UA to split $12.3 million defense grant

By D. Shayne Christie
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 14, 1996

The UA's Optical Sciences Center and three aerospace firms are set to receive $12.3 million in initial funding from the Department of Defense to develop new missile technology.

UA President Manuel Pacheco and Republican Sen. John McCain, along with members of UA Optical Sciences Center and Hughes Missile Systems Co., announced the formation of the Conformal Optics Technology Consortium at a press conference Friday.

The consortium includes Hughes Electro-Optical Systems of El Segundo, Calif., Hughes Missile Systems Co. of Tucson and McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co. of St. Louis.

The consortium is working to develop "optical components that are shaped to meet the environmental and space limits imposed by modern missile and aircraft configurations," Robert Shannon, optical sciences professor emeritus, and the program's principal investigator, said in a press release.

He said the program hopes to invent a new missile window that is pointed instead of curved. The window of a missile is the part on the front which faces the target, and the goal of the Consortium is to change the shape of the window as well as recalculate for the new shape, Shannon said.

Shannon said the use of traditional surfaces, which resemble a half-sphere, create drag and heat resistance. He said reducing the drag by even a small amount results in a large increase in performance.

The new missile window shape has not been tried before, and the new shape presents some technical challenges, said Dean McKenney of Hughes Missile Systems Co.

"We're creating a science today that doesn't exist," he said.

Press releases mentioned other military applications for the technology, but McKenney and Shannon would not elaborate on those other applications.

Both also denied that the technology could have any applications to existing "stealth" technology and said the missile window was the only application.

"We want to make it pointier," McKenney said.

Richard Powell, director of the Optical Sciences Center, said the UA got the program because of Tucson's growing reputation as "optics valley," with about 100 optics programs operating in the Tucson area.

Powell said the growth of optics in the Tucson area is a result of Pacheco's efforts to "enhance development of optics in the state of Arizona."

Pacheco said, "One of the goals I've had is to strengthen relations with Hughes and to opt for collaboration with other business and industry."

The collaboration will "provide the university with the research we need to give students a special edge," Shannon said.