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How Foundries Improve Technology Innovations for the Defense Industry

How Foundries Improve Technology Innovations for the Defense Industry
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by Vijay Balakrishna, Senior Director of Research, Infrastructure and Defense, Qorvo

U.S. defense superiority is increasingly reliant on rapid innovation in microwave technology for mission-critical applications such as radar, space, electronic warfare (EW) and advanced communications systems. 

To meet this challenge, the DoD and its suppliers turn to trusted, U.S.-based foundry services that use a model proven successful over three decades of GaAs supply. These foundries, where industry and government work together to solve technological challenges, serve as a source of innovation for microwave solutions —driving advances in the defense industry and in technologically demanding commercial markets, such as 5G.

I’ve had the opportunity to see the evolution of one such technology first-hand in my current position with Qorvo, a Category 1 Trusted Source Supplier that has provided GaAs and Gallium Nitride (GaN) foundry services to the DoD and prime contractors for the past 30 years. 

In 2005, Qorvo and the DoD began working together on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Wide Bandgap Semiconductors-RF (WBGS-RF) program, to aggressively advance the critical GaN transistor technology for X-band radar and wideband EW applications. 

The initial objective was to develop reliable, high-performance GaN transistor technology. This was followed by challenging wideband MMIC-level performance metrics in power, efficiency, and bandwidth that was only possible with innovative transistor and wideband circuit designs.   

The success of this initiative between DARPA and leading RF foundries resulted in invaluable advances in GaN physics, device design, reliability, and products and processes that meet both military and commercial needs.       

The majority of Qorvo’s GaN product line, ranging from UHF to Q-band, can trace its heritage to that initial DARPA investment. Continued partnership with the DoD has  subsequently matured our GaN process, and we have achieved Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) 9 through a Title III GaN program for high-voltage S-band application and demonstrating wideband MMICs.  

Today, GaN is a mainstay of defense RF semiconductor technology. In fact, the market for RF GaN devices for radar, electronic warfare and communications is projected to grow at 24% CAGR over the next five years, as it outpaces the adoption rate of other technology choices. 

Equally significant, however, is that GaN technology — matured through a defense and industry funding model — is now enabling commercial 5G networks. 5G is the future of worldwide communications. It’s extending into data rates and operating frequencies never thought possible for mobile wireless communications, making autonomous cars a reality and forming the backbone of the Internet of Things. 

In turn, the high-volume demands of commercial applications drive manufacturing maturity and efficiencies up and, consequently, drive costs down for foundries supporting both industries.

So, in the same way that GaN became a market-shaping technology for radar, EW and communications, it is now an industry-shaping technology for 5G that will have a global impact on information communications. 

GaN, GaAs, and Surface and Bulk Acoustic Wave (SAW, BAW) filter technologies have had a successful and effective partnership in advancing technologies from research to state-of-the-art, high-volume production and products, benefiting both the military and commercial space.  

U.S.-based foundries such as Qorvo’s are a critical resource for the DoD and strategic defense primes. While they are only one part of our multi-faceted value proposition, they are the “tip of the spear,” if you will, for cutting-edge technology and innovation that enables manufacturers to develop standardized products for other markets. 

It’s a story repeated many times: research feeds innovation, which feeds demonstration, which feeds development, which feeds system deployment, which feeds manufacturing volume, which feeds manufacturing efficiency, which leads to a pervasive impact on society. That is how the smartphones became the primary communications tool in our lives, using GaAs, SAW, BAW and now GaN in the worldwide hardware network that enables it. 

It’s the proof that technology partnerships forged between government and industry are a proven, win-win approach for everyone involved. 

For more information about Qorvo’s GaN innovation and comprehensive foundry services, please visit: https://www.qorvo.com/innovation

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