About eight "innovation hubs" across the United States will be awarded nearly $240 million dollars as part of the federal government's efforts to bolster domestic microelectronics manufacturing, the Defense Department (DOD) announced on Sept. 20.
The multi-million dollar funding is part of the "Microelectronics Commons" program—described by the Pentagon as a "national network of regional technology hubs" with a "shared mission" to expand the nation's global leadership in microelectronics.
"The Microelectronics Commons is focused on bridging and accelerating the 'lab-to-fab' transition, that infamous valley of death between research and development and production," said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks during a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.
The program and subsequent funding will also help to mitigate supply chain risks, ensure American ingenuity stays inside the country, and ultimately expedite access to the most cutting-edge microchips for the American military.
Wednesday's announcement marks the Pentagon's largest award under the CHIPS Act, which aims to ramp up domestic microelectronic and semiconductor manufacturing. Semiconductors are an essential component in everything from electronic devices like mobile phones to electric vehicles.
The DOD has received $2 billion in CHIPS Act funding through 2027.
'Era of Strategic Competition'"President [Joe] Biden's CHIPS Act will supercharge America's ability to prototype, manufacture, and produce microelectronics scale. CHIPS and Science made clear to America—and the world—that the U.S. government is committed to ensuring that our industrial and scientific powerhouses can deliver what we need to secure our future in this era of strategic competition," Ms. Hicks said.
Under the latest multi-million dollar award, each of the eight hubs—located across seven states—will receive between $15 million and $40 million.
They include a Northeast Regional Defense Tech Hub in New York; a Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub in Arizona; a Commercial Leap Ahead for Wide-bandgap Semiconductors Hub in North Carolina; and a Silicon Crossroads Microelectronics Commons Hub in Indiana.
They also include a 65-member hub in Ohio launched by the Midwest Microelectronics Consortium; a California Defense Ready Electronics and Microdevices Superhub in southern California; a Northeast Microelectronics Coalition Hub launched by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative; and a California-Pacific-Northwest AI Hardware Hub in northern California.
The eight hubs will focus on microelectronic development in areas including electromagnetic warfare; secure internet-of-things computing, artificial intelligence hardware; 5G and 6G wireless; quantum technology; and "commercial leap ahead technologies."
"Consistent with our warfighter-centric approach, the Microelectronics Commons will get the most cutting-edge microchips into systems our troops use every day: ships, planes, tanks, long-range munitions, communications gear, sensors and much more ... including the kinds of all-domain, attritable autonomous systems that we’ll be fielding through DOD’s recently announced Replicator initiative," Ms. Hicks said.
Reliance on China, TaiwanThey will also spur economic growth both regionally and nationally, and are expected to become self-sufficient by the end of their initial five-year awards, the deputy defense secretary said.
Ms. Hicks added that the department received more than 80 proposals for potential innovation hubs across the United States since last December with over 600 unique organizations included as prospective team members. The Pentagon gathered an interagency team of technical experts, including representatives from the Commerce Department, to help decide the funding selections, she said.
The latest funding award signifies a key step in gaining microelectronic independence.
According to the White House, the United States is responsible for just 12 percent of microelectronics production globally, marking a decline from 37 percent in 1990. Additionally, 90 percent of leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing is now done outside the United States and predominantly in Asia, including in China and Taiwan.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have consistently raised concerns about America's reliance on China for the essential chips, and have pushed for increased independence, particularly amid heightened tensions between Taiwan and China, which views the former as part of its territory.
Increased chip-making dependency by the Chinese Communist Party also risks further bolstering its military capabilities, which poses another risk to the United States and its allies.
"These hubs are not just vital to American scientific, manufacturing, and economic competitiveness," Ms. Hicks said Wednesday. "They will also directly contribute to this department’s national defense mission."