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NEXT-GENERATION SEMICONDUCTORS

from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to run the Microwave and Millimeter Wave Integrated Circuit (MIMIC) program, which OSD had stood up two years earlier. The MIMIC program, which ran until 1995, had a profound impact on industry, as it sought to develop the ways and means of integrating higher-frequency materials and components into military-relevant technologies, such as radio and radar, and to establish a reliable industrial base to do those things. In fact, the MIMIC program was able to realize GaAs transistor technology that led to a new class of RF (radio frequency) “front end” components. The front end of an RF system is the amplifier technology that sends and receives signals in the electromagnetic spectrum. DARPA’s MIMIC technology, particularly the techniques of integration that came out of it, enabled the Department of Defense (DOD) to make radios and radar systems that engage the spectrum at higher frequencies and bandwidths than ever before. The use of GaAs technology in DOD systems continues to this day. Beyond defense applications, the high-frequency GaAs amplifiers provided a key piece of the puzzle to the commercial sector as it sought to establish newly developed cellular phone technology in the 1990s. GaAs transistors enabled handheld phones with small batteries to establish the critical communications link to the towers. To this day, every smartphone contains a small piece of GaAs to perform this critical function, and the United States enjoys a dominant share of the suppliers of this multi-billion-dollar semiconductor industry as a result of DARPA’s investment in the MIMIC program. The success of GaAs technology proved the defense relevance and the commercial viability of semiconductor technology beyond silicon and made a once-exotic

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DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY I 60 YEARS

DOD PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. JAMES AVERY

A soldier with 3-6 FA, 1BCT, 10th Mountain Division, navigates the new Precision Fires–Dismounted system that allows soldiers to view live-streaming full-motion video from unmanned aerial vehicles through an app on approved smartphones. The ubiquitous cellphone technology used worldwide owes its existence in part to the development of the GaAs semiconductor industry made possible by DARPA-funded research.

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DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency 1958-2018  

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