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U.S. Defense Department to Utilise Microelectronics

Image credits: defense.gov

The Department of Defense’s annual supply chain report focuses on tackling difficulties in high-priority, mission-critical sectors, such as microelectronics, a key element in practically all advanced military weapons.

“The need to onshore semiconductor manufacturing, as well as bolster research and workforce development in this critical supply chain sector, is now,” says Dr Christine Michienzi, Chief Technology Officer for Industrial Base Policy.

She added that the U.S. cannot continue to rely on foreign sources for a capacity that is essential to the maintenance of current Department of Defense equipment and the development of new technologies that are vital to national and economic security.

The US$54.2 billion CHIPS and Science Act, signed last month, represents a national agreement on the need to resuscitate domestic capabilities for microelectronics and a milestone in the Department’s strategic plan to address supply chain vulnerabilities in the defence industrial base (DIB).

Almost every DOD system and component of vital infrastructure rely on microelectronics technology. The same holds true for the commercial sector, where microelectronics are present in virtually everything Americans use on a daily basis.

In collaboration with sector leaders, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition (OUSD-A&S) proactively examines and analyses the risk and general health of the microelectronics industrial base. Microelectronics Vision, a joint initiative between OUSD(A&S) and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, was published in May 2022.

With this, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has committed to continuing investments that enable overmatch, boost operational availability, and support the combat readiness of the warfighter in pursuit of gaining and sustaining guaranteed, long-term access to measurably secure microelectronics.

The Department will continue to invest in programmes to protect U.S. microelectronics interests, reverse the erosion of domestic innovation and supply, and provide the groundwork for the next generation of microelectronics technology for DOD applications, while simultaneously preserving present systems.

To that aim, relocating a large component of the microelectronics ecosystem will necessitate a collaborative effort on the part of both the public and commercial sectors. Domestic semiconductor businesses must continue to make big expenditures to grow manufacturing capacity in the private sector. The CHIPS Act would improve capacity in both state-of-the-art (SOTA) and state-of-the-practice (SOTP) microelectronic technologies in the public sector.

The mission of the Department in terms of acquisition and sustainment directly benefits from the State-of-the-practice. Future systems and technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 5G communications, will benefit from secure access to these technologies and be used for both DOD and commercial purposes. This is important for maintaining numerous DOD systems.

Using financing from the Defense Production Act Title III and Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment, the Department is also directly investing in DOD-specific microelectronics technologies. These include modern advancements like the Strategically Radiation Hardened chips required for nuclear defence systems.

For the United States and its allies, the shift of microelectronics production to the Asia-Pacific area and the ensuing reduction in American manufacturing pose serious economic and security risks.

Significant industry outreach with members of the microelectronics industrial base is a goal as Industrial Base Policy pursues a whole-of-government approach to manage, and ultimately eliminate, these hazards. This includes a discussion of technology roadmaps and how DOD might aid and profit from future expansion plans.

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