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Semiconductor Shortage is US DoD Priority Issue

 Pentagon and US Congress Eye Supply Solutions

An emerging threat to mission readiness for US DoD weapons platforms and weapons systems is the cascading global semiconductor shortage. Virtually all DoD systems and platforms have some level of reliance on semiconductor technology. At the same time, the Pentagon is facing nothing less than a diminishing manufacturing capacity of these articles. Indeed, Jessica Maxwell, DoD spokesperson at Pentagon Defense Press Operations, told MON “Microelectronics is a priority issue for the DoD.”

Multiple DoD programmes are engaging in end-of-life buys of semiconductor product due to the closure of 45nm and 90nm process fabrication lines at GlobalFoundries (Fishkill, NY). The current corporate owner has sold the factory that produces the specialised chips used across Pentagon systems, with indications the new owner will not continue making them.

The DoD may be placing as much as $2 billion in priority orders by early March 2022 for customised semiconductors. In another attention-getting aspect of what is a whole-of-government matter, the US Congress passed legislation permitting an initial $885 million in orders to be placed by 5 December last year with US contractors dependent on the components, so they can contract a substantial share of the total with GlobalFoundries.

The Pentagon, facing a looming supply crunch amid a global shortage of the chips used in consumer items from refrigerators to microwaves to mobile phones, is also “implementing multiple strategies to ensure a steady supply of semiconductor product for its systems and platforms. These include efforts to increase supply chain resiliency, and investment strategies targeting the domestic manufacture of semiconductors,” Maxwell added. As part of this government-wide effort, Congress is also considering additional legislation to offer subsidies to chip makers that build plants in the US. Maxwell further noted, “The DoD does not give preference to domestic or off-shore- suppliers.”

The sustained supply of chips to the Pentagon is a national security imperative, with no quick solution. While in one instance, its takes about three months to go from discs of silicon to finished semiconductor products, it will take several years for new plants to be built and start operation. The Biden administration and US Congress would be well advised to quickly help boost US production of this important content.

                                                                               Marty Kauchak reporting for MON from New Orleans


There are few modern systems – from hypersonic missiles to satellite communications – that are unaffected by the potential shortage of semiconductor devices. (Photo: US DoD)

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