With All Due Respect, It's the Process, Stupid.

Author:Carlson, Steve
Position:Viewpoint
 
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The investment seeds planted by the Defense Department's science and technology enterprise created today's thriving commercial electronics, commercial aviation and commercial space industries.

As an example, in the 1980s, the department took the lead to address the then-Japanese threat and wisely invested close to $1 billion into the Very High Speed Integrated Circuit program.

As stated in the Sept. 30, 1990, "Very High Speed Integrated Circuits Final Report:" The "VHSIC Hardware Description Language and other design automation tools have broken through major integrated circuit complexity barriers and will decrease the cost and development time of modern electronic systems. The resulting achievements have helped to produce a new level of system design and fabrication--one that approaches an integrated 'concept to system' capability."

The program led to advances in integrated circuit materials, lithography, packaging, testing and algorithms, and created numerous computer-aided design tools. A well-known part of the program's contribution is VHDL, a hardware description language. And it created today's Silicon Valley.

That's the good news. However, that good news is historical. Since that time, both the Defense Department and commercial electronics companies have worked with the capabilities developed by the VHSIC program to develop "modern" electronics systems. However, because the department and defense industrial base have not been able to realize the potential of the VHSIC capabilities, they have fallen back to designing electronics using reliable, but heavy and power-hungry field programmable gate arrays, which are off-the-shelf silicon that can be programmed in the field.

Whereas, the commercial electronics industry has evolved those same capabilities to agilely, affordably and rapidly produce "first-pass success future-proofed" electronic systems--both hardware and software--with much faster performance.

How did we get here? From a macro--industry structure--and a micro--chip design process--viewpoint, we can glibly retort, "It's the process, stupid." The process for program formulation, compartmentalized and phased funding, separation of development, and sustainment funding are global contributors to the processes that govern the macro operation of the defense industrial base.

We believe there are a number of straightforward actions the government can take to address the lack of use of advanced node semiconductor technology and the...

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