The Defense program designated MINSEC is probably one that you have never heard of, but I bet it will gather more headlines in the future. MINSEC stands for Microelectronics Innovation for National Security and Economic Competitiveness, which is an outgrowth of, and sometimes still identified as, Trusted and Assured Microelectronics. However, it is more than that, as the new Undersecretary of Defense (USD) for Research and Engineering Department of the DoD fleshes out their objectives since the split with the USD for Acquisition and Sustainment Department in 2018. See my previous columns about the breaking of the old USD for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) into two new departments.
The Beginnings of MINSEC
I first heard of MINSEC in late 2017 with the cleared publication of “Assuring Microelectronics Innovation for National Security & Economic Competitiveness (MINSEC)” by Jeremy Muldavin, Ph.D., in the Office of the USD AT&L Assistant for Systems Engineering. The paper was first presented at TAME (Trusted and Assured MicroElectronics) at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, in May of 2017 but was not cleared until later. The link to the publicly released paper from an NDIA presentation can be found online .
For me, this was a breath of fresh air while working at NAVSEA Crane on Defense electronics packaging. To start, this was the first time I had seen electronics packaging appear on a DoD program that also included secure semiconductors. This was a recognition that secure sources of electronics packaging (stuff that is or looks like circuit boards) were important to Defense security. This could include both advanced technology innovation and also secure sources other than adversary countries in Asia.
All of this was about a full year ahead of the Bloomberg Business exposé  about “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies.” While the story was roundly denied by the companies involved, the story did point out that chip placement and assembly could compromise DoD electronic systems security. Second, this MINSEC story also pointed out the necessity of considering the whole electronics supply chain in future Defense electronics systems, not just the security of the IC mask set or even the security of the production wafer fab.
Third, and perhaps most important to the general U.S. printed circuit industry, is the MINSEC view of the domestic microelectronics industry. The phrase “national economic competitiveness” must be unique at the Defense Department. Worrying about the industrial base to produce even commercial electronic packaging domestically is unusual.
The Objectives of MINSEC
These are the four key objectives of MINSEC from the official U.S. Defense Department science blog .
- “Ensuring that the U.S. government has access to state-of-the-art design, assembly, packaging, and test capabilities.”
- “Developing data-driven, quantifiable assurance methods that will enable us to fabricate export-controlled designs within standard commercial, domestic facilities.”
- “Investing in niche capabilities that are essential to our mission, including radiation-hardened electronics and specialized RF and electro-optical chips.”
- “Working with academia to increase the throughput of electronics talent in our education pipeline.”
Who Manages the MINSEC Program?
When MINSEC was first disclosed, the program was under Kristen Baldwin with presentations made by Jeffrey Muldavin. This was the pre-split USD AT&L group, where Baldwin’s responsibilities were digital engineering, system security engineering, trusted and assured microelectronics, and system of systems engineering initiatives. However, with the advent of the split-out Research and Engineering Department, Baldwin’s responsibilities were also split.
Now, Dr. Lisa J. Porter heads these programs in the USD Research and Engineering Department and is responsible for research, development, and prototyping activities across the DoD enterprise. In addition, the USD and DUSD oversee the activities of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the DoD Laboratory and Engineering Center enterprise, and the Under Secretariat staff focused on developing advanced technology and capability for the U.S. military.
Specifically, Nicole M. Petta was appointed in December 2018 as assistant director for microelectronics. She is responsible for a department-wide look at microelectronics modernization, which includes establishing policies on and supervising all Defense research and engineering, technology development, technology transition, prototyping, experimentation, and developmental testing activities and programs to include the allocation of resources and alignment of efforts across the department.
Baldwin has kept program protection policy and related hardware and software assurance, anti-tamper, and critical technical information protection practices. She oversees the Joint Federated Assurance Center (counterfeits) and leads DoD policy and standards for trusted and assured systems. Baldwin also oversees the DoD National Manufacturing Institutes and the Manufacturing Technology Program. These may be topics for future columns.
