Funding, influenced by military needs and commercial market conditions, will drive investments. Commercial funding is expected to be at a greater level than military funding, but this will be restricted to commodity areas with the potential for large-volume manufacturing. Military needs will likely leverage commercial off-the-shelf capabilities in areas such as advanced semiconductor manufacturing tools.

In this overall context, the intelligence community (IC)2 asked the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct an in-depth technical assessment of detector technologies. Specifically, the NRC was asked to do the following:

  • Consider the fundamental, physical limits to optical and infrared detector technologies with potential military utility, with priority on passive imaging systems. Elucidate trade-offs between sensitivity, spectral bandwidth and diversity, dynamic range, polarization sensitivity, operation temperature, and so forth. Compare these limits to the near-term state of the art, identifying the scaling laws and hurdles currently restricting progress.3

  • Identify key technologies that may help bridge the gaps within a 10-15 year time frame, the implications for future military applications, and any significant indicators of programs to develop such applications. Speculate on technologies and applications of relevance that are high-impact wild cards or have a low probability of feasible deployment within 15 years. Discuss trends in availability and format scalability and in available cooling technologies.

  • Consider the pros and cons of implementing each existing or emerging technology, such as noise, dynamic range, processing or bandwidth bottle-necks, hardening, power consumption, weight, et cetera.

  • Identify which entities currently lead worldwide funding, research, and development for the key technologies. Highlight the scale, scope, and particular strengths of these R&D efforts, as well as predicted trends, time scales, and commercial drivers.


Fundamentals of Visible and Infrared Detectors

There are fundamental limits to detection. To be seen at all, an object must emit or reflect electromagnetic radiation in some spectral band. That radiation


According to, the IC is composed of 17 federal agencies. Accessed March 24, 2010.


In several consultations with the committee over a period of months, the sponsor requested that the committee address the imaging spectrum from ultraviolet to very longwave infrared.

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