The Department of Defense issued a call for proposals Monday as part of a broader push to turbocharge domestic fabrication of microelectronics and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers.
The Pentagon plans to award up to $280 million next year for Microelectronics Commons projects, according to a press release. Funding for the program supports six technology areas: secure edge and Internet of Things computing; 5G and 6G; AI hardware; quantum; electromagnetic warfare; and “leap-ahead” commercial technologies.
“The U.S. military has an ever-increasing need for innovation in the microelectronics that underpin many of our modern weapon systems, including communications equipment, planes, tanks, long-range munitions, and sensors. This Call for Proposals is the next step in our effort to bridge the valley of death from ‘lab-to-fab,’” Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering David Honey said in a statement.
The term “valley of death,” in defense acquisition parlance, refers to challenges that are often encountered in transitioning promising technologies from research and development into production.
“Today, microelectronics designs that are proven within U.S. universities and businesses of all sizes frequently do not enter large-scale production because the transition from laboratory to fabrication is notoriously difficult; a high technology readiness does not mean high manufacturability. The Commons is focused on easing this transition for microelectronics that are essential for our national security,” according to the release. “The Commons aims to ensure that the U.S. defense industrial base will have access to a robust pipeline of world-leading microelectronics produced in U.S. foundries, and the ability to shape that pipeline to address the future demands of our warfighters.”
The initiative is supported by eight innovation hubs that were announced in September, which are intended to help scale production. They include the Northeast Regional Defense Tech Hub in New York; Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub in Arizona; Commercial Leap Ahead for Wide-bandgap Semiconductors Hub in North Carolina; Silicon Crossroads Microelectronics Commons Hub in Indiana; Midwest Microelectronics Consortium Hub in Ohio; California Defense Ready Electronics and Microdevices Superhub; California-Pacific-Northwest Artificial Intelligence
Hardware Hub; and Northeast Microelectronics Coalition Hub in New England.
More than 380 organizations are part of the various hubs, including more than 100 academic institutions, according to the Pentagon.
Respondents to the solicitation must be members of the National Security Technology Accelerator and a Microelectronics Commons hub, according to the call for proposals.
The DOD plans to award prototype other transaction agreements for selected projects, which may lead to follow-on awards.
“Upon successful completion of this prototype effort, the Government anticipates that a follow-on production effort may be awarded via either contract or transaction, without the use of competitive procedures,” according to the solicitation.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division is the contracting activity.
Responses are due Feb. 28, 2024. The Pentagon anticipates issuing awards in the third quarter of fiscal 2024.