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Defense is the best form of attack for GaN!

by Asif Anwar | Feb 04, 2015

Defense is the best form of attack for GaN as shown in Strategy Analytics’ latest forecasts outlining the RF market opportunity for a technology that has been on the cusp of breaking into the semiconductor mainstream for the past several years. The GaN RF Market Update: 2014 - 2019 forecast and associated data model, forecasts a CAGR of more than 20% translating into a market worth more than $500 million in 2019.

Demand from the defense sector will grow faster than the overall GaN market at a CAGR of 28%, with early demand driven by electronic warfare systems focused on providing ECM capabilities, specifically land-based RF jammer designed for C-IED (Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices) applications to protect troops in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Troop withdrawal from these theatres has coincided with a drop in demand for these systems over the past two years (see the ADS data model, Land-based EW (EA) and Components Forecast 2012-2022 and you can also view a webinar replay that discusses the key trends), but we expect this demand to return in this sector coupled with demand from airborne and shipborne platforms moving forwards, examples including the airborne Next Generation Jammer (NJG) and the shipborne SEWIP systems.

This will be coupled with increasing demand from radar and military communication systems. The growing importance of GaN in the military sector is reflected by the activity over the past twelve months which included:

·        RFMD and TriQuint announced plans to merge operations creating a company that will create a market leader in the supply of GaAs and GaN semiconductor products. Qorvo (as the new company) will leverage TriQuint’s US DoD Trusted Source accreditation and involvement in ongoing defense programs involving GaN technology.

·        MACOM acquired Nitronex to leverage the company’s GaN-on-Si technology and introduce plastic packaged power amplifers to address current and future military communication needs (as well as commercial markets), providing a balance between performance and cost. The company also introduced GaN-on-SiC products over the course of 2014 to serve the needs of higher power applications such as pulsed radar.  

·        TriQuint demonstrated the potential for GaN to underpin products that can displace TWT- (travelling wave tube) based technologies through the introduction of its Spatium technology. It was also interesting to see traditional TWT technology proponents starting to offer GaN-based alternatives as part of their product portfolio.

·        Raytheon demonstrated the potential to achieve even higher power densities with GaN-on-diamond devices via DARPA’s Near Junction Thermal Transport effort under the Thermal Management Technologies program. The company also demonstrated the increasing maturity of GaN technology for use on the US Patriot Air and Missile Defense System radar as well as the new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), the US Navy's next generation integrated air and ballistic missile defense radar. The company also validated GaN technology for space-based applications.

·        Demonstrating the versatility of GaN across frequencies, Northrop Grumman introduced high power GaN MMIC power amplifiers for Ka-band satellite communication terminals.

·        European activity included Saab’s use of GaN in its Giraffe 4A land radar and the company will also reportedly use GaN semiconductor technology on the Gripen E for wingtip EW jammers and passive warning systems.

The global squeeze on military budgets is translating into an emphasis on improving capabilities at the system level. Coupled with a relatively limited number of big budget platform programs, this will translate to spending on radar systems continuing to increase. GaN is starting to underpin newer radar systems with high power capabilities across the wide range of frequencies used for radar systems seeing implementation of this technology across land-based and shipborne radar systems, competing against both TWT-based and GaAs-based radar systems. The penetration of GaN will spread towards airborne systems moving forwards as well as use in space-based radars.

Strategy Analytics forecasts the global radar market will grow to over $18.5 billion in 2023, representing a CAGR of 3.6%. This comprises procurement and/or replacement of radar systems as well as major upgrade activity. In addition spending related to support, minor repairs and other services related to the operational use of radar systems are included in these figures.

The total number of radar shipments is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 4.1% through 2023 to reach 1393 units. Fire control radar shipments will continue to dominate the traditional mix, and in dollar terms, will account for around 76% of the global market along with early warning and surveillance radars. The associated market for semiconductors and other components will grow from $1.2 billion to reach $2.1 billion with GaN becoming an established technology as it grows (see the ADS report Military Radar Market Outlook).

Demand for GaN from the military communications sector will also emerge (watch this space for updated military communications forecasts coming soon), providing a third avenue of growth for this technology.

Collectively, demand from radar, EW and communications systems will help spur the military GaN RF market at a faster than average CAGR of 28%, compared to 15% for the commercial sector. The GaN RF military market will represent 60% of the total GaN market in 2019 and will still be in a relatively early stage of deployment so the potential for growth will extend over many years to come.

Strategy Analytics clients can read the full report here (dependent upon subscription) and the report and associated data model are also available for standalone purchase.

Learn more about our thoughts on the defense market opportunities for GaN and other compound semiconductor technologies at CS International in Germany next month where I will be presenting during the RF Electronics session on “The future for GaN, SiC, InP and GaAs in defence/military applications”.




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