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New US export control working groups meet at Photonics West

SPIE has set up three new export control working groups – detectors and cameras, lasers, and lenses and optics – which met for the first time at Photonics West in San Francisco on 1 February. Jennifer Douris, SPIE’s government affairs director, reports on what was discussed

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, in conjunction with the US Department of Commerce Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee (SITAC), have formed three export control working groups: detectors and cameras, which covers uncooled, cooled, shortwave infrared (SWIR), crycoolers, readout integrated circuits (ROICs), and image intensifiers; lasers; and lenses and optics. The first meeting of these groups was at Photonics West in San Francisco, California on 1 February 2017.

The working groups are comprised of representatives from industry and universities, with a purpose to assist in identifying areas in need of improvement in the export control system, as well as develop proposals to make a change. The groups will also serve as a resource to the US government to provide advice regarding potential regulatory changes.

In many cases, the proposals developed by these groups will likely be those intended for the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international body made up of 41 participating countries. These countries meet in Vienna, Austria every year to make decisions on appropriate international export control standards for sensitive technologies, both dual-use and military. Each participating country is responsible for implementing the decisions made at Wassenaar through their own regulations and laws. The purpose of the arrangement is to contribute to regional and international security and stability.


One of the topics covered in the first meeting of the detector and camera working group at Photonics West included a discussion regarding the current technical parameter requirements for cryocoolers under Wassenaar, 6.A.2.d. A presentation was made during the meeting regarding the need for updates based on technology changes, growing commercial use and foreign availability. A point was made that almost all cryocoolers exceed the current threshold of 2,500 hours mean time to failure (MTTF), many from non-Wassenaar member countries.

Notice of Inquires

All three working groups discussed the recently released Notice of Inquiries (NOIs), one from the Department of State and one from the Department of Commerce. The notices seek the public’s opinion on proposed changes to the recently finalised Category XII of the US Munitions List and Category VI of the Commerce Control List.

The comment period for these NOIs closed on 14 March. From reviewing the public responses to the Notices, it appears that companies generally would like to see the regulations, which went into effect on 30 December 2016, to remain as written.

The State Department’s NOI contained proposed parameters to replace usage of ‘specially designed’ in Category XII. Many of those who commented found the proposed control structure listed in the notice confusing and one that would limit future growth in the technologies listed. The Commerce Department’s NOI proposed additional controls for dual-use infrared detection items. The vast majority of the comments stated that additional controls were not warranted based on the international availability of the items listed in this NOI. It is unclear at this time if any further action will be taken regarding the proposed language in the NOIs.

Infrared technology advances

Advances in infrared (IR) covered by these NOIs are broadly shared throughout the community worldwide. Though the US is a part of the elite community of government and private-sector researchers who are continuing to further this technology, they are by far not alone.

While the current market shares of Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions are smaller than the United States, Asia-Pacific in particular offers greater potential future growth opportunities because the ongoing ‘commoditisation’ of the underlying IR technologies. Technology commoditisation will continue to be a major market trend as IR sensing capabilities are combined with smartphone cameras and become as ubiquitous as visible wavelength cameras. Their development will continue to erode the cost of access to IR imaging at all levels, making this technology more widely accessible than ever before. The overall global market for IR imaging was $6.43 billion in 2015 according to a July 2016 report from, which also projects the market will grow at a CAGR of 8.32 per cent between 2016 and 2022 to reach $11.36 billion in 2022.

In addition, manufacture and assembly of these types of components and systems is becoming increasingly globalised as optics and photonics manufacturing capabilities continue to migrate out of the United States. As a result, companies are finding it ever more difficult to maintain US-based manufacturing capabilities for critical technologies when the larger commercial markets are restricted due to ITAR controls.

Tunable lasers

A presentation was given during the lasers working group regarding tunable lasers, and the specific control language in 6.A.5.c. of Wassenaar. Concern was expressed that the 50mJ limit below 600nm performance parameter in this section is catching commercial lasers whose sole purpose is for research conducted at universities. Other members of the working group expressed interest in updating the 6.A.5.c. tunable lasers section as a whole.

Get involved

It is important that companies and universities keep the US government informed regarding the constant evolution and growth of the technology governed by export controls in order to assist regulators seeking to institute well-written and precise regulations that balance the realities of commercial availability and competition, with national security needs. Members of the public with US-based companies or US-based universities are welcome to join SPIE’s export control working groups. More information can be found at

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