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ESD presents an exclusive Voices of Industry discussion with Dr Kobi Lasri, General Manager of MKS Instruments’ Ophir optics brand – found in countless defence and security observation platforms worldwide.

ESD: How have customers’ requirements changed in the past two years?

Dr Kobi Lasri: Over the past two years, customer requirements have evolved significantly, driven by three major market trends:

  1. Growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the need for enhanced performance, precision, reliability, and low SWaP characteristics;
  2. Growing need for counter-UAV solutions following the growing prevalence of global conflict, leading to a surge in demand from worldwide defence and homeland security (HLS) customers for infra-red (IR) optics with extended detection capabilities;
  3. A noticeable market trend at the subsystem toward smaller pixel sizes and more compact form-factor detector pitches, leading to a growing demand for advanced, high-precision IR optical solutions.

ESD: What are the top three developmental challenges your company has overcome recently?

Lasri: Firstly, improving low-visibility image clarity with an advanced, low-SWaP shortwave infra-red (SWIR) zoom lens. MKS Ophir has addressed the challenge of low visibility in harsh daylight conditions by introducing a low-SWaP, long-range SWIR and near-infrra-red (NIR) zoom lens. The lens enhances image clarity for defence systems, including air-defence, improving performance under challenging visibility scenarios.

Secondly, designing advanced IR zoom lenses for long-range, low-SWaP and compact systems. MKS Ophir’s expertise in designing and manufacturing IR continuous-zoom lenses has resulted in breakthroughs in long-range detection capabilities and low-SWaP solutions. Driven by innovative optical and mechanical design, our continuous-zoom lenses provide mission-critical characterisation while providing crisp imaging, line-of-sight (LOS) and zoom retention, rugged design, and athermalisation properties, catering specifically to counter- UAV applications and extended-observation defence systems with over 30 km detection capabilities.

Moreover, MKS Ophir’s commitment to low-SWaP solutions is demonstrated through our innovative folded-optics designs. These contribute to lightweight and compact product solutions, significantly reducing the overall size and weight of integrated systems, answering advanced aerial system demands where size and weight constraints are critical.

And thirdly, by developing AquashieldIR: a specialised coating tailored for maritime environments characterised by high salt and humidity levels. This coating enhances the durability of IR systems used in naval and coast guard applications, surpassing MIL-810 standards for environmental durability.

MKS Instruments’ Ophir range of optical systems can be found in countless defence and security observation platforms worldwide. (Image: Ophir)

ESD: Why are Ophir’s products preferable in terms of advantages

Lasri: MKS Ophir is a leading supplier of IR zoom lens subassemblies and components for the defence industry, with over four decades of experience in designing and manufacturing high-precision IR optics for advanced EO/IR programmes developed by leading global defence OEMs. Our strategic partnerships with defence programmes around the world have contributed to a track record of unparalleled capabilities, reliability and solutions that support major defence platforms globally.

The key advantages of Ophir’s products, I would say, are:

  1. Exceptional optical performance in harsh environmental conditions: offering superior image quality, precise LOS and zoom retention, and long-range capabilities, meeting the stringent demands of defence applications. Moreover, the high-performance characteristics are kept over a wide temperature range and harsh environmental air, land, and naval conditions.
  2. Advanced low-SWaP and long-range solutions. Our products are specifically designed to optimise size, weight, and power consumption: essential for modern defence systems requiring compact and efficient solutions. Our long-range and low-SWaP IR zoom lens solutions deliver high image quality in harsh conditions, effectively meeting strict defence requirements.
  3. A large product catalogue and custom-tailored solutions, offering the industry’s largest catalogue of IR lenses, covering long-wave infra- red (LWIR), medium-wave infra-red (MWIR), and SWIR detectors, as well as a range of single-field-of-view to continuous-zoom solutions in high-volume production capabilities. We specialise in designing and producing IR optical components tailored to meet the strict demands and tight tolerances of defence OEMs.
  4. End-to-end in-house capabilities and rigorous quality assurance (QA) standards. MKS Ophir maintains vertically integrated production sites in Jerusalem, Israel, and at a European site in Romania: a NATO member country. Our competitive advantage lies in our comprehensive in-house capabilities, including high-end design, element production, advanced coatings, and full assembly and testing. With full control over production processes, we deliver high-performance, high-quality lens assemblies with high-volume production capabilities and manufacturing efficiency. We conduct rigorous QA testing throughout the product production lifecycle, ensuring optimisation for the specific needs of our defence customers. Furthermore, our manufacturing facilities are certified to AS9100 Rev D and ISO 9001:2015 standards and are compliant with US and European military specifications.

ESD: How might artificial intelligence (AI) be used to increase clarity or understanding of what is seen through Ophir lenses, et cetera?

Lasri: AI can play a transformative role in enhancing image clarity and understanding of data captured by Ophir’s optics, particularly in the context of the modern and evolving battlefield. Integrators or OEMs can leverage AI algorithms to analyse thermal imaging data in real time, enabling automated target recognition, anomaly detection and predictive maintenance capabilities tailored to dynamic combat environments. Such integration of AI empowers end users with more actionable insights, facilitating enhanced situational awareness and supporting improved decision making based on the real-time intelligence derived from Ophir’s advanced thermal imaging lenses.

The high-quality images provided by Ophir lenses enable advanced AI applications, ensuring reliable performance in critical scenarios where image clarity is essential for effective decision making. Ophir is exploring the integration of AI tools into optics production, assembly and quality assurance processes with the aim of enhancing product performance across diverse environmental conditions and addressing complex compatibility requirements.

ESD: Thank you, Dr Lasri, for your valuable time and unique technical insights.

Dr Kobi Lasri, General Manager of MKS Instruments’ Ophir optics brand.