“If China shuts off the flow of glass, the United States will be out of drones in six months.”
– CEO of a critical components contractor to the DoD
It was anticipated and heavily lobbied for. Does it look like anyone expected?
On Monday, June 2nd, the Department of the Air Force, through Air Force Material Command (Wright Patterson) issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input from Industry and Academia as part of an effort to select and scope the technology focus areas for future Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs).
The NNMI program was announced by president Obama in 2012. Unable to budget the money to fund the hallmark manufacturing initiative, the administration has turned to various DOD and government agencies to fund NMI’s on its behalf. This is the first from Air Force Material Command.
Responses are due by July 14th.
Technology areas of focus:
- Flexible Hybrid Electronics
- Engineered Nanomaterials
- Fiber and Textiles
- Electronic Packaging and Reliability
- Aerospace Composites
Many of us are elated that photonics made the cut. Hundreds of hours of work, lobbying and thousands of dollars in travel have resulted in Photonics being on the short list for this NMI. What is not clear is if the White House and the DoD recognize the critical role that optics, photonics and imaging technologies play to our national security. Interpretations will vary.
From the RFI:
The term “photonics” refers specifically to technologies for generating, transmitting, modulating, filtering, processing, switching, amplifying, attenuating and detecting light. Photonics technologies encompass significant commercial industries and solutions for DoD unique applications. The diverse photonics industry has a number of manufacturing approaches where a public-private investment could rapidly accelerate the technology availability from TRL 4 to TRL 6/7 and enable a sustainable industry for commercial and DoD needs. A photonics IMI would address industrial base issues for photonics materials, such as infrared materials, nonlinear materials, low-dimensional materials, and engineered materials which are critical to our Nation’s photonics ecosystem (production, DoD, research, etc….). A Photonics IMI could be structured to allow improvements in the cross-cutting disciplines of design, packaging, reliability and test to be applied across multiple technology topic areas leveraging common manufacturing approaches. Preference could be given to technology topic areas that are in late stage research and development, that may require some design/foundry efforts, but the bulk of the efforts are in the packaging, reliability and test disciplines, increasing the probability that the technology will mature and transition to DoD weapon systems and/or commercial platforms in 3-5 years and enabling the institute to be self-sustaining in the 5-7 year timeframe.
Although much research and development on photonics has been done in the U.S., it has been primarily carried out by large corporations developing and using proprietary processes for application-driven designs. Little coordination and cooperation has existed between companies. As a result, U.S.-based photonics research and development is faced with several disadvantages:
- There is no common or generic component library or fabrication process. There are almost as many technologies as photonics companies.
- For most potential new applications, the market is too small for payback of investments without cooperative development.
Photonic technologies are commonly used in the high speed transmission of signals in telecommunications and high-performance information-processing systems. In addition photonics technologies are used in high-performance information-processing systems and computing. Finally photonic technologies are commonly used in sensors and imagers.
A lot of players around the country will be very busy crafting their responses in the next month.