Intel wins’ deal with DoD for domestic chip production

08-09-2021 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

Recently, Intel announced that it has won a contract with the DoD to launch a new program called RAMP-C. Why are countries worldwide aiming for chip independence, what will the new program do, and should countries be striving for chip independence?

Why are countries trying to become chip-independent?

Any engineer who has been involved with news, product announcements, or product development will be well aware of the current semiconductor shortage. The COVID pandemic saw semiconductor demand shift from automotive to commercial parts dramatically as the automotive industry shut down. When the automotive industry restarted, demand for automotive ICs skyrocketed, and global stocks were meagre. Now, semiconductor companies around the world are trying to meet this demand to kick start industries and stabling supplies.

However, countries worldwide have also noticed a frightening truth that surrounds semiconductors; they are equally important as oil and gold. Simply put, a nation can only function if it has access to critical resources (such as oil), and semiconductors play such an essential role in modern life that not having access to them is devastating.

This fact was made worse when governments noticed that a substantial portion of the world’s semiconductors is manufactured in China, a country known for industrial espionage, infiltration, and gross human rights violations. Thus, countries reliant on Chinese manufacturing could be easily targeted in numerous ways, including hardware with integrated backdoors, refusal on sales, and unfair competition.

Chip sovereignty is the idea whereby a country can produce its own semiconductors without the need for any other nation. This doesn’t mean that the country sources its own raw materials but can produce cutting-edge chips. Having such an ability means that no outside country can interfere with the development and production of such chips, which is critical for infrastructure and defence.

Intel signs deal with DoD for a push towards chip sovereignty

Recently, Intel signed a deal with the DoD to help create a domestic, commercial ship-building service not too dissimilar to TSMC. The new program, called Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes – Commercial (RAMP-C), will allow Intel to expand its chip production capabilities and start to take on orders for prototype silicon devices and produce devices in low volumes (i.e. specialist applications).

The new program will also see Intel team up with other tech companies, including IBM, Cadence, and Synopsys, to help produce a supporting ecosystem around the chip production service. Furthermore, the program will also provide the DoD with a channel for making equipment relating to defence which would help to prevent foreign nations from having access to sensitive designs. The program is also being supported by two facilities that Intel had recently constructed in Arizona, but further expansion of these facilities is still required.

Should countries head towards chip sovereignty?

While the RAMP-C project may appear to compete with chip foundries such as TSMC, it should be stated that this project is aimed explicitly at low-volume prototyping and DoD hardware. As such, TSMC will not see a significant drop in customers as TSMC is geared towards high-volume consumer devices. However, the development of RAMP-C will help the US experiment and consider long-term goals for chip sovereignty.

But, should countries be aiming for chip sovereignty? This question depends on who is manufacturing the semiconductors. In the case of the world in 2021, chip sovereignty is essential for western allies, including the US, UK, and EU. China is increasingly becoming a threat to world stability with its intention to take back Taiwan, the South China Sea, and various pacific islands. Furthermore, its increased use of AI and data collection systems presents a real threat to the world with the ability to peer into the many millions around the world who use apps such as Tik-Tok and hardware produced by Huawei. Thus, manufacturing critical semiconductors outside of China is a logical move towards national security.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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