ITAR reform has happened—now what?

Nov. 9, 2016
It has been supported by many in photonics, has major implications for makers of products such as high-power fiber lasers and focal plane arrays, and becomes law on December 31. 
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It's complicated, has been supported by many in photonics (notably SPIE and OSA), has major implications for U.S. makers of products such as high-power fiber lasers and focal plane arrays, and becomes law on December 31, 2016. Here are some thoughts and resources for piecing together how the rules have change in Category XII (Fire Control, Laser, Imaging, and Guidance Equipment) of the U.S. Munitions List (USML) of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Kevin Wolf, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, has been overseeing the reform process and spoke to a large audience at the OSA Laser Congress in Boston last week. He said the new regulations were the result of 2 years of public comment, resolve 20 years of policy dispute, and are now in the refinement stage.

He added, "The process for reviewing [international sales of] commercial items is now far easier and it opens potentially new markets for U.S. products." He also said the new regulations eliminate significant uncertainty that standard commercial photonics products could be "sucked into ITAR." Many less-sensitive military items and commercial spacecraft items may now be regulated under Export Administration Regulations for control of commercial products.

The reform process is not completely finished. Along with the publication of the final rules on October 12, the administration announced intentions to release a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) via the federal register in the coming months. The purpose of this NOI will be to seek public opinion on whether some performance parameters should be inserted back into Category XII where "specially designed" is used in the final rule. This NOI and the response of the photonics community will be important to complete the reform process.

To understand more, first read our October 11, 2016 coverage of the official announcement of the reform:

SPIE says export rules are a positive step for photonics

You will also find some of the argument for why change is important in this article:

U.S. military high-energy laser development hindered by ITAR regulations

The complete announcement regarding the final rules can be found in the Federal Register:

The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) holds a weekly teleconference regarding the Export Administration Regulations every Wednesday at 2:30pm ET: 888-455-8218, code 6514196

And here are the BIS contacts for specific answers regarding the review and status of photonics products:

Sensors, optics, and IR detection: Chris Costanzo, christopher.costanzo at, and John Varesi, john.varesi at

Lasers/laser systems: Mark Jaso, mark.jaso at

Guidance equipment: Dennis Krepp, dennis.krepp at, and John Varesi, john.varesi at

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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