SEATTLE — Undergirding recent budget guidance from the Biden administration to federal research and development organizations is a recognition of a steady and growing demand for microelectronics as a key enabler for advancement in nearly every technology sector, according to a senior White House technology advisor.
The White House on Aug. 17 issued its research and development priorities for the fiscal 2025 budget, offering direction to federal offices as they plan to submit their spending requests to the Office of Management and Budget in early September. The high-level focus areas include strengthening the nation’s critical infrastructure amid climate change, advancing trustworthy AI, improving healthcare and fostering industrial innovation alongside basic and applied research.
According to Steven Welby, deputy director for national security within the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, most of those priorities have some sort of connection to the nation’s goals for boosting the microelectronics industrial base.
“Across the entire research and development portfolio – from space to health to energy to national security and beyond – almost everything in that portfolio has ties back to advanced microelectronics,” Welby said Aug. 23 during a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency microelectronics summit in Seattle.
Microelectronics are central to a range of technology – from cell phones and televisions to satellites and artificial intelligence. The Pentagon relies heavily on advanced semiconductors for complex weapons and emerging technology like quantum computing and 5G communications.
The majority of the world’s microprocessors are produced in Asia, with Taiwan making 92% of the global supply. The U.S. produces just 12%, raising concern in recent years that the lagging domestic supply chain could pose economic and security risks.
To reduce that dependence and shore up U.S. supply, Congress in 022 passed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act, known more commonly as the CHIPS Act. The measure provided $52 billion in subsidies and tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to establish and expand operations in the U.S.
The Department of Defense received $2 billion in CHIPS Act funding to develop a network of U.S. prototyping facilities and help push technology from laboratories into production lines.
Meanwhile, DARPA has set its sights on addressing longer term technology challenges within the microelectronics industry and plans to spend $3 billion over the next five years to further research in a number of areas, including advanced manufacturing approaches, security and high-temperature materials.
Welby’s message to the audience of government and industry technologists echoed that of lawmakers, agency leaders and company executives who emphasized the interconnectedness of the microelectronics ecosystem.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), one of the chief architects of the CHIPS Act, called for greater collaboration among government agencies, companies and international allies that are tackling near-term and long-term industrial base and technology challenges.
“I think we need to foster a new kind of collaboration,” she said. “Greater collaboration is important in strengthening the US semiconductor defense industrial base and implementing the CHIPS and Science Act.”
Cantwell called for greater partnerships between DARPA-funded researchers and the National Semiconductor Technology Center, which is directing the Commerce Department’s CHIPS Act initiatives. She also suggested the White House should craft a government-wide workforce strategy “to ensure that training and educational institutions are adequately funded and focused on [science, technology, engineering and math] and the needs of the defense and commercial microelectronics sector.”
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA) said Aug. 23 that while greater investment in the U.S. innovation base is vital, so is fostering partnerships with like-minded foreign governments.
“We need to make sure that we build the ecosystem so that you can be successful in what you’re trying to do,” he said. “That’s making investments here locally, making sure the Pentagon that has such a large portion of the budget becomes better at quickly innovating and employing those innovations, and also building those partnerships across the globe so that we can work together.”
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.