The U.S. Department of Defense has inked a deal with Intel for the company to provide commercial foundry services for the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial (RAMP-C) program.
Intel Foundry Services (IFS), a new Intel division that offers the company's chip manufacturing services to chip designers, will work with the Department of Defense to create a foundry ecosystem to produce leading-edge "custom and integrated circuits and commercial products" for DoD systems, with the initial test chips being fabbed on Intel's 18A node. The dollar value of the contract is currently unknown, but we've reached out to Intel for details.
Intel will work with other industry stalwarts, like IBM, Cadence, and Synopsys, among others, to develop a semiconductor IP system that supports designing and manufacturing chips, with the first test chips using Intel's 18A process, which Intel cites as its most advanced node. However, Intel's 18A will be the company's second-gen Angrstrom-class process node and won't be available until early 2025, signaling this is a long-term contract. Intel will not ship the first generation of its Angstrom-class chips, 20A, until 2024.
As part of its IDM 2.0 initiative, Intel recently invested $20 billion of its own money to build two fabs that it will use for both its IFS services and its own internal production. But the company has also been on a full-court press seeking government investments for more fabs, both at home in the US and abroad, leveraging the fact that it is the only American company that designs and manufacturers chips on US soil. These efforts come as the US and EU countries look to reduce their reliance on chip production from foreign countries.
Intel's 18A will come with all of the bleeding-edge tech of the company's 20A process, like RibbonFET transistors and backside PowerVia power delivery, but adds in High NA EUV manufacturing. This is a new ultra-precise version of EUV production that can etch designs at smaller (<8nm) resolutions than current machines. New machines from ASML will be required to do single-patterning EUV at such fine geometries because existing EUV tools would require less desirable multi-patterning EUV manufacturing techniques. Intel will be the first company to receive a High NA EUV machine from ASML.
Intel recently announced in its IDM 2.0 announcement that it would collaborate with IBM on future logic and packaging technologies, and the company will also work with IBM as part of the RAMP-C program. Intel hasn't shared too many fine-grained details of its Angstrom-class chips, but they bear a striking resemblance to IBM's recently announced GAA/nanosheet tech that it fabbed on a 2nm test wafer. This partnership is important for Intel as it looks to recover from years of stagnation with its process technologies. During our briefings with IBM about its nanosheet tech, the company was quite clear that its new 2nm IP will benefit all of its partners, including Intel. You can read more about IBM's similar tech here.
"One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors, and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry. Intel is the sole American company both designing and manufacturing logic semiconductors at the leading edge of technology. When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the U.S. government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C.”– Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO
Intel's press release doesn't outline the size of the US government investment or a timeline for the contract, which comes after Intel won another DoD project last year to develop packaging solutions for the US government. We've reached out for details about the RAMP-C project and will update as necessary.