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SPIE DCS highlights efforts by US and NATO to innovate in photonics

24 Apr 2024

Premium event to learn how sensing technologies are deployed in public, security, and military roles.

By William Schulz in Washington D.C.

Highlights from the first full day of events at SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S.A., included plenary talks by SPIE Fellow Dev Shenoy, Principal Director for Microelectronics, US Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; and Deeph Chana, Managing Director of NATO’s Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA).

Shenoy’s presentation, “DoD’s microelectronics for the defense and commercial sensing ecosystem,” captured the essential nature of this technology for US defense and national security, but also specific challenges for DoD in assuring its access to the most up-to-date capabilities.

“Microelectronics underpins all of the Defense Department’s military system capabilities,” he said, including navigation and communications systems as well as complex weapons systems. At the same time, however, virtually every industry today is impacted by microelectronics.

“And so, when we think about DoD microelectronics, our challenge has been that we represent roughly just one percent of the industry’s revenue,” Shenoy said. It’s a very broad mix of components for everything from memory to signal processing, but at a relatively low volume in the context of the global microelectronics (ME) industry. What’s more, he said, DoD requires access to both leading-edge and legacy ME systems that enable defense platforms dating back to the 1960s and 70s.

To stay on top of its constantly evolving needs, Shenoy says DoD has devised “roadmaps” across a range of ME technologies that are informed by the industry’s own technology roadmaps. The effort has led to large initiatives like the “trusted and ensured” ME program to ensure that DoD has access to secure microelectronics, an industry that exists across a very complex global supply chain. He says the CHIPS and Science Act is providing part of the solution.

“When it comes to critical defense capabilities, where we need to protect the IP onshore, we need to have that access onshore. So that’s what the Chips and Science Act is enabling—onshore access across that cycle of design, manufacturing, assembly, and testing.”

CHIPS Act funding is also enabling DoD to provide funding to ME technology of interest to help startups avoid the so-called Valley of Death in the commercial arena. The Department is also establishing regional technology hubs across the US, providing funding for research infrastructure needs that will hopefully bring DoD closer to the ME innovation it needs, including in critical emerging areas like AI.

“We want AI to be transformative for defense capabilities,” Shenoy said. The eight hubs will focus on microelectronic development in areas like electromagnetic warfare; secure computing at the tactical edge and the internet of things; artificial intelligence hardware; 5G and 6G wireless; and quantum technology.

Chana’s talk brought an international focus. He described the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) DIANA program, which stands for Defense Innovation Across the North Atlantic. The alliance, like DoD, aims to provides technology companies “with the resources, networks and guidance to develop deep technologies to solve critical defense and security challenges, from operating in denied environments to tackling threats to our collective resilience.”

DIANA program

The DIANA program, Chana said, in a sense harkens back to one of NATO’s founding principles—“the desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.” He said rather than aiming to deal with failure, with the impacts of global strife, DIANA looks toward technology solutions that mitigate risk, that help reduce the likelihood of conflict, including scarcity of resources that is often at the root of conflict.

The program began in June 2023, Chana said, with a call for proposals targeting three strategic focus areas: energy resilience, secure information sharing, and sensing and surveillance. In November 2023, DIANA named 44 companies to join its pilot accelerator program. The companies are receiving grant funding to support their technology development and demonstration, and they benefit, too from exposure to investors and end users to support technology transition and adoption.

“We will be launching the next set of challenges in June,” Chana said, “and it will be an expanded set of challenges with an expanded set of funding.” Throughout his talk he noted additional challenges, including the technology literacy of key decision makers in government as well as workforce issues.

But Chana said he remains optimistic, indeed, that the DIANA mission is embedded with optimism.” The idea is that over the next 10 to 20 years, we develop a more vibrant economic marketplace for the next generation of technologies that will serve our defense and security purposes. And more importantly…. We are posturing this whole thing in a refreshed narrative of what security and defense should be all about.”

William Schulz is Editor in Chief of SPIE Photonics Focus.

Universe Kogaku America Inc.Iridian Spectral TechnologiesAlluxaECOPTIKTRIOPTICS GmbHBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationLaCroix Precision Optics
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