Why the U.S. Should Expend More Resources in Pursuit of Semiconductor Autonomy


Chinese propaganda poster courtesy of flickr.

Edward Liu, Staff Writer

*The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.*

The semiconductor—a tiny component measured in nanometers, a billionth of a meter—is at the heart of every technology around us. It is embedded inside our phones, computers, cars, washing machines, refrigerators, bank ATMs. You name it, they’ve got it. It is usually made of germanium, silicon, selenium, gallium arsenide and many metal oxides and metal sulfides, which are perfect for controlling current flow in electronic devices. Given its crucial role in technology development, both China and the U.S. scrambled to use economic instruments to improve, attract and relocate supply chains of semiconductors to respective countries. The semiconductor industry is an important stepping stone for technology development. The rise of the semiconductor industry has been seen as a critical element for the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The reasons behind the supremacy of semiconductors has become a matter of national and economic security that can affect the future geopolitical status of a country. Pouring more resources in pursuit of semiconductor autonomy will increase military capabilities to protect democratic values, improve telecommunication speed to upgrade industries and create a more sustainable future with a new generation of vehicles. 

First of all, having access to a source of microchips allows the nation to have better military power. Various electronic components have the same type of logic and memory chips in the defense system, such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Unlike usual commercial semiconductor chips, military-specific chips are required to have certain qualities, such as better durability and higher heat tolerance. Therefore, the military usually uses compound conductors like gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN)-based chips for military-specific applications to obtain such effect due to their superior electronic properties such as high electron mobility. These technologies are also widely applied in defense and aerospace uses, including military communications and space capabilities. Aside from that, new semiconductors developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are reported to enable military capabilities that rely on the spectrum, such as radar, to operate without being disabled by the opponent. Another contribution of semiconductor chips is that they offer better hardware for installing cybersecurity programs. With the advancement in technology obtained by semiconductors, the U.S. can promote a robust, technologically advanced military system to defend and safeguard its core values such as democracy in the global stage.

Moreover, semiconductors play a critical role in telecommunication. As the technological foundation for societal communication, telecommunication, without a doubt, is essential to a country’s development, especially as the world now is in an era of information society. Semiconductors are the integral component for electronic devices, where they play a massive role in the fabrication of the devices. With the implementation of 5G, cloud services, semiconductors are in high demand. Combined with COVID-19, the consumer and business demand has increased. Suppose a nation can fulfill the demand for semiconductors. In that case, the country’s economy benefits by letting other countries buy the techniques. In sub-sectors of telecommunication such as cable distribution and satellite, telecommunication helps provide a wide range of employment opportunities.

Additionally, the new generation of vehicles has ushered in greater demand for semiconductors. The semiconductor embedded inside a car helps increase the driver’s safety with intelligent functions like blind-spot detection systems and backup cameras—not to mention how it increases the efficiency of the combustion in the car engine, as it could replace the manual systems with electrical systems. With the rise of green energy, more and more people have adopted electric vehicles, so the usage of semiconductors has primarily increased. They are manufactured in specialized facilities where the semiconductor inside helps reduce the particles emitted when the air passes through the “clean room.” They also play an essential role in fast charging, where they are required to replenish electric vehicles batteries quickly. This can improve electrical charging efficiency greatly, making more industries and households more likely to use electric vehicles. Therefore, with supremacy in semiconductors, the U.S. will have the technologies to become a global leader in promoting a more sustainable future.

Over the last few decades, semiconductors have evolved to find use in nearly every corner of our everyday lives, but it has become scarce all across the world. Semiconductors and their unique role in national security, economic growth and sustainable transportation will be the ace card in global competitiveness. This is why the U.S. should invest in and devote its resources towards semiconductor supremacy: because the one who gets chip autonomy in semiconductors will be the next leader globally.