to save thousands of lives annually3 by providing dramatically better images for early detection of disease. Optical spectroscopic techniques can provide valuable information from blood and tissue samples that is critical in early detection and prevention of health problems, and eye, dental, and brain surgery now uses focused lasers for ablating, cutting, vaporizing, and suturing.

• In World War II, only a small fraction of the bombs dropped from airplanes hit their target. “Smart” bombs debuted in Vietnam. Although the Thanh Hoa Bridge withstood 871 sorties by conventional bombs and 11 U.S. planes were lost, the bridge was destroyed with four sorties and no losses the first time smart bombs were used. In Iraq and Afghanistan, smart bombs are the norm.4 The critical advance is accurate targeting using laser designators and laser-guided munitions. Moreover, situational awareness of the battlefield and of enemy terrain provides information for targeting. Imaging systems using LIDAR (light detection and ranging), such as HALOE, can provide wide-area three-dimensional imaging. Even wider-area passive sensors such as ARGUS-IS can provide highly detailed mapping of a country in days as opposed to months.

Additional examples of optics and photonics as enabling technologies are discussed in subsequent chapters and also in Appendix C.


From an economic standpoint, an enabling technology like optics and photonics tends to be commercialized outside the industry, and profits can be generated by companies that do not consider themselves a part of the photonics industry. These companies are more inclined to invest in previously validated applications for which photonics can but does not necessarily provide the sole technology solution, rather than to invest in photonics in particular. Since 2000, the photonics industry has tended to receive little interest from the investment community and little financial analyst coverage, and start-up companies in photonics can have difficulty acquiring seed capital.5

However, a large fraction of the major companies in the United States rely on


3 Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. Capabilities brochure. Available at Accessed July 30, 2012.

4 Air University Review. 1987. “The Decisive Use of Air Power?” Available at Accessed July 30, 2012.

5 This subject is addressed further in Chapter 2.

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