SurveillanceIndustry fights Pentagon efforts to restrict exporting of infrared products

Published 31 August 2012

The global market for infrared technology products will be worth about $2.6 billion dollars by 2017; the technology can be used for commercial products such as automotive, surveillance, and security industries – and is heavily used by the military; three major U.S. infrared equipment makers fight the Pentagon’s efforts to restrict exports of devices based on the technology for fear these devices may enhance the military capabilities of adversaries of the United States

A couple of U.S. based companies making infrared technology which is used in night vision devices are fighting the Pentagon’s effort to impose heavy restrictions on the export of their products.

Raytheon, DRS Technologies, and Flir Systems are objecting to the Pentagon’s effort to add their infrared detectors to the U.S. Munitions List, as it would make restrictions imposed on the technology permanent.

If this happens, all three companies will be shut out of a global market which will be worth about $2.6 billion dollars by 2017. The technology can be used for commercial products such as automotive, surveillance, and security industries.

According to technology analysts Jeff Perkins, the restrictions will hurt not only the companies but U.S. citizens who could potentially benefit from thousands of new jobs.

“Such a regulation will give a serious leg up to the foreign competition, from Europe to Korea, Japan and China,” Perkins said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Business Week. “To hinder the ability of U.S. factories to compete will only lead to moving all of that development offshore.”

Most infrared technology is associated with military equipments like night vision goggles, but it is also used in collision-avoidance cameras used in cars, commercial security cameras, and thermography that can detect heat and carbon monoxide leaks inside of houses and businesses.

The actual technology at the forefront of this issue is the uncooled infrared focal plane arrays. The thermal imaging systems operate at normal temperatures, eliminating expensive cooling systems.

While some items are designated under “dual-use” items that can be used for both military and civilian products, the more restrictive military technology usually goes on the State Department munitions list, which requires export licenses to almost every designation. Items on the list usually have a higher threshold to export licenses and more restrictions on transfers to third parties.

William Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, knows that the list tends to be very strict. “Companies often find it tough to deal with the munitions list because a finished product — such as a machine gun or an airplane — can be subject to the controls if it contains an American part as small as a bolt or screw.” Reinsch said in an interview with Bloomberg Business Week.

For Raytheon and the other companies, the controls would make it almost impossible to compete abroad, which will not only result in lost profits but “a significant reduction, if not the complete elimination of manufacturing and design facilities in the United States,” According to executives Charles Cartwright (Raytheon), Robert Mehmel (DRS), and William Davis (Flir).

The Pentagon is expecting a brawl over the uncooling infrared technology and subsequent components as they prepare to draft a revised version of the list as early as September.