US DoD serves up $238M Chips Act funding to 8 regional hubs

Hoping to bridge the dreaded 'lab-to-fab' gap where R&D dreams go to die

The US Department of Defense is investing $238 million in 8 Microelectronics Commons regional innovation hubs as part of Washington’s efforts to boost semiconductor production across the country, and in particular to bridge the so-called “lab to fab” gap.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the awards, which are part of the CHIPS and Science Act funding signed into law by President Biden last year. This paved the way for $280 billion for science and technology, roughly $52 billion of which is intended for boosting US semiconductor production.

The eight Microelectronic Commons regional hubs are to be located in Massachusetts, Indiana, North Carolina, Arizona, Ohio, New York, and the final two in California, with over 360 organizations from over 30 states participating.

According to the DoD, $2 billion in funding is set to be available for the Microelectronics Commons program during the fiscal years 2023 through 2027, with the aim of speeding hardware prototyping and the "lab-to-fab" transition of semiconductor technologies. The overall goal is to mitigate any future supply chain issues and ensure access to cutting edge semiconductors for the armed forces, it said.

The "lab-to-fab" gap is defined by Deputy Secretary Hicks as "the infamous valley of death between R&D and production."

Six technology areas were identified by the DoD as critical to the mission of the armed forces, with each Commons Hub expected to “advance US leadership” in one or more of these areas.

The areas include 5G/6G, secure edge/Internet of Things (IoT), AI hardware, quantum technology, electromagnetic warfare, and commercial leap ahead technologies (whatever that means).

However, the Hubs are not just being handed federal government dosh to play around with as they please: they are expected to spur economic growth in their respective regions and the economy at large. Hubs are also expected to become self-sufficient by the end of their initial five-year awards.

The Hubs are being tasked with developing the ecosystem needed to support ongoing microelectronics research and development, the DoD said, including building education pipelines and retraining initiatives to ensure the US has the skills to realize these investments.

“These hubs will tackle many technical challenges relevant to DoD's missions, to 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,” Deputy Secretary Hicks said.

One company that has already expressed its satisfaction with the news is IBM, which welcomed the $40 million slice of the pie that has been awarded to the New York Hub, said to be the largest out of all the 8 awards.

The New York consortium, known as the Northeast Regional Defense Technology Hub (NORDTech), is led by NY CREATES, an existing body created to stimulate technology innovation and investment.

Big Blue CEO Arvind Krishna said in a statement that New York state’s legacy of semiconductor innovation is about to take a major step forward.

“Our company is privileged to join a consortium including NY CREATES, industry partners, and leading research universities selected to establish a DoD Microelectronics Commons Hub in the Empire State. These hubs are vital to the nation because they will strengthen the domestic chip workforce and boost R&D capabilities that will sustain US leadership in semiconductor technology,” Krishna said. ®

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