The Obsolescence Problem
Early U.S. defense requirements were the driving force in the semiconductor industry and weapon systems were designed and manufactured using state-of-the-art microcircuits. These microcircuits were made to a strict set of military specifications designed to last for decades. As the consumer electronics industry has grown during the last quarter-century, the defense sector has been eclipsed and now accounts for less than 1% of the semiconductor market. The rapid changes in technology development, in accordance with Moore’s Law, has resulted in shorter microcircuit life cycles that are not compatible with the extended life cycle of Military systems. Defense microcircuit demand is neither a priority nor profitable to the global semiconductor industry given the low-volume and high-reliability requirements.
This change in focus, the long lifetime requirements of military hardware, the increased pace of developments, and foreign manufacturing outsourcing has meant defense systems are prone to microcircuit part obsolescence and counterfeits. Defense system lifetimes are often extended, and if a single microcircuit is no longer available, it can render a complete weapon system useless. This microcircuit obsolescence problem puts these systems and the warfighter at significant risk.
In the late 1980s, DLA recognized that microcircuit obsolescence threatened the readiness of many American defense systems. Numerous systems in the armed forces were designed and developed in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, the U.S. Air Force began flying the F-15 Eagle tactical fighter in 1972, and the U.S. Navy first tested the AEGIS phased-array radar at sea in 1973. Because of continued advancements in semiconductor technology, the original suppliers stopped manufacturing the microelectronic components used in these and other systems. In 1987, DLA contracted with SRI to begin research and development on how to best replace obsolete microcircuits with standardized, modern integrated circuits (IC). DLA and SRI collaborated to develop the GEM Program. Using its on-site Trusted semiconductor foundry and deep knowledge of IC design/development, SRI produces on-demand, Class Q microcircuits matching the Form-Fit-Function-Interface (F3I) criteria of the required microcircuit. DLA is developing the next generation of F3I microcircuit emulation capability through the AME Program to further alleviate growing IC obsolescence issues caused by the continued rapid advancements in technology. The new capabilities developed by AME are utilized by the GEM Program to ensure the Emulation Programs continue to meet weapons systems wide-ranging requirements. SRI’s semiconductor foundry is accredited as a Department of Defense (DoD) Trusted Foundry supplier, and our manufacturing processes are qualified to MIL-PRF-38535.
DLA’s microcircuit Emulation Programs provide a permanent solution for Department of Defense Systems requiring microcircuits which are no longer available from a qualified source.