DARPA to Develop Integrated Mixed-Mode RF Electronics Using Advanced CMOS Technology

DARPA has selected nine research teams to develop advanced RF mixed-mode electronics critical to emerging defense applications in communications, radar, and electronic warfare under the Technologies for Mixed-mode Ultra Scaled Integrated Circuits (T-MUSIC) program. T-MUSIC was first announced in January 2019 as a part of the second phase of DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI). These RF mixed-mode interfaces will target the current limitation of in-efficiency of CMOS platforms, where they are unable to support operations at higher frequencies with larger signal bandwidths.

Today’s defense electronics systems rely on radio frequency (RF) mixed-mode electronics – those that integrate RF, analog, and digital circuits onto a single chip – to interface RF signals with digital processors. This technology supports critical communications, radars, and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, and is also used to support commercial telecommunications.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has capability demands that far exceed the requirements of the commercial world in terms of speed, fidelity, capacity, and precision. Current commercial RF mixed-mode Systems on Chips (SoCs) are implemented on digital complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) platforms, a technology that has been used for decades to construct integrated circuits, highly integrated transceivers, microprocessors, and beyond. Despite continued advancement and scaling along the trajectory of Moore’s Law for high integration density, these CMOS platforms are unable to support operations at higher frequencies with larger signal bandwidths and higher resolutions, essentially limiting their use in next-generation mixed-mode interfaces needed for emerging defense RF applications.

One area of research under ERI Phase II focuses on the integration of photonics and RF components directly into advanced circuits and semiconductor manufacturing processes, enabling unique and differentiated domestic manufacturing capabilities. As such, T-MUSIC will explore the integration of mixed-mode electronics into advanced onshore semiconductor manufacturing processes. The goal is to develop highly integrated RF electronics with an unprecedented combination of wide spectral coverage, high resolution, large dynamic range, and high information processing bandwidth. Further, the program will work to establish a domestic ecosystem that can facilitate enduring DoD access to high-performance RF mixed-mode SoCs.

T-MUSIC’s goal is to develop next-generation terahertz (THz) mixed-mode devices that integrate digital processing and intelligence on the same chip through an advanced CMOS fabrication platform. These technologies will provide DoD systems with differentiating capabilities in advanced RF sensors, high capacity wireless and wireline communications, and beyond.

The T-MUSIC program has selected nine research teams from academic institutions, as well as commercial companies, to take on the program’s research objectives. In particular, five research teams will work to develop and implement advanced broadband RF mixed-mode circuit designs. These designs will essentially form “building blocks” that can be used by DoD-relevant applications. The building blocks will also establish the foundation of a mixed-mode IP library for the DoD user community. The research teams selected for this area of research include BAE Systems, Raytheon, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Diego, and the University of Utah.

The five circuit design teams will closely collaborate with two foundry partners selected to support the development of advanced mixed-mode technologies in U.S. onshore CMOS foundries. The foundry partners include Global Foundries and TowerJazz.

Finally, the third group of researchers will explore foundational breakthroughs in ultra-broadband transistors, pushing well beyond current near-term advances in foundry technology. Research teams from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley will explore new types of RF mixed-mode transistors capable of demonstrating transistor-switching speed up to 1 THz in a scalable CMOS platform.