The United States is in the midst of a microelectronics dilemma. Demand for semiconductor chips has skyrocketed, but supply chain problems have created a drastic drop in chip manufacturing, triggering a national security problem for the U.S.
“Semiconductors are essential for national security,” according to a White House report on the supply chain. These chips are at the heart of virtually every technological advance the United States is pursuing today. Everything, including military systems, advanced weapons, hypersonic, direct energy, communications, autonomous systems, AI, 5G, and more, depend on semiconductor technology.
Echoing the interim strategic guidance for national security, Drs. Devan and Shenoychief director of microelectronics for the DOD’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said, “Semiconductors are the key to the must-have technologies of the future.”
In the past couple of years, however, the global supply chain has taken a devastating blow. In February 2021, lead time, or the length of time between ordering a semiconductor chip and order fulfillment, hit a record 15 weeks, and production sources continued to decline.
Now, the federal government is focusing heavily on increasing its domestic semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, developing a strong workforce, and accelerating innovation pipelines to avoid being overtaken by adversaries.
During Microelectronics Forumhosted by ExecutiveBiz Events, Dr. Shenoy said we must increase our discovery and innovation of microelectronics technologies while protecting the supply chain if we are to meet today’s urgent national security needs and prepare for those of the future.
“We want to secure the critical microelectronics multi-vendor pipeline across several generations of technologies in a shrinking global supply chain,” said Dr. Shenoy, stressing the importance of industrial partnerships and increasing production capacity.
Today, the DOD is conducting multiple efforts to secure this pipeline. The Defense Microelectronics Cross Functional Team, headed by Dr. Shenoy, was established to provide greater cohesion and unity to the DOD’s myriad of microelectronics efforts.
The CFT, explained Dr Shenoy, aims to “provide a front-door organization to increase decentralized execution that currently exists in multiple agencies, offices and organizations when it comes to microelectronics.”
The Department of Defense is also taking long-standing supply chain visibility challenges seriously in its efforts to accelerate microelectronics innovation.
“For many years, the department has sought to develop tools and capabilities to gain visibility into the supply chain from the highest levels to the sub-levels of the supply chain,” he said. “Until there is greater visibility, it will be difficult to identify some threats, vulnerabilities and risks in the supply chain.”
DOD is developing a tool called AMARO, or Automated Microelectronics Analysis and Reporting Optimization, to alleviate some of these visibility issues and provide better supply chain insights.
Dr Shenoy said AMARO can “map the microelectronic life cycle along the entire supply chain and identify possible threats and vulnerabilities and can assess through a BOM.” But applications of tools such as AMARO also extend to the microelectronics of the past and can be used in the future to model and predict important outcomes for wider DOD needs.
These tools can help senior decision makers “answer strategic questions like, ‘What is the impact on DOD if country X were to invade country Y?’ and, “What if there is a natural disaster?” You know, ‘What if a particular supplier in a supply chain is unable to supply critical parts in that ecosystem?’ ”explained Dr Shenoy.
Being able to answer these questions faster is critical to securing supply chains in many different industries, he added.
The Microelectronics Forum is part of the ExecutiveBiz Events series focusing on the DOD’s list of critical and emerging technologies. Join us on July 12 for our next event in the series, the Hypersonic Forum.
Michael White, chief hypersonic director for OUSD R&E, is scheduled for the keynote. Register here.