Military Jobs May Help Shift From Research : NTS Lands Laser-Shield Contracts

Times Staff Writer

National Technical Systems has received two Defense Department contracts to adapt goggles, visors and periscopes to shield foot soldiers, pilots and tank crews from potentially blinding laser beams.

The contracts will not immediately provide a financial boon for NTS, which reported revenue of nearly $22 million in its fiscal year ended Jan. 31. They will yield only $3.2 million in sales for the Calabasas-based company over the next year to 18 months, said Jack Lin, the company’s president.

But winning the contracts represents an advance in the NTS effort to shift from research to the potentially more lucrative work of developing commercial products. The agreements also mark the first application of technology that the company developed five years ago.


Concern About Lasers

Demand for the protective eye wear partly stems from concern in the Pentagon that lasers will be used on battlefields to blind ground troops. Lasers also are used to track fighter jets, helicopters and tanks, and military experts worry that stray beams could blind a pilot, even if missiles aimed at the target missed.

Until now, NTS devoted most of its attention to testing how well military devices withstood such forces as shock and radiation, like those from a nuclear blast. Under the contracts, the 24-year-old Calabasas company received last week, however, it will produce experimental eye wear.

The gear will use a cellophane-like film coating derived from one that company scientists originally developed for automobile windshields to filter out ultraviolet rays. It also was supposed to be put on office building windows to block heat-bearing infrared rays.

But NTS couldn’t find a way to make its film as cheaply as tinted or layered coatings already on the market. Consequently, the company, already familiar with the defense industry, developed military applications for the product.

Higher Profit Margins

Like other research-minded firms, NTS is starting to develop commercial products because the profit margins are higher, Lin said, but the company does not see itself as a major distributor.

He said NTS hopes to develop technology, then have large-scale production handled by companies that would pay royalties to it.


For instance, if the military eventually orders large supplies of the goggles and visors, Optical Radiation Corp. of Azusa will manufacture them because NTS is not equipped for the work. Lin said periscope parts would be manufactured either by NTS or another licensee.

The lens coating that NTS is developing uses photographic plates known as holograms to reflect light. The holograms have engrained laser images that divert laser beams as well as different colors of light.

Because of the distinctive laser signatures on holograms, they are commonly used, for example, on credit cards to distinguish real ones from fakes.

Resemble Safety Glasses

Along with developing laser filters, NTS’ contracts also call for the company to find a method to paste them to hundreds of thousands of lenses. The untreated goggles, visors and periscope lenses will come from other defense contractors.

The soldiers’ goggles resemble the kind of safety glasses worn by drill press operators. The visor for helicopter pilots looks like the face shield of a motorcycle helmet, a curved shield with a small nose indentation. Protective lenses for tank periscopes will be placed on the lenses that tank gunners look through.

Eye wear using NTS lens coatings is lighter and easier to see through than competitors’ products, Lin said. For example, Hughes Aircraft made visors for the Navy in 1981 that jutted out several inches from fighter pilots’ helmets and substantially darkened their vision, he said.


NTS employs 350 people, mainly at five research laboratories in California, Massachusetts and Virginia. The corporate headquarters in Calabasas has 11 people, and another eight work at the product development office in Chatsworth.