HRL Labs Working on Developing W-Band Nitrogen-Polar GaN Amplifiers for the US Navy

Scientists at HRL Laboratories are working on a project that could result in a disruptive improvement in radar, electronic warfare, and communications capabilities. If they are successful, the W-band, nitrogen-polar (N-polar) gallium nitride (GaN) low-noise amplifier could be the world’s first such device, launching a new generation of defense-oriented electronics applications with a possible improvement of 4 times the output power in W-band over HRL’s existing technology.

By leveraging experience from designing many of the fastest electronics in existence, the HRL team will design the new amplifier to enhance range and sensitivity of sensors and high-frequency receivers far beyond current specifications. Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the initial project aims to demonstrate design, fabrication, and functional testing of an N-polar GaN millimeter-wave integrated circuit that will enable the first W-band amplifier using the advanced semiconductor material.

HRL has been at the forefront of high-speed GaN electronics for decades. HRL demonstrated the world’s fastest GaN transistors and are applying that expertise to these new materials in a way that no other facility in the world can do. In fact, HRL is the only foundry that can make GaN devices this fast, with vertically integrated material design and nanometer-scale device fabrication. They have the capability to go all the way from gases to circuits, and not just any circuits, but the highest performing integrated circuits in the world. 

The goal of the HRL team is to improve receiver amplifiers that could potentially give platforms such as radar better performance than current instruments. Aircraft could have enhanced communications ability, increasing safety in the air. Oceangoing platforms could also have game-changing potential benefits from this technology, which interested the US Navy.