At the heart of global defense, aerospace, and security is BAE Systems, boasting a worldwide work force more than 83,000 strong. The third largest defense contractor in the world supports air, land, and naval forces via a host of innovative solutions and services, including advanced electronics, information technologies, cyber operations, and intelligence analysis.
Although known for its defense work and leading the charge in electronic warfare (EW), BAE Systems also has a 70,000 square-foot Microelectronics Center (MEC) located in Nashua, N.H. The MEC building is home to the Advanced Microwave Products (AMP) Center, which includes the Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) foundry.
To learn more about the center, foundry, and their impact within the defense community, ECN had the opportunity to speak with Director of Advanced Microwave Products Scott Sweetland about BAE Systems’ vast Nashua hub.
The AMP Center: Delivering Defense-Critical Components
Established in 1985, the AMP Center delivers defense-critical microwave, circuits, components, modules, and subsystems. The facility supports gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) materials from research and development (R&D), through manufacturing, and has served as a Department of Defense (DoD) accredited category 1A trusted supplier since 2008.
“The AMP is a product-focused organization to create a center of excellence for GaN technology as well as GaAs technology. We focus on delivering MMICs as well as modules to our internal customers within BAE Systems,” says Sweetland.
Among its core strengths, BAE Systems shines the light on three capabilities:
- Vertically integrated operation: Maintains a comprehensive microwave product solution.
- Module capabilities: Includes design/simulation, assembly/packaging, and testing for high-rate manufacturing and quick prototyping.
- MMIC foundry products: A subset of the AMP Center, the MMIC foundry supports reliable, industry-leading GaAs and GaN technologies.
Along with the foundry, the facility includes a Class 100 integrated circuit (IC) fabrication clean room space, as well as environmental control equipment that delivers cleanliness of the upmost quality to continue the production of reliable semiconductor devices.
“I would call us a ‘feeder factory’ to our other factories that build higher level modules that go into our EW systems primarily,” says Sweetland. “We also are an open foundry for DoD. As part of the center here, we offer our technology to other DoD companies so essentially we can fabricate MMICs for them, typically using their own design. We sometimes sell our own designs as well,” Sweetland explains.
Avionics, targeting systems, communications, surveillance tools, and electronic combat—these are just a few capacities influenced by the AMP Center’s next-gen developments.
MMIC Foundry: Advancing Microelectronic Technologies
Existing as part of the AMP Center, the MMIC foundry focuses on the world of microelectronics, known for delivering cost-effective ICs and providing open foundry services.
A few notable foundry highlights, according to BAE Systems, include:
- GaAs and GaN high-electron mobility and transistor-based technologies.
- MMIC technologies with cutting-edge performance.
- 6-inch GaAs and GaN production line in support of mature and reliable processes.
- MMIC design, on-wafer testing (to 240 GHz), and dice/pick/inspect.
In August 2017, the foundry moved from 4-in. GaN-on-SiC production to 6-in. GaN wafer processes (Figure 1). Demonstrating high-yield, reliability, and comparable performance, the production of GaN MMICs on 6-in. wafers confronts an enduring design hurdle—affordability. After the move, the foundry noticed a cost savings gearing toward 50 percent, according to Sweetland, although further improvements of the transition are still underway.
GaN serves as a staple within the foundry, and continues to circulate in popularity within multiple industries. Sweetland comments on its impact and projected trend within the market:
“For GaN there’s been a big increase in our business and GaN technology. As GaN matured, it started to feed into programs of record, so that’s really the original reason the AMP Center was created—to deliver that maturing technology to all of our programs, realizing it was on a growth curve. We have some GaN modules, we’re doing hundreds a week of those to existing programs, so in the DoD world that’s large quantities,” says Sweetland.
In addition to assisting AMP Center goals, the foundry’s top-rated services are mainstay forces in a diverse collection of applications. A few examples include amplifiers, limiters, frequency converters, and control circuits.
Joining Forces: Inserting into Fielded Products
Spurring past the R&D phase, the entire 70,000 square-foot structure works in tandem to produce devices in quantities that are instrumental in multiple DoD initiatives. For example, the company delivered nearly 1 million GaAs MMICs that aided the production needs of fifth-generation stealth aircraft.
“We’re an EW supplier to many different platforms. Some of the other platforms I can mention are the F-35, F-15, and B-2. We do a lot of classified programs as well that we can’t talk about, but those are some of the biggies that we do,” explains Sweetland.
BAE System’s EW experience spans more than 60 years, providing assistance in electronic support (rapid detection, missile warning), protection (RF/IR countermeasures, off- and on-board systems), and attack (threat analysis and response, RF/threat management). BAE Systems’ EW systems operate on more than 80 percent of U.S. fixed-wing military aircraft, and they have a hand in all stages of EW production life cycle, from development to manufacturing, all the way through sustainment.
Tracing field-hardened EW products back to their beginning in the Nashua hub churning out next-gen services, Sweetland leaves us with the center’s exciting next steps:
“We are working on the next process nodes for GaN in the foundry to push frequencies higher and efficiencies higher—that’s one of the thrusts that we have from a technological standpoint.”
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense