In the 1980s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a major effort to develop solid-state microwave integrated circuits to replace the tubes, cavities and discrete devices used in microwave radar and telecommunication systems. New advances in semiconductor materials and processing enabled the development of Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) Technology.
Under a DARPA contract, Northrop Grumman Corporation (formerly TRW) successfully produced Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) MMICs using not only High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMT) but also the first manufacturable Heterojunction Bipolar Transistors (HBT). This new GaAs MMIC technology was incorporated into various space applications and became NASA’s and the Defense Department? chosen technology for advanced telecommunication systems. Following a “dual use” approach, Northrop Grumman transformed the technology for use in cellular-phone power amplifiers. A Northrop Grumman division is now the world’s leading supplier of these power amplifiers. Northrop Grumman continues its MMIC technology development and has successfully produced Indium Phosphide (InP) based MMICs.
These advances in technology enable chip operations that are four to ten times faster than the previous MMIC technology and require less power. NASA and the Defense Department are beginning to use state of the art MMIC technology in new telecommunication and imaging systems. New commercial applications such as vehicle collision warning systems are in development.