A local unit of Westinghouse Electric Corp. has become the newest member of a group of heavyweight U.S. defense electronic contractors engaged in a $500 million Pentagon program to develop a new generation of gallium arsenide integrated circuits at an affordable price.
Westinghouse's Advanced Technology Division in Linthicum has been added to a team led by TRW Inc. that is not only looking at the development of the new chips but also at improving the manufacturing process to allow for the production of higher performance and reliability.
The military program, which also involves Martin Marietta Corp., ITT Corp., General Electric Co., Hughes Aircraft Co., Raytheon Corp. and Texas Instruments, is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA, as the organization is commonly called, is the research and development arm of the Defense Department that spearheads advances in technology that are usually too expensive for industry alone.
Gallium arsenide circuits conduct electrons about six times faster than silicon chips, require about one-fourth the power and have a significantly increased resistance to radiation damage. The main problem is that they cost three or four times more than silicon chips.
"The goal of this project," said Timothy L. Dolan, a spokesman for TRW in Redondo Beach, Calif., "is to create an industrial base to make them more affordable."
He said it would represent a major advance in defense electronics by making systems smaller and more sophisticated.
Gallium arsenide circuits "operate at higher frequencies, which give you higher resolutions, which allows a radar system to see smaller targets," said Milton Richardson, marketing manager for the Advanced Technology Division of the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group.
His division, part of the electronics systems group complex near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, is writing a proposal for a new round of DARPA contracts to be awarded next summer.
Because of competitive and security reasons, Mr. Richardson said, he was limited in what he could say about the semiconductor program.
He added, however, that the circuits would be for Westinghouse's entire product line, which includes ground-based radar units and fire-control radar for fighter planes and electronic warfare equipment.
By operating a radar unit at higher frequencies than is possible with silicon circuits, Mr. Dolan said, the circuits would allow the radar on a missile, for example, to see through smoke or fog.
The purpose of bringing the price down, Mr. Dolan explained, is to allow the chips to be used on a wider variety of systems.
"If we can bring the price down a lot, we could use them on something like an artillery shell," which would have a tiny radar unit to guide it to its target, he said.
"If we can only bring it down so much," he said, they would only be used on more sophisticated systems, such as anti-tank weapons, which are not produced in as large a quantity as artillery shells.
Jan Bodanyi, a spokeswoman at DARPA, said requests for proposals for the next phase of gallium arsenide circuit developments are due Nov. 15.
She said the program is not designed to have the government end up buying a large supply of chips but to make the technology available to companies such as General Dynamics Corp. or McDonnell Douglas Corp. for use in tanks, missiles or communication equipment.
Ms. Bodanyi said the Defense Department is looking at using the gallium arsenide circuits in a satellite that is designed to pinpoint a military unit's exact location on the ground, an advanced range air-to-air missile and a new high-speed air-launched missile that is designed to wipe out ground-based radar units.
Martin Marietta, which is teamed with ITT, has been involved in the Defense Department's gallium arsenide circuit project since 1988.