The maturation in the state-of-the-art of optical components is enabling increased applications for the technology. Most notable is the ever-expanding market for fiber optic data and communications links, familiar in both commercial and military markets. The inherent properties of optics and photonics, however, have suggested that components and processors may be designed that offer advantages over more commonly considered digital approaches for a variety of airborne sensor and signal processing applications. Various academic, industrial, and governmental research groups have been actively investigating and exploiting these properties of high bandwidth, large degree of parallelism in computation (e.g., processing in parallel over a two-dimensional field), and interconnectivity, and have succeeded in advancing the technology to the stage of systems demonstration. Such advantages as computational throughput and low operating power consumption are highly attractive for many computationally intensive problems. This review covers the key devices necessary for optical signal and image processors, some of the system application demonstration programs currently in progress, and active research directions for the implementation of next-generation architectures.