Ensuring the Supply of Trusted Chips for Critical Needs

by Ezra Hall
Senior Director of Aerospace and Defense business, GlobalFoundries 

GlobalFoundries (GF) recently announced its facility in Malta, New York, was accredited by the U.S. Department of Defense as a Trusted Foundry with the ability to manufacture secure semiconductors for a range of critical aerospace and defense applications. Why is this important? Read below to learn more. 

Technology use is pervasive in our daily lives, not just on a personal level but also in the critical systems and infrastructure that we may take for granted: power, water, transportation, healthcare, telecom, banking, defense and more.  

All of these end-uses depend upon semiconductor technology to function. And while advances at single-digit nanometer nodes grab most of the headlines, the reality is that most of these applications are made – and will continue to be made – using 12nm and larger nodes to deliver essential chips that serve 70% of the addressable market. Thanks to our commitment to technology innovation and differentiation, this is exactly the space GlobalFoundries (GF) specializes in, which addresses the vast majority of needs for chips used in defense and critical infrastructure applications.  

It is vital not only to protect availability of supply for these chips, but also to ensure they are designed, manufactured and tested in a trusted and secure manner to avoid the potentially nefarious introduction of security risks which could negatively impact the operation of critical systems. Chips not following this approach risk being compromised and subsequently – remotely or otherwise triggered to shut down a system or perform other damaging actions by those with ill intents. We must prevent this from happening, to protect both national and economic security. 

Thus, the electronics industry needs to make security of design, manufacturing and testing a requirement valued every bit as much as the traditional size, weight, power and cost (SWaPc) metrics. We must include security in our program requirements, budget for it and require our supply chains to deliver on the full “CIA” triad framework. That model stresses Confidentiality (protecting from disclosure), Integrity (include only what was intended, nothing else) and Availability (ensuring access to what, and when it’s needed).

A Trusted Partner With a Wide Range of Differentiated Technologies 

No one understands chip security better than GF, a longstanding partner to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the most advanced and the only at-scale U.S. Trusted Foundry. 

Trusted Foundry is a DoD designation certifying that GF meets stringent U.S. government requirements for all aspects of designing and producing classified, secure semiconductor components, both physical and digital. Trusted Foundry accreditation status enables the U.S. government to count on us as a secure source of supply and to protect all of the government’s intellectual property and designs. Trusted Foundry is the security solution today that best addresses all three factors in the CIA triad to their fullest potential.

Some advocate for the softening of Trusted Foundry requirements under the belief that it will cut costs. I see it a different way: using less-secure manufactured chips in sensitive applications will only lead to significant issues down the road, be it supply disruption due to geological, weather, or future pandemic related issues, or increasingly, the realization of geopolitical threats. Ultimately, this is a price we cannot afford. We should not let that happen. 

GF’s differentiated technologies offer features such as the ability to operate with extremely low-power draw, and/or at low- or high-temperature and other extreme environments. These features include: class-leading millimeter-wave (mmWave) communications capabilities; communicating with photons instead of electrons for extreme performance at lowest possible power, delivering advanced power-management functionality; incorporating non-volatile memory; and with the game changing ability to integrate combinations of high-performance signal processing, power, RF communications, and memory onto a system-on-a-chip (SoC). 

Instead of large, heavy power-hungry racks comprised of many boards containing many chips, these systems can be designed into one or several chips to not only perform the same functionality, but extend capabilities, range, reduce size, weight and power. That’s a game-changer, especially for the increasingly smaller and more pervasive defense applications of the future. 

Scale is Needed to Ensure Supply 

Semiconductor manufacturing is a capital-intensive industry with significant technology development, production, and ecosystem costs. For supply resiliency, manufacturing must take place at scale so that a manufacturer can develop the technologies and achieve the yields and quality required by customers and realize a sustainable business case to remain competitive. 

Take GF as an example. Headquartered in the U.S., we have a global footprint with manufacturing facilities in New York, Vermont, Germany and Singapore. Because we operate on three continents, we have three different sets of supply chains which makes us an extremely resilient supplier. In fact, throughout the pandemic, GF didn’t miss a single wafer of output. 

Moreover, our teams have woven extensive supply chain mapping and chip traceability into GF’s operations. This guaranteed assurance is already transforming automotive supply chains.  

To ensure and to fulfill the supply of secure chips needed for aerospace, defense, critical infrastructure, and other applications critical to economic and national security, and to fulfil the vision of the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, we must increase the demand for domestically manufactured semiconductors. We have the tools we need to accomplish this, from acquisition policy to buying behaviors and market preferences, and we need to use them. 

The Way Forward: Dual-Use 

Dual-use is the concept of technologies that can be utilized both for defense and non-defense applications, a term that can be applied in a number of ways. As we know, scale is required for affordable high-yield high quality technologies, which dictates that higher volume non-defense related demand must be present. While at the same time, differentiation for defense applications is required to achieve technological superiority for defense applications.  

As such, dual-use research and development incentives must be at the center of our national technology strategy. The costly development of semiconductor technologies will only be justifiable if a foundry can leverage that technology across significant volume that defense applications realistically cannot achieve alone. Creating a platform for research and development that is secure from the start not only protects commercial products, but affords us the opportunity to extend those protections for more sensitive applications.  

As an example, think of a helicopter and an automobile, both of which have radar, cameras, control systems and other systems that function similarly. Chips for these applications can be produced in dual-use technologies to survive the proverbial “valley of death,” and at the same time, the nation can also save time and money! At GF, we have a team of experts who are building unparalleled knowledge and insights into end-market requirements, because our differentiated technologies enable us to support these requirements in ways that offer unique benefits. 

GF’s end markets are automotive; communications infrastructure and data center; home/industrial IoT (Internet of Things); smart mobile devices; and aerospace, defense, and critical infrastructure. We have structured GF’s aerospace, defense and critical infrastructure activities to create synergies in technology products that GF produces for all end markets. 

In this way, we can offer specialized aerospace, defense and critical infrastructure technology solutions built upon robust high volume commercial foundational demand. In effect, we are riding the coattails of cost-effective commercial volume production to implement specific technology features in a secure fashion. 

In so doing, we are supporting a safer, more secure world. 

Ezra Hall, based in Burlington, Vermont, is responsible for GF’s aerospace and defense business, which offers novel and strategic solutions in support of national security and critical infrastructure needs. A 39-year industry veteran, Hall is recognized for his expertise in microelectronics supply chain security. He is a GF Master Inventor with 21 U.S. patents who co-founded and co-chairs the U.S. National Defense Industry Association’s Electronics Division.