Securing Success: Defense Salaries in Optics and Photonics

Defense engineers and scientists are among the highest paid in the optics and photonics community.
18 June 2019
by Adam Resnick

Defense Optics Photonics Salary Infographic


Defense salaries in optics and photonics
Defense engineers and scientists are among the highest paid in the optics and photonics community. The table below shows defense salaries in comparison to other sectors in optics and photonics, with defense ranking highest on the list, 23% higher than second-place transportation. This table, and all other data on this page, comes from the 2019 Optics and Photonics Salary Report.

The highest paid sectors in optics and photonics

Rank Sector Median Salary 2018
1 Defense $109,000
2 Transportation $88,500
3 Semiconductor $87,527
4 Astronomy / astrophysics $85,000
5 Advanced manufacturing $68,280
6 Biomedical / biotech $62,710
7 Communications / networking $58,676
8 Environmental monitoring $44,533


The average salary of defense optics and photonics workers is $126,484, while 75th percentile pay is $153,000. Median pay is highest in the following countries:

   •  United States: $128,010
   •  Israel: $98,063
   •  South Korea: $97,972

Which disciplines are defense workers engaged in?
Defense workers are most highly concentrated in aerospace, where 16% of them are working. Optical systems is also well represented, accounting for 15% of employees. Many other types of work is represented, including lasers, remote sensing, manufacturing, and photonics.

What kinds of engineering degrees are most popular?
Over three-quarters of optics and photonics defense workers are engineers (76%). These engineers are trained in a variety of specialties, including:

   •  Optical engineers: 42%
   •  Electrical engineers: 12%
   •  Aerospace engineers: 12%
   •  Mechanical engineers: 10%
   •  Software engineers: 5%

These results suggest that engineering students interested in defense optics and photonics achieve success after pursuing specialized fields like optics or aerospace engineering, or more general tracks of electrical, mechanical, or software engineering.

Job levels
Unsurprisingly, senior executives and business owners are paid the highest, though staff engineers and researchers are also well compensated.

Rank Job level Median Salary 2018
1 C-level or senior executive $223,650
2 Vice-president $183,000
3 Owner $150,000
4 Director $136,199
5 Full professor $126,971
6 Lead or senior level $125,000
7 Supervisor or manager $114,958
8 Staff $92,094
9 Associate professor $72,167
10 Assistant professor $71,590


For more information on optics and photonics salaries, plus details on methods and sampling, visit the 2019 SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report.

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