Is the MINSEC Effort Important Elsewhere in D.C.?
On page 54 of the President’s September 2018 report “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States,” chapter 7 titled “Blueprint for Action”  states, “The DoD-led Interagency Task Force recognizes and supports ongoing efforts to address the challenges identified in the EO 13806 assessment, including the DoD’s program for Microelectronics Innovation for National Security and Economic Competitiveness to increase domestic capabilities and enhance technology adoption.” Even the executive branch of the U.S. Government recognizes the need for MINSEC.
How Extensive Is the MINSEC Effort?
The DoD has embarked on a major effort to develop a trusted supply of microelectronic components for national security applications [5 & 6]. For 2019, Congress added a whopping $281 million above the White House request for the MINSEC program, giving it a total of $429 million in the fiscal year 2019. Initially, the White House has requested $459 million for MINSEC in 2020, a 7% increase. With the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act was just passed Congress just before Christmas, we now need to see if Congress again bumps up the MINSEC budget from that requested.
The 2020 budget language tells what is expected for this expenditure .
“This project supports the DoD microelectronics strategy by ensuring the availability of and access to the advanced, assured microelectronics that are critical for DoD and national security systems. It will support the development and delivery of tools to protect intellectual property (IP) confidentiality and integrity for a broad range of systems and missions and will provide a path for the production of these articles. It will allow the DoD to 1) maintain technological leadership and a secure domestic microelectronics ecosystem; 2) promote access to all necessary current and future semiconductor technologies, including design, fabrication, packaging, and testing, from a robust base of suppliers; 3) provide multiple options for programs and the Defense Industrial Base to quickly upgrade microelectronic components; 4) create a competitive industrial base of microelectronics suppliers that can rapidly adjust to the dynamics of the industry including the initiation of modernization pilots with DoD programs and industry to deliver new capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) processors, co-development of advanced commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) programmable devices, and addressing select IP obsolescence risks; and 5) provide DoD’s captive specialty needs suppliers and dedicated facilities with cost-effective upgrade capabilities and resources so they can deliver advanced technologies.”
“This project supports a broader national strategy to focus resources, policies, and incentives to enhance current and next-generation defense capability by 1) maintaining access to U.S. domestic production of state-of-the-art (SOTA) technology; 2) enhancing state-of-the-practice (SOTP) foundries in the U.S. to produce more advanced technologies to better serve low-volume customers in the aerospace and defense community; 3) investing in research and development (R&D) for the next generation of microelectronics for new materials, devices, architectures, and designs in coordination with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI); 4) promoting threat awareness, proactive protection, and supply chain security to ensure these investments continue to benefit the U.S.; and 5) exploring incentives for market growth through dual-use technologies, piloting acquisition reforms and providing incentives for cooperative R&D and trade.”
“MINSEC activities are categorized into the following focus areas: next-generation, disruptive R&D; capture and secure microelectronics R&D; new microelectronics development, demonstration, and capability insertion; COTS programmable integrated circuit (IC) co-development; microelectronics obsolescence and replacement; microelectronics-focused workforce development; radiation hardening by process (RHBP) and radiation hardening by design (RHBD); and radio-frequency (RF) and optoelectronic (OE) microelectronics.”
In short, MINSEC is a critical program that you need to keep track of for the health of both Defense and the electronics packaging industry in the U.S.
- Dr. J. Muldavin, “Long-Term Strategy for DoD Trusted and Assured Microelectronics Needs,” 20th Annual NDI Systems Engineering Conference, October 26, 2017.
- J. Robertson & M. Riley, “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 4, 2018.
- Dr. L. Porter, “The Defense Department’s New Thinking on Microelectronics Security,” Armed with Science, September 10, 2019.
- Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States,” September 2018.
- “FY20 Budget Request: DoD Science and Technology,” American Institute of Physics, March 28, 2019.
- “Trusted and Assured Microelectronics,” Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and has just retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.