Summary

Today, many in the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Congress, and the federal government lack a clear understanding of the importance of high-quality, trustworthy printed circuit boards (PrCBs) for properly functioning weapons and other defense systems and components. This report of the National Research Council’s Committee on Manufacturing Trends in Printed Circuit Technology aims to illuminate the issues related to PrCBs for military use. In addition, this report offers recommendations that will help DoD to (1) preserve existing systems’ capabilities, (2) improve the military’s access to currently available PrCBs, and (3) ensure access to future PrCB technology. The recommendations reflect the need to achieve these goals at reasonable cost and with due respect for evolving environmental regulations.

To some, PrCBs may seem an older technology, declining in use for cutting-edge weapons systems and defense technology. In fact the opposite is true. PrCBs connect, in increasingly sophisticated ways, a variety of active components (such as microchips and transistors) and passive components (such as capacitors and fuses) into electronic assemblies that control systems. Given the military’s increasing interest in and reliance on networked operations, these applications will expand for the foreseeable future, and the use of and requirements for PrCBs will continue to grow. While many of those requirements can be satisfied by commercial components, significant defense needs will be met only by the production of specialized, defense-specific PrCBs that are unavailable from commercial manufacturers.

The effectiveness of defense systems depends on the underlying PrCB technology. This report addresses several key related concerns raised by the committee. These include (1) access to PrCBs and PrCB technologies that can meet defense-related requirements, (2) the overall reliability of the PrCBs themselves, (3) the vulnerability of the PrCB supply chain to disruption, and (4) the secure operation of defense systems for which PrCBs are a component. Since PrCBs are essential to defense systems, these considerations have to be addressed so that defense-critical PrCBs can be protected from tampering and so that access to them can be assured. Without these assurances, systems may not work as planned in support of DoD’s missions. When DoD uses suppliers of PrCBs that are trusted domestic sources, these considerations are easier to address than when the sources and distribution are global, as is increasingly the case for PrCBs. The solutions thus require an understanding of defense needs and DoD policies as well as the global market and its trends. This report develops those understandings.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

Three major factors combine to affect the current situation for defense PrCBs. First, over the past two decades, DoD policy has led to a reduction in defense-specific manufacturing and a parallel increase in support for commercial-military integration by industry. Thus, DoD policy is to rely for the procurement of defense system components on the commercial sector wherever possible. For legacy systems already



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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology Summary Today, many in the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Congress, and the federal government lack a clear understanding of the importance of high-quality, trustworthy printed circuit boards (PrCBs) for properly functioning weapons and other defense systems and components. This report of the National Research Council’s Committee on Manufacturing Trends in Printed Circuit Technology aims to illuminate the issues related to PrCBs for military use. In addition, this report offers recommendations that will help DoD to (1) preserve existing systems’ capabilities, (2) improve the military’s access to currently available PrCBs, and (3) ensure access to future PrCB technology. The recommendations reflect the need to achieve these goals at reasonable cost and with due respect for evolving environmental regulations. To some, PrCBs may seem an older technology, declining in use for cutting-edge weapons systems and defense technology. In fact the opposite is true. PrCBs connect, in increasingly sophisticated ways, a variety of active components (such as microchips and transistors) and passive components (such as capacitors and fuses) into electronic assemblies that control systems. Given the military’s increasing interest in and reliance on networked operations, these applications will expand for the foreseeable future, and the use of and requirements for PrCBs will continue to grow. While many of those requirements can be satisfied by commercial components, significant defense needs will be met only by the production of specialized, defense-specific PrCBs that are unavailable from commercial manufacturers. The effectiveness of defense systems depends on the underlying PrCB technology. This report addresses several key related concerns raised by the committee. These include (1) access to PrCBs and PrCB technologies that can meet defense-related requirements, (2) the overall reliability of the PrCBs themselves, (3) the vulnerability of the PrCB supply chain to disruption, and (4) the secure operation of defense systems for which PrCBs are a component. Since PrCBs are essential to defense systems, these considerations have to be addressed so that defense-critical PrCBs can be protected from tampering and so that access to them can be assured. Without these assurances, systems may not work as planned in support of DoD’s missions. When DoD uses suppliers of PrCBs that are trusted domestic sources, these considerations are easier to address than when the sources and distribution are global, as is increasingly the case for PrCBs. The solutions thus require an understanding of defense needs and DoD policies as well as the global market and its trends. This report develops those understandings. THE CURRENT SITUATION Three major factors combine to affect the current situation for defense PrCBs. First, over the past two decades, DoD policy has led to a reduction in defense-specific manufacturing and a parallel increase in support for commercial-military integration by industry. Thus, DoD policy is to rely for the procurement of defense system components on the commercial sector wherever possible. For legacy systems already

