Microelectronics to Hypersonic: US Department of Defense Uplift the Technology Strategy to Regain Lost Ground



The military's peripheral R&D department recently disclosed numbers that show that while flashy projects like hypersonic systems or modifying human skin to make it less attractive to mosquitos may garner more public attention, the money is actually going to microelectronics. Microelectronics will receive about $ 896 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is more than its second and third major investment areas, biotechnology and artificial intelligence, which will receive about $ 410 million each in fiscal 2023.

The Electronics Resurgence Initiative of DARPA, which has been around for five years, is what, according to Tompkins, is primarily about regaining US supremacy in microelectronics. During a webinar held by the National Defense Industrial Association today, Tompkins delivered the budget numbers to representatives from the industry.

National Science and Technology Strategy 2023

The ERI 2.0 program was launched in 2017 as a result of DARPA's claim that the military's limited access to cutting-edge electronics was undermining American economic and security advantages. Tompkins said that the initiative was about to be upgraded.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concern over microelectronics and their susceptibility to supply chain disruption was only made more serious. The military, which was already worried about the issue, was willing to cooperate as the Biden administration aggressively promoted US investment in domestic chip production as a priority area in response.

The Department of Defense announced a Pentagon-led microelectronics commons that intends to eliminate the barriers that currently stop the best technological innovations from reaching the market. The situation was that top-tier academics had informed us that the investments we were making in early-stage microelectronics research could not be validated in our domestic facilities.  In all, Tompkins said DARPA has about 250 active programs running across its areas of interest closing and starting programs at about one per week. 

Recently,  the US Department of Defense unveiled its 2023 National Science and Technology Strategy (NDSTS), which outlines the US military's priorities, objectives, and investments in science and technology. The goals outlined in the most recent National Defense Strategy, published in 2022, should be accomplished through leveraging vital new technologies, according to Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Defense Heidi Shyu. According to Shyu, the publication of the National Defense Science and Technology Strategy will assist the government in making thoughtful decisions that strengthen US comparative advantages rather than getting involved in costly technological races. We shall place a focus on creating asymmetric capabilities that will contribute to long-term maintenance of our national security.

Who Creates Cutting-Edge Technologies?

The US Department of Defense's technological leadership has historically given the nation unequaled capabilities, according to the National Research and Technology Strategy, but this advantage is eroding as cutting-edge research and technology becomes more widely accessible. The strategy noted that businesses conduct R&D that has both commercial and defense applications and came to the conclusion that changes in the commercial market have changed the dynamics of who develops cutting-edge knowledge and tools for the military and how countries access them.

The policy in response calls for the US Department of Defence to alter its internal systems for discovering innovations and ensuring that they proceed through procurement into fielded capabilities in addition to strengthening its linkages to the nation's science and technological base. The strategy also highlights the three valleys of death during defense innovation acquisition as technologies move from lab to prototype, prototype to product, and product to volume production. The ability to incentivize the design of open systems that can rapidly incorporate cutting-edge technologies and rewards rapid experimentation, acquisition, and fielding is stressed by the strategy.

14 Critical Technology Areas 

The strategy reiterates the 14 critical technology areas that had previously been named by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defence for Research and Engineering in a strategic vision presented in February 2022, specifically highlighting the pace challenge provided by the People's Republic of China. They are categorized into three groups that correspond to the methods necessary to advance the technologies that are essential to the Department of Defense: Biotechnology, quantum science, next-generation wireless, and new materials are just a few of the seed areas of potential in the first group.

The second category is made up of areas that are effectively adopting new technologies and have vibrant existing commercial activity, such as trusted artificial intelligence and autonomy, integrated networked systems-of-systems, microelectronics, renewable energy generation and storage, advanced computing and software, and human-machine interfaces. The third group discusses topics related to defense, such as directed energy, hypersonic, integrated sensing, and cyber.


Reduction of Chip 4 in sight

Particularly noteworthy is the strategy's emphasis on the necessity of enhancing US defense cooperation in science and technology with allies and partners through bilateral and international initiatives. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) cooperation, the Australia-India-Japan-US Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and the Five Eyes alliance (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US) are a few of these projects. It is unclear where the so-called Chip 4 alliance, which is being formed between Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the US, will stand in next strategic roadmaps as the US Department of Defense seeks closer ties with the microelectronics sector.