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From Ruby Laser to Force Multiplier

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As is the case with so many technological innovations of the 20th century, it was the defense sector that helped bring the laser to life. As recounted in Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation, “much of the research that underpinned the laser and its predecessor, the maser, relied on federal funding.” And that funding, motivated by the heightened geopolitical tensions of the Cold War, often came from the Department of Defense (DoD).

Mike WheelerThe 1950s financial backing for Charles Hard Townes’ seminal research came from none other than the Joint Services Electronics Program, created to further wartime R&D of the Second World War. By 1962 — two years after Ted Maiman demonstrated the ruby laser at Hughes Aircraft — the DoD was spending about $5 million on laser-related R&D, according to “From Glow to Flow: A History of Military Research and Development.”

The defense industry’s fascination with the laser as a weapon has remained constant from the postwar boom to today, even becoming part of the national conversation with President Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative of the 1980s. Indeed, photonics technology in all its many forms has helped reshape the modern battle theater — from the first head-up displays on the inner windshields of jet fighters in the 1960s to the Airborne Laser project of the early 2000s. See our “50 Years of Photonics in Defense,” retrospective (read article).

While virtual reality has captured the imagination of the consumer, it’s proving to be an invaluable training tool for today’s military. Pilots, seagoing navigators and even maintenance and repair technicians gain on-the-job experience in the relative comfort of their barracks thanks to virtual and augmented reality systems that deliver “true-to-life” digital representations. Contributing Editor Hank Hogan examines advances made in resolution, contrast and luminance to today’s systems in “As Good as the Real Thing for Military Training,” (read article).

The increasing use of highly sensitive optical sensors, imagers and laser rangefinders are proving mission-critical to a new generation of UAVs, some the size a fist. Be sure to read our cover story, “Defense Drones Take Sensing to New Heights,” (read article).

We round out the issue with “High-Speed IR Detectors Aid Ballistic Testing,” (read article), from Chris Bainter of Flir Systems, and Contributing Editor Marie Freebody’s “From Crop Science to Space Exploration: Optical Sensing on the Rise,” (read article).

Finally, don’t miss Senior Editor Justine Murphy’s “DCS 2017 Brings Defense, Environment Into Focus,” on (read article), where she previews plenary sessions, courses and technical program highlights for this month’s annual SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing event.

We hope you enjoy the issue!

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2017
EditorialMike WheelerJustine Murphy

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