Recently, Synopsys, an EDA company focusing on silicon design and IP, announced it was selected for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes (RAMP) Program. Its participation in the program means that users can now access Synopsys’ design, verification, and silicon IP through Microsoft Azure.
Synopsys isn’t the only big-name company to align itself with this new government program. With a line-up that includes Microsoft, Intel, and IBM, the RAMP initiative has been raising eyebrows in the microelectronics space. But what exactly is it?
What Is the RAMP Program?
Authored by the Department of Defense (DoD), the RAMP initiative is designed to speed semiconductor and microelectronics growth in government systems.
The DoD intends for RAMP to work in tandem with two other initiatives: SHIP and RAMP-C (for commercial development). Image used courtesy of the DoD
In October, the DoD announced that it had awarded over $197 million in funding to advance microelectronics technology and bolster the U.S. microelectronics industrial base. This funding will be split between Intel and Microsoft under the RAMP Program ($24.5 million) and Intel Federal and Qorvo under the State-of-the-Art Heterogeneous Integration Prototype (SHIP) Program Phase 2 ($172.7 million) to “advance commercial leading-edge microelectronics physical ‘back-end’ design methods with measurable security.”
The almost $200 million in funding demonstrates just how seriously the U.S. government takes the role of microelectronics in the country’s economic strength and national security—especially in regard to artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and 5G communications.
U.S. Governments Continues to Push for Silicon Security
The RAMP Program is yet another demonstration of the government’s interest in secure chip design and manufacture. For example, last year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invested heavily in a program termed “Automatic Implementation of Secure Silicon (AISS),” which aimed to make scalable security more readily available to designers.
DARPA also entered into a three-year partnership with Arm to sponsor the ongoing Electronics Resurgence Initiative.
Goals of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative. Image used courtesy of DARPA
This year, the DoD narrowed in on artificial intelligence research at the hardware level with the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Further, President Biden recently responded to pressure regarding the ongoing U.S. chip shortage, specifically citing cybersecurity as a key goal for strengthening a domestic semiconductor supply chain.
Securing ICs and Microelectronics
The monetary award from the RAMP Program will support the DoD’s mission to promote microelectronics supply chain security and accelerate the development of best-in-class circuit design in the United States.
Unfortunately, due to the current market structure and the amount of production that takes place overseas in places like China, it’s no longer possible to guarantee the security of microelectronics. While this isn’t too consequential for consumer-grade electronics, it is when it concerns defense applications.
In August, Ellen Lord, former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment asserted that the DoD could no longer ensure that “backdoors, malicious code or data exfiltration commands aren’t embedded in our code.” Lord added that it is essential to identify a way to ensure all components are clean regardless of where they come from, establishing a path to a domestic source of resilient, state-of-the-art microelectronics.
The annual cost of data breaches according to Juniper Research. Image used courtesy of Synopsys
Under the RAMP Program, Synopsys will help secure IC devices and the integrated circuit design environment at large. It will also supply a tool flow and IP repository under DARPA that helps designers create ICs with further resistance to attacks.
Eventually, RAMP will supply a cloud-based assured design environment while supporting quantifiable assurance methods. Combined, the two programs will help strengthen the integrity of commercial and DoD designs.