HENSOLDT has made the new semiconductor technology gallium nitride fit for the defence sector as part of a European alliance, thus opening a new chapter in defence electronics. This has a direct impact on the performance of radar technologies and electronic warfare systems, for example, as well as on their resource consumption.
Power electronics are based on semiconductors, the main component of microchips. Most microchips are currently made from the semiconductor silicon, which is cut into slices just a few tenths of a millimeter thick – known as wafers. According to market analyses, the global wafer market will reach a volume of around 27 billion dollars by 2030.
Although silicon technology, which has dominated the market for around 70 years, has been developed to perfection, it is now slowly reaching its performance limits. Semiconductors made of silicon are not suitable, for example, for high-performance electronics where high or very high power must be generated extremely efficiently, such as in wireless communications applications, radar sensors, or electronic warfare. HENSOLDT has therefore decided to join forces with competitors in a European alliance and jointly develop a new semiconductor material for defence electronics across the board: gallium nitride – or GaN.
To explore the future potential of gallium nitride in the defence industry, the European Defence Agency (EDA) has launched the MUSTANG project. Over a period of three years, an industrial consortium jointly developed the new GaN semiconductor technology. In addition to HENSOLDT, other participants included Saab (Sweden), Thales (France), Indra (Spain), and HENSOLDT’s partner company United Monolithic Semiconductors (UMS) from Ulm, Germany, who are experts in the manufacture of GaN products.
In the face of increasingly protectionist export regulations for semiconductors, the project contributes to Europe’s technological sovereignty in one of the key components of the digital future. This is also to be further strengthened in other European projects with the participation of HENSOLDT.
Currently, HENSOLDT is working on a demonstrator for a German customer to prove the performance potential of GaN technology. In addition, HENSOLDT and other European partners have further developed the packaging of the semiconductor chips – important for protection and integration on the circuit board – and carried out initial qualifications.
HENSOLDT already uses gallium nitride technologies in various solutions. The advantages are manifold: Gallium nitride is more robust than silicon or gallium arsenide-based semiconductors, for example, and thus less susceptible to interference from hostile radars. In addition, gallium nitride can be used to significantly increase the efficiency of power amplifiers in existing radars such as the SPEXER MK III or PrecISR. This reduces cooling requirements and weight.
Gallium nitride is ideally suited for high-frequency integrated circuits with high powers. With frequencies of up to 40 GHz, these are becoming increasingly important, especially for electronic warfare. HENSOLDT is currently driving the development of the new GH15 technology. Today, it is already successfully integrated in the multifunctional high-frequency system and, due to the nature of gallium nitride, also enables broadband interference and deception of signals.
As part of the MUSTANG project, HENSOLDT is continuously expanding its experience with GH15 technology. In the meantime, numerous microchip variants with low-noise amplifiers, high-power amplifiers, and power switches have already been tested, and new circuit topologies have been investigated. GH15 technology is also expected to be used in three of the four high-frequency demonstrators with HENSOLDT’s participation in the “Future Combat Air System (FCAS)”.
Gallium nitride has ushered in a new era of semiconductor technology. With new levels of performance, higher speed, and increased robustness, the size and weight of electronic components are simultaneously reduced. This opens up new possibilities ranging from space to medicine. Likewise, gallium nitride is ideally suited for the defence applications of the future by increasing their performance, reducing resource consumption, and also offering the potential to reduce the cost of end products. HENSOLDT is making a significant contribution to all of this at the European level.
Gallium Nitride Gallium nitride (GaN) is a semiconductor consisting of gallium and nitrogen. It is known from optoelectronics, where it is used for blue and green light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The production of high-quality base plates made of gallium nitride for electronic components – wafers – is currently still very complex but is being promoted worldwide.