Intel wins US Government project to develop foundry ecosystem

The US Department of Defense has awarded Intel an agreement to provide commercial foundry services in the first phase of its multi-phase Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial programme

The US Department of Defense, through the NSTXL consortium-based S2MARTS OTA, has awarded Intel an agreement to provide commercial foundry services in the first phase of its multi-phase Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial (RAMP-C) programme.

The RAMP-C programme was created to facilitate the use of a US-based commercial semiconductor foundry ecosystem to fabricate the assured leading-edge custom and integrated circuits and commercial products required for critical Department of Defense systems. Intel Foundry Services, Intel's dedicated foundry business launched this year, will lead the work.

How it works

Intel Foundry Services will partner with industry leaders, including IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others, to support the US government's needs for designing and manufacturing assured integrated circuits by establishing and demonstrating a semiconductor IP ecosystem to develop and fabricate test chips on Intel 18A, Intel's most advanced process technology.

"The RAMP-C programme will enable both commercial foundry customers and the Department of Defense to take advantage of Intel's significant investments in leading-edge process technologies," said Randhir Thakur, Intel Foundry Services president.

The majority of US-based chip designers are fabless

"Along with our customers and ecosystem partners, including IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others, we will help bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain and ensure the US maintains leadership in both R&D and advanced manufacturing. We look forward to a long-term collaboration with the US government as we deliver RAMP-C programme milestones," Thakur added.

Intel recently announced plans to become a major provider of US-based capacity for foundry customers, including an investment of approximately $20 billion to build two new factories in Arizona. These fabs will provide committed capacity for foundry customers and support expanding requirements for Intel products.

Why it's important

The US Department of Defense (DOD) has recently sought to diversify its approach to securing advanced microprocessors by leveraging commercially available technologies developed by US companies.

Other than Intel, the majority of US-based chip designers are fabless, which means they design and sell integrated circuits that are fabricated by contract manufacturers called foundries. Today, more than 80% of leading-edge manufacturing capacity is concentrated in Asia, leaving the DOD with limited onshore access to foundry technology capable of meeting the country's long-term needs for secure microelectronics.

The RAMP-C programme was created to facilitate the use of a commercially viable onshore foundry ecosystem that will ensure DOD access to leading-edge technology, while allowing the defence industrial base to leverage the benefits of high-volume semiconductor manufacturing and design infrastructure of commercial partners like Intel.

The Broader Efforts

The RAMP-C programme is part of a larger initiative to strengthen government supply chain security and accelerate US leadership across the full spectrum of integrated circuit design, manufacturing and packaging.

In October 2020, DOD launched the RAMP programme using the Advanced Commercial Capabilities Project Phase 1 Other Transaction Authority. RAMP advances and demonstrates commercial leading-edge physical "back-end" assured design methods that transform a high-level chip design into the complex, technology-specific polygon form that is required as input for the wafer fabrication process. Intel is a participant in this project.

Last year, DOD also awarded Intel the second phase of its State-of-the-Art Heterogeneous Integration Prototype (SHIP) programme. The SHIP programme enables the US government to access Intel's US advanced semiconductor packaging capabilities with the goal of developing new approaches toward measurably secure, heterogeneous integration and test of advanced packaging solutions. SHIP will develop the capability to use advanced commercial technology to package and test the integrated circuits designed in RAMP and fabricated through RAMP-C.

"One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors, and the value to the US of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry," said Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger. "Intel is the sole American company both designing and manufacturing logic semiconductors at the leading edge of technology. When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the US government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C."

Companies