In 1999, within the pristine walls of Raytheon’s acclaimed microchip foundry in Andover, MA, engineers covered from head to toe in white protective suits first began their research into a promising new technology: gallium nitride.
The substance, often referred to simply as GaN for its chemical symbols, can be used to amplify radio energy for radars, jammers and other devices. Since those early days Raytheon has partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to drive forward the development and integration of this revolutionary technology.
"When Raytheon began investing in GaN 15 years ago, we weren’t sure of its full potential. It took multiple studies over many years to mature GaN into the robust technology discriminator we have today,” said Paul Ferraro, vice president of Advanced Technology Programs at Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems.
Today Advanced Technology Programs is in various stages of research with more than 100 promising technologies.
“We are charged with creating a pipeline of technologies to fuel business growth for years to come,” Ferraro said. “GaN is the biggest winner we’ve delivered so far.”
A semiconductor material that can efficiently amplify high power radio frequency signals at microwave frequencies, GaN produces five times the power of gallium arsenide (GaAs) technology, which is still used in concert with GaN. Raytheon continues to invest in the development of both GaAs and GaN at the Radio Frequency Components (RFC) Foundry in Andover.
“The greater sensitivity for an antenna array built with GaN components means it can detect and track objects at much further distances,” said Mike Borkowski, technical director at the Radio Frequency Components foundry.
GaN also enables Raytheon to reduce the size of a system’s antenna, which provides flexibility, improves transportability, and reduces acquisition and lifecycle costs without sacrificing performance.
In 2013, Raytheon was honored by Office of the Secretary of Defense for successfully completing a Defense Production Act Title III GaN production improvement program, culminating more than a decade of government and Raytheon investment in GaN RF circuit technology.
Raytheon also demonstrated that GaN technology reliability exceeded the requirement for insertion into production military systems. This maturation of GaN resulted in a Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) production capability of “8,” the highest level obtained by any organization in the defense industry for this technology.
MRL is a measure used by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and many of the world's major companies to assess the maturity of manufacturing readiness.