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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology in the DoD inventory, DoD policy relies on a combination of private sector businesses and DoD-owned capability to sustain performance through maintenance, repair, and necessary upgrades. Second, during the same period, the U.S. domestic PrCB industry has undergone two major alterations. It has changed from one in which U.S. production dominated (with 42 percent of global revenue in 1984) to one in which U.S. production is projected to be less than 10 percent of global revenue in 2006.1 In addition, the mix of PrCB products has shifted because of increasing consumer use. Today, more than half of the PrCBs produced worldwide are for high-volume, low-cost, short-lived products such as cellular telephones, small appliances, and toys. Third, many DoD requirements have become more sophisticated. Applications generally call for long life in PrCBs, with performance on demand under extreme conditions, with very high reliability. These requirements cannot be met by high-volume, short-lived consumer products. In fact, few if any defense-specific components with such characteristics can even be provided by manufacturers of PrCBs used in commercial durable goods such as automobiles, appliances, and heavy equipment, because of the high cost of interrupting high-efficiency production to manufacture a handful of defense-unique PrCBs. As a result of these three factors, PrCBs for consumer products, commercial goods, and defense systems are increasingly manufactured by different companies that have little overlap in processes or products. Thus, DoD’s policy to procure from commercial manufacturers is becoming difficult to implement for many PrCB applications. This situation is complicated by an additional policy concern. When DoD program managers buy weapons systems, the focus is on the best price for purchase of the total system, not the reliability and trustworthiness of individual components such as PrCBs. Under this policy, there is currently little incentive for or ability to justify spending more to ensure that individual defense system components like PrCBs will perform reliably and be protected from tampering during their manufacture, assembly, and distribution. Absent funding that allows for such concerns, little effort can usually be allocated to assessing the sources of supply for PrCB components or subcomponents. However, well-developed mechanisms for improving supply-chain management are available, if program managers were directed by policy to pursue better reliability and performance of defense system components. An additional challenge exists, even if current production considerations are resolved through policy and funding changes. Defense requirements change continuously, and DoD needs to ensure access to sufficient innovation to continue to meet new defense needs for improved PrCBs. DoD has traditionally stimulated innovation to meet emerging requirements by directly funding research and development (R&D) contracts or by reimbursing defense contractors for their own R&D costs. This approach worked well in the early days of electronics, but in the case of PrCBs today, even the global defense business base is not large enough to sustain that approach. What will be the source of that needed innovation? Commercial-military integration policy relies on the commercial market to meet defense needs. However, commercial manufacturers’ capacity for and spending on R&D has declined, and the remaining limited technology innovation is targeted at high-volume consumer goods. While this approach may support some DoD needs, such innovation will have little applicability in supporting and enhancing high-performance defense-related systems’ capability. In addition, the long design and procurement cycles for DoD systems (often lasting more than a decade) lead to a fundamental disincentive both for developing and for adopting new technologies for defense applications. The result has been a steady decrease in innovation in DoD systems, even in programs with funding levels once considered reasonable and adequate for this purpose. The continuing vitality of both the commercial domestic manufacturing sector and the global defense sector depends on three elements: (1) sources of research and technology developments, (2) innovation in the supply base for materials and chemicals, and (3) the availability of a skilled workforce. DoD must address all three elements to remain innovative and successful. Both for current defense systems and for future technology, DoD needs the right blend of commercial innovation, defense incentives, and funding. What is currently not known is whether that blend can be identified and put in place to encourage a reliable supply of high-quality PrCBs for defense systems. Perhaps more importantly, there is at present no clear understanding of the fit between DoD-specific needs for PrCBs and the corresponding commercial industrial capabilities for meeting those 1   E. Henderson. 2005. PCI Market Research Service Report. Los Altos, Calif.: Henderson Ventures.

