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SPIE calls for photonics industry views on ITAR rules

05 May 2015

Optronics companies have 60 days to express their views on international sale of arms-related technologies.

Starting today, (May 5) a 60-day comment period gives the photonics industry the opportunity to provide vital input on proposed revision to regulations controlling export of important technologies under Category XII of the US Munitions List, which governs commodities covered by International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics (and owner of optics.org), says the proposal has “broad implications for the US optics and photonics industry both now and into the future.”

Restricting competitiveness?

The comments should consider US export regulations covering a wide range of key photonics technologies, such as fire control, sensors and night vision systems, to name a few. Some in the industry say the existing (and potentially revised) regulations could be restricting the global competitiveness of US industry. To help the community understand and comment, SPIE is to host a webinar on May 12 on the proposed changes.

Until Friday, July 6, the US Department of Commerce will accept comments on proposed new Category XII rules, which govern ITAR. Category XII covers many of the optics and photonics commodities and components controlled under ITAR. The complete 124-page announcement from the US Government’s Industry and Security Bureau regarding the comment period can be found in the Federal Register. Interested parties can comment here.

The rewrite of the rules is part of an overarching Export Control Reform initiative undertaken by the Administration, explained Jennifer Douris, a lobbyist for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and a member of the Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Industry and Security in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"The comment process is seen as the best opportunity for exporters, manufacturers, and researchers to influence revisions in regulations that control photonics exports. “Most of the other categories have already been addressed, but the Administration has saved Category XII for last due to its complexity and importance to both industry and the military,” Douris said.

"The ECR initiative was launched in 2009 with the expressed purpose of building higher walls around fewer items, she explained. “The reasoning behind this was to allow for better protection of what the military would consider to be its ‘crown jewels’ while recognizing the economic realities that are important to industry. This approach is meant to strengthen our national security, while improving the competitiveness of US businesses.”

Jim McNally, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy committee, said, “I believe that the ECR revisions to Category XII must allow for future growth of the photonics and optics industry while protecting technologies especially designed for the military. Many of the commodities and components controlled by the USML might more appropriately be placed on the Commerce Control List. The reforms will have a direct and lasting impact on industry and our academic community. I urge all parties to participate in the comment period.”

‘Getting serious’

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs noted that the economic impacts being seen by industry are becoming more serious by the day. “The stakes are high for our industry,” Arthurs said. “Outside of a few major contractors, the Department of Defense does not and cannot invest enough R&D funds to sustain and grow businesses. Federal budget actions have kept R&D funding virtually flat, while market opportunity is growing rapidly.”

Meanwhile, he said, non-US companies with similar products are selling freely, and often using the words "ITAR-Free" to promote their goods. “Many are prudently investing the resulting revenue back into their companies, feeding the potential for rapid growth,” Arthurs said. “This scenario comes at the detriment of the US industry’s growth and the high-paying jobs that come with it.”

Besides hosting the webinar giving guidance on commenting, SPIE has hosted briefings at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco and SPIE DSS in Baltimore to review with community members the proposed changes in detail, including implications for manufacturers, exporters, and research universities.

Registration is now open for the SPIE webinar on 12 May: click here for more information.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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