Microelectronics are the backbone of many of today’s most important technologies. While these chips have grown more influential, U.S. stake in microelectronics manufacturing has significantly declined, and much of the supply chain now lies outside of the nation, creating national security risks.
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To rejuvenate the once-thriving U.S. microelectronics production ecosystem, Congress passed the CHIPS Act of 2022 – which authorizes billions of dollars for investment into the microelectronics industry.
Though extremely important and potentially the “most complex part” of microelectronics development in the U.S., the act is a piece of a wider puzzle, according to Michael Bowling, CEO of Trenton Systems.
“Data never decreases. The amount of processing needs never decreases,” Bowling said during a panel discussion at ExecutiveBiz’s Microelectronics Forum on Tuesday.
“We don’t have the amount of space, size, weight or power on these planes or ships to be able to process that, so we have to think about the whole system,” he emphasized.
Gus Hunt, CEO of Hunt Technologies, highlighted the role of supply chain in security and bringing these systems together. He said that chips are just “one element” of a given capability, and assurance they are secure parts of the total package is critical. Tracking the supply chain, he said, is the best way to monitor chip safety, which is “everyone’s responsibility.”
“What you have to look at is the chip, the board, the memory, the network, the storage – which all become parts of our system to which assurance of these is the entirety of that. We have to be able to find a way to address and solve that across the board,” said Hunt.
Ensuring that systems are secure requires carefully examining what related development practices are sustainable, said Benjamin Schwartz, national security director and lead of the CHIPS Program Office’s National Security Division.
For Schwartz, this involves heavy collaboration with industry. Meeting almost exclusively with fellow government officials without gathering input from other entities involved in microelectronics, he said, creates “real risks” and blindness. Most government information, Schwartz pointed out, lies outside of government buildings.
“The ability to understand, know and have confidence that the systems you are using are inherently secure is essential to every aspect of not just national security, but the national interest of our nation across the board,” Bowling said.
Dr. Francis Kub, senior advisor for the Electronics and Technology Division at the Naval Research Laboratory, said that advanced microelectronics are already on their way to meeting their full capability to enabling faster decision making and faster pattern recognition.
“We’re also in the future of autonomous systems,” he added. Also relevant to the DOD are advanced processors, more compact and efficient systems and sensing, all of which Kub said are being considered in microelectronics development.
While many of these developments are being driven by CHIPS funding, human innovation is shaping the broader, continuous goals of microelectronics manufacture, according to Diana Bauer, deputy director of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office.
“If we’re inspired by a bold goal for energy efficiency, that can lead to innovation in design that also increases computational speed and other things,” she said.