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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology needs and no clear definition of specific investments that might yield results that meet the needs of current and future defense systems. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS DoD is crucially dependent on the ability to support currently fielded systems made up of older components, known as legacy systems. Many of these systems contain PrCBs that are several generations behind today’s off-the-shelf production. The committee found that existing small-firm contractors and DoD in-house capability are likely to be sufficient to sustain legacy systems, although that capability will need regular funding in order to maintain efficient manufacturing technology for repairing or replacing older PrCBs. For current and especially for future applications of PrCBs, the committee found that there is currently no adequate set of information or paradigm for DoD to use in determining what is needed to ensure adequate access to reliable and trustworthy PrCBs for use in secure defense systems. So that such a body of information can be developed and put to use, the committee recommends an approach that would also be applicable to specific areas of concern, such as the transition of PrCB technology and products to meet lead-free standards. More specifically, the committee calls on a variety of experts to review the following three areas: The need for an existing PrCB component or new PrCB technology should be assessed by military planning groups, and the results used to ensure access to the technologies required to field effective defense systems. The vulnerability of a defense system attributable to the PrCB component will require a separate assessment of operational characteristics and performance as well as potential exposures to security risks in the supply chain. The resulting information should be used to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of PrCBs for secure, effective defense systems. The threat potentially posed to overall defense capabilities by lack of access to high-quality, trusted PrCB component technology will require a more specialized assessment for understanding how best to use DoD resources to maintain and enhance the nation’s security. DoD is capable of addressing all three of these areas, but it does not now do so in a systematic manner. The results of such reviews could help enable the federal government and the defense industrial base to work together to preserve and build critical systems whose underlying trusted PrCB component technologies ensure desired performance capabilities, with the ultimate goal of ensuring continuity of supply and adequate security. Assessments such as those called for by the committee will also allow DoD to deal with such emerging trends as the global migration to lead-free PrCB technology. RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation 1: The Department of Defense should address the ongoing need for printed circuit boards (PrCBs) in legacy defense systems by continuing to use the existing manufacturing capability that is resident at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (Indiana) and at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (Georgia), as well as contractors currently providing legacy PrCB support. Recommendation 2: The Department of Defense should develop a method to assess the materials, processes, and components for manufacture of the printed circuit boards (PrCBs) that are essential for properly functioning, secure defense systems. Such an assessment would identify what is needed to neutralize potential defense system vulnerabilities, mitigate threats to the supply chain for high-quality, trustworthy PrCBs, and thus help maintain overall military superiority. The status of potentially vulnerable materials, components, and processes identified as critical to ensuring an adequate supply of appropriate PrCBs for defense systems should then be monitored. Recommendation 3: The Department of Defense (DoD) should ensure its access to current printed circuit board (PrCB) technology by establishing a competing network of shops that can be trusted to

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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology manufacture PrCBs for secure defense systems. In addition to being competitive among themselves, these suppliers should also be globally competitive to ensure the best technology for the U.S. warfighter and should be encouraged and supported to have state-of-the-art capabilities, including the ability to manufacture PrCBs that can be used in leaded and lead-free assemblies. To maintain this network of suppliers, DoD should, if necessary for the most critical and vulnerable applications, purchase more PrCBs than are required to meet daily consumption levels in order to sustain a critical mass in the trusted manufacturing base. Recommendation 4: The Department of Defense (DoD) should ensure access to new printed circuit board (PrCB) technology by expanding its role in fostering new PrCB design and manufacturing technology. DoD should sponsor aggressive, breakthrough-oriented research aimed at developing more flexible manufacturing processes for cost-effective, low-volume production of custom PrCBs. In conjunction with this effort, DoD should develop explicit mechanisms to integrate emerging commercial PrCB technologies into new defense systems, even if that means subsidizing the integration. These mechanisms should include more innovative design capabilities and improved accelerated testing methods to ensure PrCBs’ lifetime quality, durability, and compliance with evolving environmental regulations for the conditions and configurations unique to DoD systems. The committee believes that taking these recommended steps will help DoD to preserve its legacy defense systems, meet current system requirements, and provide for future PrCB technology advances efficiently and securely. DoD needs no less than these outcomes to maintain U.S. military capability for the foreseeable future.