More than $60M in defense contracts boost Lancaster company’s growth

A lineup of Photonis’ power tube family of products. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Lancaster-based Photonis Defense was awarded two significant contracts this year from the Navy, launching the 65-employee company on a major growth path.

The largest contract, for almost $38.9 million, announced in March, is primarily for the production, testing and delivery of amplifier microwave power modules.

The smaller contract of the two, at nearly $22 million, announced in May, is for the production, testing and delivery of 125-millimeter wave power modules, as well as incidental hardware services to include evaluation, repair and modifications for the Airborne Threat Simulation Organization.

Both projects, for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, California, are expected to be completed in May 2027.

Photonis Defense, at 1000 New Holland Ave. in Burle Corporate Park, is a subsidiary of the French firm Photonis.

The site was originally the home of RCA, which later became Burle Industries. In 2005, Burle was acquired by Photonis.

Its website said Photonis Defense “provides state of the art technologies and products pertaining to power tubes, microwave traveling wave tubes, night vision and digital vision solutions to the markets we serve.”

As well as the Department of Defense, that includes the U.S. Department of Energy; federal, local and state agencies; and the commercial market.

Larry Stack, president and CEO, said the two Navy contracts are the largest Photonis Defense has been awarded in the microwave sector since it bought a microwave company, Triton EDT, in 2015.

His business beat out much bigger competitors – which were not named – for the contracts.

Some of the other defense contracts issued at the time went to corporations like Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky Aircraft, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

About 10 additional employees were recently hired to meet the Navy contract orders, with more to follow as work increases.

It’s a challenge, because these positions have “a ramp-up time,” he said, requiring training periods from nine months to a year and a half.

If an experienced worker announces plans to retire in a year, for example, the replacement needs to be hired as soon as possible to be able to get the necessary one-on-one training, Stack said.

Looking to build a manufacturing plant

The Navy contracts, however, are far from the only work Photonis Defense does. It’s also constructing a new microwave test center and expanding manufacturing of power tubes, digital low-light sensors and night vision systems.

Stack said the company wants to build an image intensifier tube manufacturing plant in Lancaster, at an estimated cost of $25 million and with the potential to add up to 400 employees.

Intensifier tubes are the engine that makes night vision goggles, one of Photonis Defense’s main products.

“We hope to expand the manufacturing of that,” he said.

Photonis Defense supplies 68% of the world’s market for image intensifier tubes. First tier military forces rely upon and trust the company “to satisfy their mission critical needs under dynamic lighting conditions,” the website said.

Officer.com said that includes sensors and image intensifier tubes “that pierce the blackest of nights, along with jammers and communication technologies that deny the enemy their ability to track and engage while U.S. signals are boosted.”

Tube technology is more critical now, in the 21st century, than ever, Stack said.

A major way to boost the market more is to convince the Department of Defense to switch to night vision goggles that are smaller and lighter, he said, which is a new concept.

He said Photonis Defense also sells night vision goggles commercially, through distributors. They’re less powerful than the military ones, and are priced around $3,500 to $7,500.

Hiking, hunting, star gazing, boating and fishing are some of the non-military activities in which people use night vision goggles.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer