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Photonics Spectra
Aug 1998
Defense Planners Eye Commercial Shelves

Barbara Grant, Contributing Editor, and Robert Pini, News Editor

The push to produce new military technologies that accomplish tasks better, faster and cheaper continues to create a dazzling set of options for military planners. Collaboration is increasingly the byword for new development, with defense planners and contractors exploring ways, such as the use of commercial technology and joint ventures, to cut costs and share risks in developing new systems. Photonics products form an important part of key subsystems for military applications in detection and imaging, tracking targets, coordinating troops, defensive countermeasures, and communications. According to Jane's Information Group, some of the most promising new advances for the global market in photonics include uncooled infrared imagers, image intensifiers, laser rangefinders, charge-coupled device (CCD) technology, and hyperspectral imagers.
Today's military systems designers look to commercial markets for devices to integrate into subsystems, following the directive to use commercial, off-the-shelf, technologies. This emphasis offers the advantage of lower up-front cost per unit, a particularly significant factor in high-volume applications. But problems remain: Many photonic devices have shorter lifetimes than their microelectronic counterparts, and manufacturers do not typically design products for harsh environments.

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