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Boost for nLight with big defense order

08 May 2023

US laser firm awarded $86M contract under Department of Defense scaling initiative.

Semiconductor and fiber laser manufacturer nLight says it has received a major new contract to further develop high-energy sources for directed energy weapons - with its stock price soaring nearly 40 per cent following the announcement.

The Camas, Washington, firm, a long-time participant in US Department of Defense (DoD) projects, has signed an $86 million deal to produce a high-energy laser prototype utilizing its coherent beam combined (CBC) approach to scaling laser power.

Back in 2019, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering had selected nLight and CBC to produce a 300 kilowatt source under its High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI) effort.

According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the aim of HELSI is to strengthen the defense industrial base for potential future directed energy weapons by providing near-term prototyping opportunities for industry partners.

Jeff Barchers, who heads up nLight’s defense systems division, said: “Our technology is capable of scaling to higher powers and providing higher performance, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the DoD.”

Priority area
nLight revealed news of the latest contract shortly before issuing its latest financial results, covering the opening quarter of 2023.

Discussing those results with investors, nLight’s CEO Scott Keeney said that the latest DoD deal represented the largest contract the company had ever received, adding: “In late 2022, we demonstrated power exceeding program objectives [of 300 kW output] and the scalability of our coherent beam combining architecture.

“We believe our technology is capable of both scaling to higher powers and providing higher performance. Today’s award is part of a multi-year development program that is expected to commence late in the third quarter of 2023.”

Keeney explained that nLight’s portfolio of products for the directed energy market includes diodes, fiber amplifiers, beam combined lasers, and beam control solutions.

“This enables us to engage strategically with domestic and international partners across the entire directed energy ecosystem,” he pointed out. “Although it’s difficult to predict the ultimate timing of this market, it remains a high modernization priority for the US government and our foreign allies as we continue to see increased demand for each of our products.”

Stock price jumps 38%
The latest quarter saw nLight post revenues of $54 million, down 16 per cent on the same period last year, with operating losses steady at just over $8 million.

Keeney said that operating margins had improved thanks to higher sales of more profitable product lines, as well as cost control initiatives including a cut to employee numbers. The firm has also been installing automated production equipment at its Camas headquarters, with more than 80 per cent of that equipment now in use.

According to nLight’s latest investor presentation, sales into aerospace and defense applications accounted for 39 per cent of sales in the three months ending March 31 - a proportion consistent with the past couple of years.

The company’s reliance on sales to customers in China has reduced dramatically over the same period, having now fallen to just 7 per cent of total sales. Two years ago, that proportion stood at 25 per cent.

Looking ahead to the current quarter, Keeney and his colleagues are expecting to post a revenue figure somewhere between $49 million and $55 million.

• News of the latest DoD award and financial results sent nLight’s Nasdaq-listed stock price up 38 per cent on May 4 - although it remains well below levels reached in early 2021. Now trading at just under $13, the stock equates to a market capitalization of nearly $600 million.

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