Higher power at higher frequencies has been the quest of military system architects for some time. Over the last decade, healthy investments in device research and development at many major systems houses, including Northrop Grumman (www.northropgrumman.com) and BAE Systems (www.baesystems.com), has yielded steady improvements in "nontraditional" high-power semiconductor device materials, such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). These materials promise considerably higher power densities than "rational" high-frequency semiconductor materials, such as silicon and gallium arsenide, which can translate into smaller power amplifiers for a given output level. Of course, whatever the military invests in usually provides benefits to the commercial world as well.
Recent news shows great promise for the emergence of GaN device technology. TriQuint Semiconductor (www.triquint.com), for example, showed its belief in the future of GaN technology with the largest order for GaN wafers ever placed with materials supplier IQE plc (www.iqep.com). TriQuint plans to support both commercial and military customers with new GaN-based integrated circuits (ICs).
Separately, Merrimac Industries (www.merrimacind.com) announced a working arrangement with GaN pioneer Nitronex Corporation (www.nitronex.com) to purchase GaN transistor die. The unpackaged transistors will be used to design and fabricate compact Power Amplifier Modules (PAMs) using Merrimac's proprietary multilayer Multi-Mix Microtechnology approach for constructing compact, three-dimensional circuit designs. As with TriQuint, Merrimac plans to serve both commercial and military customers with their GaN-based products. With the industry's largest trade show, the IEEE MTT-S, scheduled for this June in Atlanta, this may only be the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of news and announcements on GaN.