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Lattice Partners with Defense Customers to Ensure Mission Critical Longevity

Lattice Partners with Defense Customers to Ensure Mission Critical Longevity
Posted 06/15/2021 by Luke Miller, Vice President, Aerospace & Defense Business Development

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The challenges of 2020/21 pandemic brought to light the world’s dependency on semiconductors as global supply chains struggled to get inventory levels back to normal. Unfortunately for defense OEMs, the problems caused by chip supply shortages can be exacerbated when semiconductor companies issue the dreaded ‘End of Life” (EOL) notices for their products. For defense customers, EOL can have significant ramifications for system designs that were expected to be in production for decades, unlike commercial systems that often become obsolete in as little as 18-24 months. When a semiconductor goes EOL, the resulting supply shortages of key microelectronic components can have a significant impact on national security.

For example, a defense system designed in the 1990s and in production for 30 years is made up of many different components from the commercial and defense supply chain. Of course, all of these components are vetted and heavily scrutinized to make sure they meet the system’s mission requirements (i.e. support for extended temperature ranges and resistance to shock, vibration, and radiation effects). The supply chain is also under the microscope to make sure that components selected for use in a defense system will be available for a longtime to come.

One of the most important components in many defense systems or platforms is the FPGA. Because they’re able to be reprogrammed in the field, designers can use FPGAs to extend the lifecycle of the device with future innovations and updates. The FPGA gives the defense system nearly any interface or algorithm at any time. FPGAs can provide the system with ASIC-like speed, determinism, low latency, and low power consumption, in addition to supporting reprogramming in the field as the mission requirements change. While some would argue that an MPU or MCU can do the same, both are limited to only changing the memory; the engine is ‘hard’ and locked down in silicon. It would be like trying to change from an x86 processor to a RISC-V on the fly. FPGAs provide more flexibility as they can actually change the algorithmic engine and memory/weights/coefficients.

When an FPGA goes EOL, the defense system manufacturer has few options. They can make a lifetime buy, but that can involve using funds that were not appropriated which can lead to interest payments. An even less appealing solution is to defund other high priority programs to accommodate the new urgent need. The lifetime buy also means the manufacturer must hold the devices in a climate-controlled, secure environment for many of years (sometime over a decade), which adds additional complexity to program management.

If the manufacturer can’t make the lifetime buy or did not purchase enough supply in advance, they are faced with managing a costly and time-consuming redesign, validation, and certification of a new hardware and software stack. This process can take years, incurs major expense to the taxpayer, and impacts national security and defense planning. Remember, this all happened because just one out of tens of thousands of components used in a defense system is or is going EOL.

To help our defense customers address challenges caused by EOL issues, over the last few years Lattice has supported the defense market segment to ensure they have alternatives to components that are no longer available. Many of our customers have come to us asking for help “resurrecting” FPGAs that have gone EOL but are still needed in their system designs. To that end, Lattice has met and partnered with these customers to make some our older FPGAs available again so their systems can continue to be available. This is the right thing to do and we are more than proud here at Lattice to perform such work. Not only have we already brought back multiple mission-critical FPGAs, but we’ve also helped some customers rescreen and retest their inventory of Lattice parts.

Lattice Partners with Defense Customers to Ensure Mission Critical Longevity
For over 35 years, Lattice has equipped defense developers with a robust roadmap of innovative, low power FPGAs that meet the stringent requirements of defense applications

I encourage any of our defense customers to reach out to Lattice so we can start working together to support their legacy defense systems. We can even help find a Lattice FPGA that will meet your application needs if another component vendor has discontinued a much-needed part. Lattice is ready, willing, and able to help design and build an alternative to help our country and allies!

For more information about the benefits Lattice FPGAs can bring to defense applications, please visit our Defense applications page.

It’s worth noting that Lattice’s industrial customers have long applications life cycles as well, and they face similar challenges when components used in their designs go EOL. Lattice is committed to helping our industrial customers overcome EOL challenges and keep their Lattice FPGA-based designs available to their end users in the long term.