By Dr. Arshavir Gundjian C.M.
The year 2020 ended, leaving the Armenian world still recovering from the shock of an unprecedented humiliating defeat at the hands of the aggressive forces of a Turkish-Azerbaijani coalition. The war started suddenly on September 27; however, it was hardly unexpected, considering the highly publicized Azerbaijani-Turkish military joint maneuvers preceding it at the very borders of Armenia and Artsakh. Armenia should not also have been surprised by the advanced modern weapons technology that the aggressors successfully used, which was a primary reason for painful human and territorial losses.
The purpose of this article is to focus on one very fundamental strategic failure that has emerged from this tragic war. The latter has multiple scientific, technical, economic, and military implications. Armenia better recognize and confront that issue squarely in order to make it a central component of its post-recovery strategic planning. Armenia must make the development of highly sophisticated modern military weaponry, based on advanced technologies, the centerpiece of its next five-year plan of industrial activity.
The adoption of such a plan is perfectly realistic. Actually, it would be based on a return to the decades-old unique wealth of knowhow and training that Armenia acquired in the highly sophisticated fields of physical sciences and their industrial applications, while it was the tiniest republic of the Soviet Union. At that time, it had become one of the most active centers of Soviet scientific research and development. It was said that Armenia provided up to half of the Soviet Union’s high tech military needs…and that was only thirty years back, just before independence in 1991.
By adopting resolutely such a policy, Armenia could very soon not only become the master of its own border security, but also an internationally sought-after supplier of highly profitable sophisticated modern weaponry, which would contribute conveniently to its economic prosperity.
It is deplorable that after the 1991 independence, Armenia’s successive regimes have all failed to recognize how strategically precious was their inherited institutionalized high-caliber system of education, research, training, and knowhow in the field of physical sciences, applicable directly to combat war weaponry. In fact, unfortunately, since 1991 and especially in the last twenty-five years, all arts and sciences have lost in Armenia their privileged status of top-level importance which they had attained during the Soviet period.
Just imagine if Armenia’s national strategic planning of the last few decades had included the continued use of the full potential of that wealth. Then during this last September war, it would have been Armenian high-power laser canons deployed along the borders of Artsakh and Armenia that would be literally pulverizing helpless Turkish or Azerbaijani drones venturing into Armenian air space. Also, quite contrary to what happened, the Armenian army’s stealth drones, equipped with high-precision smart laser ranging and targeting devices, would have been the ones targeting the enemy forces across our borders and then “kamikaze-ing” and smashing them in their own bases, thus raising havoc in the Turkish aggressor ranks, instead of all that panic which happened within the ranks of our own heroic Armenian army.
Such a scenery would not have been fiction. It could have been definitely real, had our successive regimes in Armenia properly monitored their neighbours’ military appetite and activities and consequently appreciated the seriousness of the increasing existential threat they were facing during the past several years.
Ironically, one lethal tool Turkey and Azerbaijan were equipping themselves with during those years was based on combat laser technologies. This was a component of the trove of advanced technologies and expertise that Armenia was privy to by 1991, well ahead of these two neighboring states. The paradox is that it was instead Turkish war-grade laser equipment, including laser-equipped drones, that brought our Armenian fighters to their knees.
The advent of the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is one of the two most fundamental and sensational scientific developments of the twentieth century, the other being the invention of atomic energy. They both rely on novel and fascinating basic phenomena of physics which were revealed by Albert Einstein, way back at the beginning of the last century, but the implementation of which in a form usable by human society occurred only in the middle of that century.
The laser is essentially a source of very pure, “highly organized” high frequency electromagnetic radiation, which we more simply call “light.” The difference between laser light and ordinary light that comes from the sun or from any mundane everyday environmental light sources consists in the fact that in the latter, the individual tiny elements that contribute to the total light vibrate in a totally random and asynchronous manner, whereas, on the contrary, within a laser source, those vibrations are synchronous. They add perfectly their intensity to each other to thus result in what is a blindingly bright, and when need be, a high power lethal and destructive beam of “coherent radiation.”
This rather simple sounding special quality of laser light leads to an incredibly vast range of applications which belonged previously to fiction. By now the innumerable variety of different types of lasers can range in size from a smallest device of a fraction of a millimeter to the largest ones that can have few kilometers length. In turn, the applications made possible range from the sharpest and finest high precision eye surgery tools to the highest capacity information-carrying beams of laser light travelling within optical fibers, lying at the bottom of oceans. They also include the most brutal multikilowatt power laser beams that are produced by laser canons, mounted on an armored vehicle which can easily chase and literally burn and pulverize flying drones as well as standing still military targets in the battlefield.
The first practical lasers came to existence in the 1960s, almost simultaneously in the West and in the East. Theodore Maiman and Charles Townes in the West, and Mikhail Prokhorov and Nikolay Basov in the Soviet Union, are considered to be the fathers of the laser.
We can be proud as Armenians to note that Armenia’s scientists were among the first in the world to enter this new and fascinating field, thanks to their being an integral part of the Soviet scientific world community.
Mikhail Ter-Mikaelian is credited to have developed the first Soviet commercial laser way back in 1965. Actually, soon in 1967 he has established Armenia’s well-known Institute for Physical Research (IPR) in Ashtarak, 30 kms. from Yerevan. Over the years, IPR and other centers and teams of researchers made Armenia a cradle of state-of-the-art laser developments that found applications not only in Armenia but also in the Soviet Union and in the world.
Both in the West and in the East, lasers became part of a vast field of diverse activities, be it in research or in diverse medical and industrial applications. Inevitably, militaries focused their attention very quickly on the destructive potential of laser gun applications, which so far had been merely the subject of the imagination of cartoonists and science fiction writers.
