TriQuint Semiconductor, a leading RF products manufacturer and foundry services provider, announced that it has been awarded a $16.2 M Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) multi-year Gallium Nitride (GaN) R&D contract to create complex, high dynamic range circuits for future defense and aerospace applications.

TriQuint received its DARPA contract to advance GaN research and develop new generations of compound semiconductor circuits through the Nitride Electronic NeXt-Generation Technology (NEXT) program. TriQuint's Principal Investigator, Senior Fellow Paul Saunier, explained that achieving NEXT program goals could lead to GaN circuits as radically different as today’s computers are compared to those in the 1980s.

“GaN is already recognized for its ability to handle more power per square millimeter than other semiconductor technologies like gallium arsenide, and much more so than silicon. Yet even with the advances TriQuint has pioneered, today’s analog GaN technology has frequency and power limits.”

“NEXT circuits will be ‘game-changing’ technology that could radically improve performance in defense and aerospace applications like phased array radar and communications. NEXT calls for complex digital GaN circuits that also have very high breakdown voltages—something that silicon can’t do, and that is also beyond the scope of today’s other semiconductor processes,” said Saunier.

David Fanning, TriQuint’s Program Manager for NEXT, described the different segments of the new DARPA contract and key performance milestones. “The initial phase will run two years, pursuing devices that can operate at 300 GHz with essential yield levels of a small circuit. The 18-month Phase II program will push the operating frequency to 400 GHz while increasing yield and circuit size. The third and final 12-month segment will seek to extend the operating frequency to 500 GHz while also substantially increasing yield and circuit size,” he said.

Fanning explained that another key aspect of the NEXT program will be to develop enhancement-depletion (E/D) mode GaN circuits, similar to the E/D circuits that TriQuint uses for greater functionality and power handling in its Gallium Arsenide devices.

The TriQuint NEXT team will include IQE plc, a leading manufacturer of advanced GaN semiconductor wafers. TriQuint will also team with University of Notre Dame Professors Patrick Fay, Debdeep Jena, Greg Snider and Huili Xing to explore alternative wafer materials and circuit designs. University of Illinois Professor Ilesanmi Adesida will assist with work to develop advanced fabrication processes.

TriQuint has been a leader in GaN research for both defense and civilian applications since 1999. In addition to defense products, TriQuint has released GaN amplifiers for civilian applications and has provided commercial GaN foundry services since 2008. TriQuint was selected in 2009 by DARPA to lead a Phase III effort of the Wide Bandgap Semiconductor (WGBS-RF) R&D program that is developing high-power, wideband GaN circuits with defense and aerospace applications.