Today’s military teams rely on optical filters to ensure equipment can perform optimally in even the most challenging environments. Optical coatings have played a crucial role in the evolution of military technology, significantly improving durability and performance. This article will cover the history and development of optical coatings, highlighting their impact on the military.

Early Developments in Optical Coatings

In the early 20th century, optical coatings were invented to enhance the performance of lenses and other optical components. Optical lenses function by applying thin layers of material to glass substrates to alter their reflective and transmissive properties. The earliest applications of coatings were for photographic lenses and telescopes.

Introduction to Military Cockpits

During World War II, pilots needed to have unobstructed views of instruments and surroundings often hindered by glare from the sun and reflections from cockpit lights.  Anti-reflective optical coatings were introduced to address these issues, improving pilots’ visibility and safety.

Advancements in Coating Technologies

Following World War II, military and civilian applications required better optical performance. With advances in material science and manufacturing techniques, Multilayer Coatings were developed, which allowed for greater control over light transmission and reflection. As a result, highly specialized coatings tailored to specific applications were produced.

  1. Anti-Reflective Coatings: Anti-reflective coatings reduce the reflection of light from optical surfaces, enhancing the readability of displays and gauges in various lighting conditions. This is crucial for pilots to be able to read instruments quickly and accurately, reducing glare and other types of interference.
  2. Conductive Coatings: An essential tool for EMI/EMC compliance, Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) conductive coatings are widely used in military cockpits due to their optical transparency and electrical conductivity. They address radiated emissions and protect sensitive electronics. They also serve as heaters, which prevent fog, defrost surfaces, and ensure displays operate at very low temperatures, enhancing the durability and reliability of cockpits even in the most extreme environmental conditions. 
  3. Scratch-Resistant Coatings: Scratch-resistant coatings are essential in military applications to protect equipment from harsh environmental conditions. As a result of the coatings, glass components can last longer and are protected from physical damage despite rigorous use. 

Modern Applications and Innovations

In modern military cockpits, optical coatings are applied to a wide variety of components, including displays, illuminated gauges, annunciators, and panels. The increasingly complex and demanding military environment drives innovation in optical coating technology. 

  1. Enhanced Displays: Contemporary multi-layer anti-reflective coatings greatly enhance the brightness and contrast of cockpit displays, ensuring readability even in direct sunlight. This is vital for pilots who depend on these displays for navigation and essential mission information.
  2. Advanced Sensors: Optical coatings can enhance the performance of a wide range of military sensors, including those used for targeting, navigation, and environmental monitoring.
  3. Night Vision Compatibility: Special coatings are designed to be compatible with night vision equipment, allowing pilots to operate efficiently in low-light environments without sacrificing instrument performance.

Future Directions

With a wide variety of ongoing research aimed at advancing optical coatings for military applications, the prospect of developing coatings with even higher performance is on the horizon. In the near future, self-cleaning and adaptive coatings could potentially improve cockpit instrumentation reliability.


The evolution of optical coatings on flat glass has been a pivotal aspect of advancing military technology; they have contributed significantly to military operations’ safety, effectiveness, and efficiency. As the technology continues to evolve, the role of optical coatings will drive further advancements, ensuring that military equipment remains at the cutting edge of performance. 

With more than 35 years as a leading manufacturer of optical components, Cevians produces over 16 unique glass and 25 polymeric chemistries and hundreds of custom formulas. We specialize in high-performance thin-film coatings for a variety of cutting-edge applications.

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