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Trusted and Assured Microelectronics

Microelectronics—application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) and modern system on chip (SoC) technologies made possible by advanced silicon semiconductors—have transformed modern life, allowing for massive computation and communication capabilities, powerful personal and cloud computing, and safer and more automated financial, social, transportation, and infrastructure systems. The rate of innovation and capability improvement is staggering, as is the rate of adoption around the world, dramatically increasing the demand for the production of advanced semiconductors.

Access to State-of-the-Art Microelectronics

Recently the rapid year-over-year improvement in semiconductor technology and SoCs has begun to slow. The cost of process and equipment upgrades has become very expensive, causing state-of-the-art foundry operations to consolidate into a few large international companies. Increasingly, foundry operations reside in Asia. As a result, the lack of long-term availability of U.S.-based trusted foundry services for advanced nodes has become a concern and an impediment to DoD innovation and ASIC development.

This concern presents an opportunity for the Department to find a way to reduce barriers to employing mainstream electronics while ensuring and protecting critical defense technologies and manufacturing where necessary. Over the past several years, the Department has reevaluated trusted and assured access to advanced node foundry production. The Department's goal is to incorporate ASIC and SoC capabilities offered by commercial industry while maintaining the integrity and security of defense systems to achieve more rapid modernization while reducing the size, and increasing the performance, of DoD systems.

DoD Response

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)) developed a response that will address near-term and longer term access to trusted and assured foundry capabilities, specifically recommending the following actions:

  • Maintain the network of trusted suppliers certified by Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA). Ensure continued access to the former Trusted Foundries to mitigate near-term program risk. Transfer trusted foundry contracting and the Trusted Access Program Office (TAPO) from the National Security Agency (NSA) to DMEA, consolidating activities and providing a single focal point for DoD and other customers to access these trusted suppliers.
  • Secure trusted access to state-of-the-art photomasks in the United States.
  • Establish and support verification and validation techniques at government laboratories and promote best practices for industry in coordination with the Joint Federated Assurance Centers (JFAC) at leading Service laboratories including the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), NSA, DMEA, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and others.
  • Mature and transition technologies that enable new trust approaches that reduce reliance upon sole source foundries, and enable broader access to commercial technology. Efforts will leverage technologies being developed at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), DoD, and other government laboratories, and also reach out to industry and academia.

To date, DMEA has assumed responsibility for the DoD's trusted foundry program and has established new contracts with GlobalFoundries (GF) for access to former IBM trusted foundry facilities as well as commercial access to the GF8 foundry in Malta, NY, which manufactures 14 nm technologies.

The JFAC will continue to expand hardware assurance and verification and validation support. NSWC Crane will lead much of the JFAC revitalization and capability enhancements across the U.S. Government. In addition, DARPA and IARPA continue to develop alternative methods of trust and assurance and have demonstrated some significant technologies in FY 2016.

DASD(SE) is actively seeking ideas and opportunities for transition and demonstration of new trust and assurance approaches to advanced ASIC microelectronics. Please contact the DASD(SE) T&AM team for more information.


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