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US-Built Chips Can Strengthen National Security

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By Kapil Wadhera, Vice President Intel Foundry Services; and General Manager, Foundry Solutions Business Group

 

The passage of the CHIPS and Science Act shined a spotlight on the critical need to invest in U.S. domestic semiconductor manufacturing. But long before CHIPS, the Department of Defense (DoD), the intelligence community, and other federal agencies recognized that relying on a semiconductor supply chain sourced primarily from East Asia put their missions at risk. They knew they needed a robust supply of semiconductors and the security that would arise from producing them in the United States. In short, they needed access to secure capacity for leading-edge chips from the U.S. foundry ecosystem.

 

Sophisticated silicon and leading-edge process technology are critical to the DoD due to the evolving threat landscape and connected battlefield environment. For example, whereas past military systems had no use for 5G capabilities, today, the DoD needs the 5G function on modular ground-based radars — a change that requires more antennas and, therefore, more 5G silicon. Another demand driver is the move to direct digital for sensors. Digitization is now occurring at the edge for light sensors, sound sensors and radar. The need for more silicon grows as digitization moves to the device itself.

 

Advanced nodes are also helping the military drive its missions by improving size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C). Reduction in the size and power consumption of any system that retains the same or greater performance is valuable, especially where space and weight are at a premium, like on aircraft, ships and submarines. For instance, a soldier might have a mission that lasts nine hours, but the radio's battery may last only six hours. With leading-edge process nodes, a radio’s battery life may be extended to last as long as a cell phone’s while maintaining the military’s unique security needs.

 

The increasing use of drones also requires improvement in SWaP-C. While radar systems previously needed to track a limited number of planes, they must now track swarms of drones and other objects. These new radars must resolve at a much higher level, which also drives higher processing power.

 

In addition to adopting leading-edge nodes, disaggregation is another way to improve SWaP-C. Federal agencies, often through their prime contractors, want to bring together different chiplets and connect them with advanced packaging technologies. Incorporating multiple dies in a single package can reduce the overall system size, while simultaneously reducing cost and increasing performance.

 

To meet the growing need for state-of-the-art chip technology, the DoD must leverage the private sector and better integrate with commercial semiconductor manufacturing operations. Right now, chips in DoD systems are several generations behind the leading edge, and source materials from unreliable supply chains. Domestic semiconductor foundries and their partners in the ecosystem can help reduce this technology gap and provide a steady source of chips for years to come. The DoD has established three programs to help make this transition:

 

 

In April, the Department celebrated the first domestically produced multi-chip package prototypes to be used in modernizing the military's microelectronic systems. These multi-chip packages (MCP) prototypes were the first fruits of the Department’s SHIP Program, a partnership with Intel, Qorvo, and BAE Systems, and came over six quarters ahead of schedule. Intel looks forward to working with government agency partners to increase our national security and increasing their access to safe, secure, American-made chips.

 

In addition, the CHIPS Act also authorized a DoD National Network for Microelectronics Research and Development (R&D), commonly referred to as the Microelectronics Commons, which was funded with $2 billion over 5 years through the CHIPS and Science Act.  The Microelectronics Commons will focus on the early-stage prototyping and commercialization of microelectronics R&D, and the DoD is currently reviewing proposals submitted by members of academia, non-profits, and industry to lead Innovation Hubs centered on key technology areas and accompanying Core Facilities to provide access to scale early-stage prototyping. Intel has conveyed an interest in partnering on Hub research projects, such as those focused on AI hardware, 5G/6G, and secure edge, as well as providing Core capabilities based on our unique ability to leverage Intel Foundry Services.

 

The passage of the CHIPS and Science Act undoubtedly represents the most important piece of industrial policy legislation in the United States since World War II. But it’s also important to remember that, far from being a follower, U.S. government agencies, particularly DoD, were leaders in the quest for a domestic supply of leading-edge silicon. They were among the first to recognize the need for a dependable, onshore foundry partner ecosystem that drives innovation, maintains national security, and bolsters economic prosperity for the nation. With public and private partnership support, Intel is a key participant and ready to help.