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Intel and Qualcomm awarded chipmaking deal with US defence agencies

The US government wants to create a healthy stream of 7nm chips and smaller manufactured on-shore

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded Intel and Qualcomm a joint agreement to provide on-shore foundry services to develop 7nm chips, and smaller, for military systems.

Awarded as part of the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial (RAMP-C) programme, Intel and Qualcomm will partner with companies like IBM and Synopsis to support the US government’s need to build chips on-shore. 

RAMP-C was created by the DoD, and funded by a National Security Technology Acceleration (NSTXL) programme, to encourage the US semiconductor industry to fabricate leading custom and integrated circuits and commercial products required for DOD systems. 

Intel Foundry Services, which launched this year as part of the company’s $20 billion (roughly £15 billion) plan to reinvigorate its business, will lead the work, with Qualcomm likely stepping in as a design partner.

“The RAMP-C program will enable both commercial foundry customers and the Department of Defense to take advantage of Intel’s significant investments in leading-edge process technologies,” said Intel Foundry Services president, Randhir Thakur. 

“Along with our customers and ecosystem partners, including IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others, we will help bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain and ensure the United States maintains leadership in both R&D and advanced manufacturing.”

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The foundry service will partner with supporting companies to support the US government’s needs to design and manufacture integrated circuits by establishing a semiconductor IP ecosystem. This will fabricate test chips on Intel 18A, currently the firm’s most advanced process technology.

The NSTXL claims there’s currently no commercially viable foundry option on-shore that will keep the US industry in control of its own fabrication needs. This is because most US companies are fabless, meaning they rely on outsourcing their fabrication to a specialised semiconductor foundry. These are mostly, but not exclusively, based in Asia.

Intel launched its foundry business earlier this year as part of its IDM 2.0 strategy that aims to reinvigorate the business after a tumultuous 2020. Nvidia, for instance, overtook Intel to become the most valuable US chipmaker

This has come alongside reported talks between Intel and GlobalFoundries over a prospective $30 billion acquisition of the firm, in a move that could further expand chip production amid the ongoing global components shortage.

Since launching the foundry service, however, Intel has celebrated early successes with agreements struck with massive companies such as Amazon and Qualcomm. The latest contract win with the DOD further signals the company might be on the right track, Intel hopes.

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