It is fundamental that a well-founded manufacturing process saves money on the ultimate product, so this recommendation could seem highly generic. However, with increasing reliance on innovative small suppliers, affordability and quality as new program trade parameters, lower-volume system production, unique mission requirements, and new mission objectives for DOD, the manufacturing paradigm has changed. New manufacturing techniques are being developed to improve commercial productivity, and DOD should take full advantage of them.
A central, coordinated DOD-DOE time-phased plan should be developed and conducted to enable worldwide optical detection and verification of chemical species that threaten civilians and military personnel through hostile attacks.
Much has been said about this problem, and its implications are clearly very serious in both civil and military scenarios. After many years of work, partial solutions have emerged. The committee believes that concerted R&D activity with a focus on optics has the best chance for a technical solution to airborne detection in view of the rich molecular spectrum accessible by optical methods. A single federal authority should be placed in charge of these crucial programs.
A coordinated multiyear DOD plan should be conducted to develop RF photonic phased antenna-array technology for radar and communications.
An L-band version of this photonic system and many of the components for higher-frequency systems have been demonstrated. With improved modulator and switch designs, Bragg grating fibers, and higher-power diode lasers, new and better approaches are likely and it is time for a major push.
Key technologies such as high-power laser activities and new optics should continue to be pursued by DOD.
Erosion of the optical technology base through benign neglect or lack of federal agency coordination must not be allowed; the return on investment is very high. After decades of work, fieldable laser devices can now provide the power levels, spectral diversity, and adaptive optics configurations necessary as countermeasures to extreme threats, especially from missile attack. Recent program awards—the Airborne Laser program ($1.1 billion from 1996 to 2002), the Space Based Laser ($100 million per year), and two conformal optics programs ($24.6 million)—carry forward some of this essential work. New laser sources and optical technology innovations offer solutions and totally new system concepts that can provide our nation with true strategic and tactical defense advantages.