Microelectronics are in nearly everything, including the complex weapons systems the Defense Department buys, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for modernization said.
“It is so ubiquitous and because it is … so fundamental to everything we do,” Mark J. Lewis said via video conference today as part of a forum sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
Because of the importance of microelectronics, he said, the department is shifting the way it goes about buying microelectronics and ensuring they are secure to use.
“We want the Department of Defense to have access to state-of-the-art capabilities, which we do not have today,” he said. That’s because the department is not buying on the commercial curve, he explained.
In the mid-1990s, DOD adopted a “trusted foundry” model for procuring microelectronics, Lewis said.
“The idea [was] that in order to deliver parts that we could trust, we would enable foundries that would manufacture our microelectronics where we had control over every step of the process — or so we thought,” he said. “That model, we think, has failed.”
The department isn’t a large purchaser of microelectronics, Lewis said, so companies that adhered to the department’s “trusted foundry” model were unable to make a business case for following it.
“As a result, they haven’t been investing,” he said. “The chips that we buy, the microelectronic components that we buy from those trusted foundries, are in some cases two generations behind what’s available on commercial state-of-the-art.”