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A system that expands and recompresses an ultrashort pulse by means of diffraction gratings is described. The expansion can be large enough to broaden the pulse to several nanoseconds. In this manner, as the signal and pump pulses have similar lengths, high-efficiency amplifiers can be designed. The expansion avoids inefficient energy storage in high-gain amplifiers and nonlinear effects in the amplifier medium, and the amplified spontaneous emission is drastically reduced by working in a saturated amplifier regime.