History of Defense Systems

How it all began

Carl Zeiss began producing optronic instruments for military and civilian applications in the 1890s. The first telescopic sights and stereoscopic rangefinders were developed in 1895. The Military division was founded shortly thereafter when prism binoculars were delivered to the Prussian Army. Instruments for the navy were also developed early on. The periscope for the experimental German submarine Forelle was delivered in 1903. During World Wars I and II, Carl Zeiss focused almost exclusively on manufacturing military optics. In the 1960s and 1970s, the company made waves with numerous innovations such as high-resolution thermal imagers and the well-known periscope Peri R12.

Due to its stabilization system, the first of its kind, it was also deployed on the Leopard I battle tank.The division – originally founded to build up the business area of defense – merged with Eltron, a subsidiary of DASA (the German Aerospace Stock Company), to become Zeiss Eltro Optronic GmbH, and was headquartered in Heidelberg.

In 2004 it became Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH.

In 2012 it was acquired by Cassidian, a division of the EADS Group. The optical and optoelectronic activities of Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH will be continued in the future under the name Cassidian Optronics GmbH.


The first riflescopes (based on the Beaulieu-Marconnay design) were built for sniper rifles and machine guns.


Stereoscopic rangefinder.


Prism binoculars introduced for the army.


Submarine periscope, installed on the "Forelle" for the first time.


Balloon chamber/aerial camera.


Long-range heat-bearing and surveillance devices (WPG Donau).


Laser rangefinder with ruby laser. 


Peri R12, the world’s first stabilized panorama periscope for armored vehicles, used in the Leopard 1 battle tank.


WBG-X: high-resolution thermal imager, with a common module since 1979.


Eye-safe laser rangefinder


Optronic mast system for submarines.


Eye-safe laser rangefinder with OPO


Third-generation thermal imagers (without a scanner).


Uncooled thermal imager with highly sensitive micro-bolometer detector