Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Gentex and Teledyne Scientific and Imaging have each been awarded a $98.3 million contract for laser eye protection for pilots.
Blinding lasers have become a serious threat to pilots in recent years, with even low-power commercial versions capable of harming civilian airline pilots and risking accidents. The U.S. Air Force is now moving to protect its pilots' eyes.
The dual contracts, announced Friday by the Department of Defense, provide for the development, manufacture and delivery of different variants of laser eye protection to protect aircrews against blinding lasers.
There have been multiple incidents of commercial pilots being flashed by lasers, but the Pentagon started moving on improved eye protection for pilots after the Chinese military reportedly used lasers against pilots from a base in Djibouti, as well as in the South China Sea.
"This activity poses a true threat to our airmen," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters in May. "It's a serious matter, so we're taking it very seriously."
While Teledyne has developed and provided visors to the U.S. military in the past, and was contracted in May for updated versions, Gentex also makes a similar product. The company's visors are primarily built to protect military helicopter pilots using an insert for standard flight helmets.
Several companies, including Gentex, have developed helmet visors that are capable of reducing the effects of blinding lasers. Gentex Dazzle Laser Defense Visors include civilian models that have also been designed for law enforcement and federal agencies.
Work by the two companies will be performed in Simpson, Pa., and Thousand Oaks, Calif., and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal 2018 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $10,000 will be obligated on the first individual orders.