Monday, January 09, 2006

"CHIPS: Silicon-germanium ICs eye low-cost radar systems"

The Department of Defense is attempting to leverage silicon-germanium ICs to create a low-cost, high-performance technology to handle radar and communications on earth and radiation-hardened electronics in space. The program represents a new research strategy for the DOD, which traditionally has funded expensive new technologies that had a low probability of seeing the light of day because of their exorbitant development costs. In a reversal of that trend, the Pentagon now is looking to develop less-expensive solutions with the potential for commercial as well as military applications. In particular, the program has the potential to lead to the development of cheap silicon-germanium chips for less-expensive weather radar for aircraft or as collision-avoidance radar for automobiles. The program, called the Silicon-Germanium Transmit-Receive Module Project by the DOD, should dramatically lower the cost of modern phased-array radar systems. And since a specially equipped vehicle would no longer be needed just to transport the antenna, it should also enable the systems to be portable. If the silicon-germanium chips work as well as the researchers hope, then the naturally radiation-hardened chips could also downsize and lower the cost of critical space applications. Silicon-germanium devices are not likely to replace gallium-arsenide devices for most optical applications, however, because their power-handling capabilities are about 10-fold lower than for high-power gallium-arsenide discrete devices. But for low-power applications like radar, the ability to integrate the silicon-germanium optics on the same chip with pure-silicon electronics could enable developers to dramatically lower the cost.