It should be no surprise in the current climate that the US government is ramping up investment in microelectronics security, particularly with an eye on China and investments they are making in the same area. This has two major thrusts as I read it: to ensure trusted and assured microelectronics are being used in US defense systems and to ensure that US defense electronics design practices are at least on a par with commercial practices and move much more rapidly in innovation and adoption of innovation.
From 2003 through 2016, the first of these objectives was met through use of accepted domestic trusted foundries but it was already clear that option would be challenging, especially since competitive bidding has driven more purchasing to commercial off-the-shelf-solutions (COTS), whose builders must manufacture overseas to meet competitive price, performance and power targets. Now there’s a big push to allow more trusted suppliers building in state-of-the-art foundries and using modern trust and assurance methods to certify their products.
There’s also a push to encourage multiple commercial foundry and packaging options onshore. It will be interesting to see how that works out. The DoD seems to be committed to driving business which will encourage growth and commercial competitiveness in such foundries. I speculate that they may want to mimic aspects of Chinese investment in their onshore manufacturing. Some of this will certainly be needed in support of rad-hard processes and design technologies for space and nuclear programs.
The second part of the program is under MINSEC (Microelectronics Innovation for National Security) and aims to pursue an aggressive modernization of the entire defense microelectronics infrastructure in the US: updated assurance policies and guidance, robust verification and validation, building state of art expertise (including SoC design) and engagement with academia, very active and disruptive R&D and modernizing defense systems, including reducing reliance on legacy components. Again, if China can do it, we can too.
MINSEC funding is currently modest, $2B to start, but acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering Kristen Baldwin says there is broad recognition among legislators of the strategic importance of microelectronics leadership to the US in general and defense electronics in particular. China is investing $150B in microelectronics so it’s pretty clear where our competition stands.
I have written before about Tortuga and their design for security solutions. They have recently been awarded contracts in both of these areas. The first will use their RADIX-S platform for the detection and prevention of hardware vulnerabilities. RADIX-S works with existing simulation-based flows to detect and pinpoint potential security issues in pre-silicon designs. The platform is already proven with Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys-based flows.
The second program is based on their RADIX-M emulation-based platform, playing into the MINSEC theme of bringing defense design up to modern design standard in use of tools like emulation. Here, Tortuga will be working with the DoD and partners to advance detection of vulnerabilities crossing between hardware and software, a unique strength for the Tortuga products as far as I know.
Some of this work will be piloted by an outfit called AFWERX, which itself seems to be a major innovation in the way the government can work with technology. Hosted by the Air Force, this is an agile program to break out of traditional bureaucratic government bounds to drive fast innovation in multiple areas. Good to see that it can be possible to change calcified practices, even in the government.
You can learn more about the Tortuga wins HERE.