Pentagon eyes microelectronics hubs across US to bolster chip industry

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department moved to establish eight regional microelectronics hubs in seven states across the U.S., aimed at helping spur manufacturing innovation to bolster the domestic semiconductor industrial base.

Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters during a Sept. 20 Pentagon briefing the awards total $238 million with each innovation hub receiving between $15 million and $40 million to establish initial operations.

The home bases for the eight hubs are:

  • New York, led by the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute;
  • Arizona, led by Arizona State University;
  • North Carolina, led by North Carolina State University;
  • Indiana, led by the Applied Research Institute;
  • Ohio, led by the Midwest Microelectronics Consortium;
  • Southern California, led by the University of Southern California;
  • Northern California, led by Stanford and the University of California Berkley; and
  • Massachusetts, led by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

“The regional hubs will spur economic growth, not just locally, but more broadly,” Hicks said. “The hubs will help ensure we have the talent pool needed to stay ahead, through education pipelines and retraining initiatives. And it’s part of how DoD is reducing our reliance on foreign components, keeping us safe from the risks of supply chain disruption.”

In the last 30 years, the U.S. has gone from producing 37% of the global microchip supply to around 12%. Today, Taiwan produces most of the world’s supply of advanced semiconductors and China exports a large portion of its microchips to the United States. These chips power everything from cell phones to cars to the F-35 fighter jet.

To help address domestic microelectronics supply chain vulnerabilities, Congress last year passed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors, or CHIPS ACT, providing $52 billion to fund semiconductor workforce improvement efforts, research and development and manufacturing through 2026.

The Defense Department received $2 billion in CHIPS Act funding, which it is using to establish the commons. The department expects to spend about $400 million annually through 2026 to equip the hubs and execute various technology projects focused in six areas: electronic warfare, quantum, security at the edge, internet of things, 5G and 6G and dual-use capabilities.

The Pentagon envisions the Microelectronics Commons as a national network of academic institutions, small business firms and research entities working together to push microelectronics technology projects from the laboratory into prototyping and scaled production.

The network will be made up of “cores,” or chip foundries, that provide access to prototyping and help reduce technology integration risk. The innovation hubs announced this week will help connect research projects to those regional foundries.

The department in October will hold its first Microelectronics Commons meeting, after which it expects to issue its first call for projects, according to Peter Highnam, principal deputy for critical technologies in the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering office. Organizations not selected to lead the innovation hubs will have a chance to compete for those projects.

“The projects that come through will be a mix of very near term and slightly longer term,” Highnam told reporters in a Sept. 19 briefing. “The outcome of a successful project will be something that can be taken to scale in a U.S. based foundry.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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