The Pentagon’s chief technology officer on Monday detailed her vision for bolstering the department’s microelectronics sourcing, to include more closely integrating data efforts with existing foundries and a new program aimed at fostering improved research partnerships between universities and the commercial industry.

Heidi Shyu, the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, told attendees at a virtual National Defense Industrial Association event her plan for microelectronics would be greatly supported if Congress is able to pass the CHIPS Act authorizing billions of dollars to improve domestic semiconductor production.

“We have constructed a plan for moving forward where we’re engaging with the foundries and we are basically piggybacking on the CHIPS Act, the hopefully $52 billion that will be appropriated [if that becomes law],” Shyu said, noting $2 billion in the plan would directly support Pentagon efforts.  

The CHIPS Act is part of a larger $250 billion legislative package aimed at addressing technology competitiveness with China that the Senate passed in June, with congressional leadership recently announcing plans to consider a conferenced version of the bill as a standalone item rather than as part of the next National Defense Authorization Act (Defense Daily, Nov. 18). 

Shyu said her plan for microelectronics would take a new approach to the Trusted Foundry model and work to have the department work alongside industry on critical data collection to ensure the security of microchip and semiconductor production and keep pace with the latest technological advancements.

“We’re literally planning to leverage the commercial industry’s latest chip designs and basically the way that we have designed it is so we can leverage their commercial processes for the ‘special sauce’ that we need in the DoD,” Shyu said. “All the data that’s going through, we’ll just collect it and process it in a separate room just next to the commercial line. So it’s not about setting up a commercial foundry but it’s actually looking at literal data that you’re collecting anyway for quality. It’s assessing the quality assurance of that data.”

Mark Lewis, director of defense research and engineering for modernization during the previous administration, said last May the Pentagon’s Trusted Foundry model has “failed from a business standpoint,” and must change its approach to take advantage of new technology developments (Defense Daily, May 19 2020). 

Shyu also said her office is working to establish a microelectronics commons programs by fiscal year 2023 that would bring together key industry and university hubs working on microelectronics advancements to foster new research and development opportunities.

“What that is doing is literally looking at key nodes across the U.S. that have foundries and also have universities close by. So what you want to do is develop programs that allow the universities and the foundries to collaborate much closer on a prototype [chip fabrication]. That way you can do the research and develop the next-generation processes and ideas and test that out, but you’re not stopping the commercial foundry line which would be something they wouldn’t appreciate,” Shyu said. 

The Pentagon now also has a lead official for its new Microelectronics Cross Functional Team, Dev Shenoy, who is tasked with coordinating efforts across the department and with the other federal agencies.

“He is working very closely across all the departments and agencies, namely he’s working with the Department of Commerce and he’s also working very closely across the [Intelligence Community] as well as across all the services,” Shyu said.