TriQuint Semiconductor announced that it has been awarded a contract by the US Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL) to develop new Gallium Nitride (GaN) modules for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). TriQuint’s new GaN devices will extend the range and capabilities of UAVs that are used for reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan, Iraq and other regions.

TriQuint’s new modules will include 20 and 50 W devices. A challenging aspect of the program includes fitting new 20 W amplifiers into the same space now occupied by the fleet’s existing 1 W devices that limit the range and broadcast power of the aircraft.

“We’re very pleased to be working with the Air Force again,” said TriQuint Program Manager, Doug Cole. “The contract is particularly interesting since we need to increase the power of one device 20-fold without increasing the size. We’re using our proven 0.25-micron Gallium Nitride process since it offers excellent power density and ruggedness—key requirements for avionic applications.”

By increasing the output power of RF amplifiers in the UAVs, TriQuint will measurably increase the vehicles’ operational range and mission effectiveness, allowing new UAVs to serve in areas and under conditions that were impossible for their predecessors.

TriQuint’s more efficient GaN devices will also reduce the need for thermal mitigation and extend battery life in each vehicle. As estimated by the AFRL, more efficient amplifiers like TriQuint’s can extend UAV patrol time from one to three hours depending on the aircraft involved, payload and other operational conditions.

TriQuint is developing both the 20 and 50 W devices using in-house resources including complete module fabrication. TriQuint designs and builds both integrated and multi-chip modules (MCM) at its Richardson, TX facility, offering customers the added assurance that all resources needed for GaN or Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) programs are available in a single, domestic location.

Cole indicated TriQuint was chosen by the AFRL for the UAV amplifier contract based on the company’s detailed plan to meet the Laboratories’ accelerated development schedule. Other factors included results from TriQuint’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Wide Bandgap Semiconductor (WBGS) RF GaN program, in which TriQuint led Phase II and is leading Phase III. TriQuint also leads a DARPA contract for highly-advanced MMIC development using Gallium Nitride technology in the Nitride Electronic NeXt-Generation Technology (NEXT) program.

The Air Force UAV program is divided into two primary phases. The initial phase includes developing appropriate high-power GaN amplifier MMICs. This will be followed by the integration of MMIC amplifiers and other components into single packages to provide 20 and 50 W Ku-band power amplifiers. TriQuint is on track to deliver the first amplifier MMIC by August 2010. The first 50 W prototype packaged assembly high power amplifier (HPA) will be delivered in April 2011.