WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded contracts worth $197.2 million for microelectronics, it announced Thursday, amid concerns about with much production of the technology is taking place outside the United States.

The Pentagon awards are part of the department’s desire to entice microelectronics manufacturing back into the United States. Microelectronics are at the core of technologies the department considers critical to national security, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G communications capabilities.

“The microelectronics industry is at the root of our nation’s economic strength, national security, and technological standing," said Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. The “awards support the Department’s mission to promote microelectronics supply chain security and accelerate U.S. development of the very best in circuit design, manufacturing, and packaging. It’s critical for the DOD and American industry to work together in meaningful partnerships to ensure the United States leads the world in microelectronics far into the future.”

As part of the awards, Microsoft and IBM are splitting an other transaction authority contract worth $24.5 million “to advance commercial leading-edge microelectronics physical ‘back-end’ design methods with measurable security.” The award is a phase one deal under the DoD’s Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes using Advanced Commercial Capabilities Project.

Another contract, valued at $172.7 million, was awarded to both Intel Federal and Qorvo to “develop and demonstrate a novel approach towards measurably secure, heterogeneous integration and test of advanced packaging solutions.” The award was given under phase two of the State-of-the-Art Heterogeneous Integration Prototype Program.

“These awards highlight how the Department is moving towards a new quantifiable assurance strategy that will help the DOD quickly and safely build and deploy leading-edge microelectronics technologies,” the Pentagon’s news release said.

The department is increasingly concerned about the microsystems market because much of the production process takes place overseas, particularly in or near China. The department fears this allows China to implement backdoors into critical national security systems.

Because of the current market structure, "we can no longer identify the pedigree of our microelectronics,” Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative Summit in August.

“Therefore we can no longer ensure that backdoors, malicious code or data exfiltration commands aren’t embedded in our code. While we develop the ability to identify the technical path to ensure all components, circuits and systems are clean regardless of their manufacturing location, we need to find a path to domestic sources to provide a secure and resilient supply of legacy, state-of-the-present and state-of-the-art microelectronics.”

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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