. Working with aspheric optics, we managed to use, for example, only two conventional lenses instead of seven ones, thus we got 1.5 – 2 fold decrease of the weight of the lens. At the forum we demonstrate such an optoelectronic system. The second direction is stabilization of the equipment on board. And the most important aspect for military men, i. e. laser illumination, which provides for fine guidance of guided munitions.

- UOMZ worked on exotic equipment for aeronautical complexes. Are there any results?

- The devices for a balloon and a helicopter are different in terms of frequency and nature of vibration.

- I would like to ask about another area of work of the Holding: about infrared imaging devices for short-range man-portable weapon, and about optics for close combat weapons in general.

- As a part of the military equipage improvement, we developed two products: a full-time portable reconnaissance device and a portable reconnaissance device. It is a new class of devices that allow you to see in the infrared range, determine the target location; they have a built-in compass and positioning system. Information from them is received by the integrated tactical command and control system (ESU TZ). Also, they are sights for small arms, special optical sights for snipers, small-sized binoculars, laser target designator for the aiming development complex.

We, at Shvabe, are not obsessed with what we have today, we are developing the outfit of a soldier of a very distant future; it can be attributed to science fiction. It will have, in particular, helmeted eyecups, monitors with infrared and television components, augmented reality system, with additional information sent to the glasses. As a result, what the soldier sees in front of him is combined with target designations, electronic maps, commands.

And it is no longer a stuff of a science fiction: we do it. We made a control system for robotic devices. In this system, a helmet device allows you to see the same way as a robot does, plus augmented reality: the coordinates of the site, the nearest objects, the expected location of the threat.

With all this, is we take into account the requirement of our customers: to make the equipment functional, but inexpensive.

- Combat power lasers is a closed topic in many respects. Is it possible to learn anything about this kind of hyperboloids? Also, I would ask about transformation of solar energy into laser energy, and its transfer to the Earth… For suppression of typhoons at the stage of origination, for example... The holding has come close to creating a powerful laser complex for destruction of ice fields ...

- We are working on the problem of icebreaking capability of vessels running along the Northern Sea Route. This topic is mainly a civil one. Laser emission weakens ice fields, which allows ships even those of limited capability, to go through ice of 1 – 1.5 meter. The system is new, it is under development. In November, it will be tested on ‘Ermak’ icebreaker.

As for typhoon suppressing, we have a global project, I would say, a fantastic one, we are implementing it partially. The idea of the project is as follows: a direct solar radiation-pumped laser is located on the orbit, a shaped beam allows to transfer energy to the Earth, where it is received by a special platform. It is a project of a distant future, at present we have a small unit, which allowed to organize a short distance transmission of an energy beam. We have nothing on the orbit yet.

We applied for organization of research work with a foundation for long term projects. I think, in due course we will place the unit on the orbit. We have broken down the implementation of the project into several stages. We need adaptive optics, which uses the energy of the Sun as the pump energy for the laser.

We have not taken practical steps to implement the project, it is a purely theoretical study. Skeptics call for caution, as the possible consequences are not calculated yet. So far, two projects are being implemented. The first one is creation of an adaptive mirror that can be placed on the orbit, the second one is modeling of conditions for interaction with the observatory on the Earth.


- For counter-terrorism purpose, the holding company planned to create a thermal imaging complex for touch-free monitoring of emotional state of a person through his/her thermal radiation field. It could also be used in personnel selection. Have you already developed such a complex?

- The problem that many people try to solve is: how to distinguish in a crowd a person with dangerous intentions? Working with a person’s infrared image, we got the hang of determining his/her emotional state depending on his/her thermal image. If visually a person can control himself and keep calm, his emotional state recorded in the infrared range can not be concealed.

We demonstrated operation of a SWIR camera. It can distinguish, for example, a made-up person, which can not be seen physically. The camera can detect artificial hair - a wig or false mustache and whiskers. It can also determine a person’s psycho-emotional state by one’s thermal field. Physically you do not see a person blush, but in the infrared range the ‘pinkness’ of the cheeks is visible. There is a set of ‘pictures’, which allow to understand the state of a person after being compared with the image on the camera screen. This is the way to identify a person in a crowd. This method has already been applied in practice, new approaches are being developed on its basis.

You supply on-board equipment for PAK FA, the advanced front-line aviation complex -. What do aircraft-industry workers think of it?

- They positively evaluate our efforts. As in any new business, we have programmed in the characteristics that clearly surpass their counterparts in the existing equipment. It is not easy to gain the results, but we are sure that all the requirements of the technical specifications can be met. During the tests, our equipment detects rocket launches and aircrafts at a given range, provides for target designation.

- Have the holding company developed anything fundamentally new in the identification equipment? 

- It's not entirely our subject, but we are working to replace the radio channel with an optical channel.


- Tell us, as far as possible, about the prospects in the search for new technologies.

- We are trying to develop polymer optics, to start the production of the elements of optical instruments using 3D technologies. This accelerates the development, makes it possible to reduce the cost of construction. We are working to make our equipment more affordable.

- The holding has a wide range of products for export. Please name the main products and the countries they are supplied to.

- The products of the holding, both civil and military, go to all regions of Russia and to 95 countries. Our products are traditionally presented in all countries with which a broad military-technical cooperation is being carried out.

Having received the President's Right for independent foreign economic activity in military and technical cooperation, we actively cooperate with the countries that formerly received many armored vehicles from the Soviet Union. They want to modernize it. We provide maintenance of optical equipment formerly sold to some countries, supply spare parts.

We expect new contracts for joint scientific research in the sphere of combating unmanned aircrafts. Detection of the object, its identification, recognition on the background of birds in a passive optical channel, works perfectly with us. The unbeatable advantage of the holding's products is target tracking system.

Today, among the most attractive export destinations are Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa. Medical equipment, sights and lighting equipment, optical materials are in demand on foreign markets. A rather high demand for new products in the field of telemedicine is being formed. Shvabe Medical equipment is successfully used in Frankfurt, Berlin, Switzerland clinics, hospitals in Havana and Lima, and in other countries.

- Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation recently said: the vertical organization in the defense industry did not prove its value, superstructures in the form of corporations, holdings, conglomerates are ineffective. The Federal Antimonopoly Service also expressed its concerns. I would like to know your opinion on this matter.

- I was at that conference in Rosatom. In my opinion, Rogozin spoke about improving the efficiency of integrated structures. Our holding is small: 19 large and a dozen of small enterprises. We put together inefficient structures. It is beneficial.

The holding company has a unified system of document circulation, videoconferencing. Information is communicated quickly, interaction is established. Sometimes several enterprises develop one product. Could it have been earlier that the Urals, Novosibirsk and Kazan enterprises are working on one project! Indicators of enterprises – both scientific and economic - have grown, the timing for creating a weapon prototype is declining. It is because each of the participants in the project is strong in its area. It is not uncommon for a prototype to be developed in three months, where it took three years before.

- What is the share of the state defense order at Shvabe?

- About 70%. But the share of civilian products is growing every year, as the state defense order is going down. At the same facilities we produce medical equipment, lighting equipment, including city traffic lights, geodetic equipment. At the same time, we retain our competences. By 2025 the civilian production of the holding will make about 80%.

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