Needless to say, while all this was happening in the world, and until very recently, Turks and Azerbaijanis did not even exist on the world map of laser research.
Sadly, in Armenia after the independence of 1991, the National Academy of Sciences, and many specialized institutes, were no longer on the list of the country’s favorites. Since then, and to this date, they have had to struggle for their survival by searching for grants from outside sources, by developing contacts and connections with foreign companies and institutions. Thus, in the absence of a well-focused national science strategy, while some good quality local scientific activity still exists in Armenia, it has hardly any strategic focus. Many of Armenia’s top talents consequently gradually left Armenia to become highly regarded and sought for human resources, mainly in Western academic and industrial circles. Personally, and professionally, as I was a dedicated disciple of the world of lasers and their applications, during my post-1991 initially frequent visits to Armenia in the context of issues related to the Armenian world, I witnessed with pain this situation. However, at that time, Armenia’s leaders were mostly concerned with dismantling the traces of the Soviet regime.
In the meantime, and especially since around 2010, ironically right next door, Armenia’s archenemy neighbor Turkey, was busy catching up. Indeed, Turkey’s belligerent president Ragip Erdogan had decided to fill its war chest with military equipment of the most advanced technology. Erdogan had quickly realized the enormous tactical advantages provided in modern warfare by combat drones equipped with sophisticated precision laser targeting equipment, as well as by optically guided high power laser canons, mounted on straightforward ground armored vehicles.
Of course, Erdogan would not bother to waste time with any fascinating scientific research work. He simply focused on buying the knowhow, and when need be the human resources, to build local weapons manufacturing facilities. He focused on laser-equipped drones and high-power laser canons. Whatever he was short of, he would buy from foreign countries only too willing to sell quite profitably such equipment to a good paying customer.
By now Turkey manufactures its Bayraktar TB2 infamous combat drones at the Baykar company, owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law. Such drones are equipped with precision laser imaging and targeting systems bought from the Canadian L3 Harris Wescam company. Turkey’s anti-drone, armored car-mounted laser canons are produced by the Turkish military weapons manufacturing company Aselsan. And surely enough, it was all this equipment that was used by the Turkish-Azerbaijani coalition in the Artsakh war.
It is important to note that as laser equipment manufacturing is not a capital-intensive industry, Turkey’s budget in this area is only in the range of $450 million dollars. However, Erdogan had rightfully noted that with such a small expenditure, the manufactured weapons are capable of causing, inexpensively, multiple billion dollars’ worth of damage to the enemy!
Following the war, Armenians have now many lessons to learn in quite a hard way. However, the one superseding issue is that of physical survival. This requires the complete restructuring of its defense system. During the presumed lull of five years provided by the notorious declaration of ceasefire, Armenia’s top priority must be to build a first-class army, equipped with first-class, state-of-the-art war military hardware. The present article points to an evident path to follow in that respect.
On the one hand, speaking politically, it is now irresponsible and unpardonable to still continue to waste time in the streets on fruitless and unjustified actions of political and civil unrest. Since the current government has lost all its credibility and effectiveness, a transitional government of national reconciliation and unity must be set up, preferably with the cooperation of the current authorities. The first order of business of the latter must be to prepare for anticipated elections in order to elect within less than a year a new parliament and a new government that does not carry the stigma of capitulation. On the other hand, and simultaneously with the above, at the very least, a separate national emergency special committee of economic and technical experts must be formed to work out a five-year economic and military reconstruction plan. The creation of a modern, sophisticated, state-of-the-art military-industrial complex must be the centerpiece of its plan.
Armenia still has the necessary top-level intellectual resources, knowhow, and infrastructure which is one valuable and essential component to successfully implementing such a plan. As for the other vital component, which is that of financing, considering the specific type of the projected products, the necessary budget would be in the accessible range of few hundred million dollars, if this effort is centered specifically on and around the drone and laser industry.
Products made in Armenia in this field promise to be competitive and to comply with the highest international standards of quality. They will surely attract rapidly the interest of international investors. In any case, provided an honest and serious program is put together under a credible leadership such as one that can be provided by the present president Armen Sarkissian, based on the latest Artsakh war experience, financing of this magnitude dedicating to launch a nation-saving effort, can realistically be obtained even just from the Armenian sources of the Russian and international diaspora. This can very well be on the basis of long-term investing principles.
We must realize that currently the very existence of Armenia’s statehood is in serious danger. Once more, we have to pull our forces together. Armenians in Armenia must sober up, and those in the diaspora must do their best to help Armenia return to a path of survival and prosperity by creating the smartest, most efficient, and most lethal laser combat industrial complex – let’s baptize it as the Sassountsi Tavit complex.
From that point on, any enemy, be it Turks, Azerbaijanis or even any new ones, will think very hard before crossing our borders. Actually, they may even instead line up to try to buy these Armenian-made state-of-the-art weapons!
Dr Arshavir Gundjian is a prominent Canadian-Armenian scientist and community leader. He has had a prolific career as a researcher and inventor, and now is a retired professor of McGill University’s Department of Electrical Engineering. Some of his publications are in the field of high-power laser detection and damage to materials. He has been for many years the chairman of the Laser Equipment Canadian Subcommittee of the International Electrotechnical Commission. He also holds more than twenty patents in the field of products and documents security. Simultaneously with his active professional life, Dr. Gundjian has been an active leader in the Armenian diaspora. He has been Ramgavar party Central Committee chairman for many years, especially during the period coinciding with the 1991 independence of Armenia. He is a founder and now vice president of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the US and Canada. He is an AGBU Central Board emeritus member. He also is the honorary chairman of the Canadian Armenian Apostolic Church Diocesan Council. The Governor General of Canada appointed Dr. Gundjian in December 2019, a Member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor in Canada, recognizing the exceptional contributions of its citizens.