technological (e.g., gate length, lithography, power dissipation, wire scaling, and materials) limits. Thus, even if resources were plentiful, it would not be possible to simply buy or make appropriately targeted investments that would result in continuing exponential speed-ups for single-core processors. An additional matter of physics is the power constraints that are driving the industry from homogeneous multicore chips to heterogeneous parallelism, for example, using graphics processing units, accelerators, and reconfigurable fabrics. Once again, national security processes and deployments will need to adapt to use heterogeneous parallelism to maintain advantage.

Exponentially increasing processor speed has traditionally served as a proxy for higher-performing, more capable, and more innovative systems. Absent this traditional metric of continually increasing performance (whether from sequential or parallel systems), focusing on other metrics will likely come to the fore. In many cases, design and innovation efforts will focus on combinations of improvements in diverse dimensions, such as cost, energy, weight, robustness, and security. Traditional performance improvements would help to achieve these, but if such improvements are not forthcoming, other means of achieving these improvements will be needed.

Developing, verifying, and deploying software to complement advanced hardware is fraught with challenges. Moves to homogeneous and then heterogeneous parallelism will amplify these challenges.1 These challenges are especially prevalent in defense and national security systems. Moreover, defense is notable for its relatively slow adoption of innovative hardware and software that now emerge from the commercial rather than the military sector. New and faster-moving threats with fewer legacy concerns may make this status quo untenable.2,3

U.S. national security has long relied on an information technology advantage. Given the dramatic shift to multicore chips and explicit parallelism, defense ICT will need to transition to tools, techniques, and processes that can meet defense needs through effective use of new parallel software models and emerging hardware approaches. Such a transition will be difficult, and even if this transition is made successfully—a challenge not just for defense, but for even the most advanced commercial interests as well—the growth rate of computing performance is expected to continue to slow, making it easier for the rest of the world, including adversaries, to catch up.

4.2 Integrity and Reliability of the Global Supply Chain

Maintaining the integrity of the global supply chain is a serious challenge. The supply chain for integrated circuits (computer chips) is of particular interest given that they are key components of all computing systems. Some fabrication facilities are still present in the United States. For instance, Intel is the primary operator of large-scale, state-of-the-art semiconductor fabrication facilities in the United States, though it also has such facilities outside the United States. IBM and other companies operate facilities in the United States that target more specialized markets and national security needs.4 However, the United States is increasingly dependent on foreign sources of microchip production and on device assembly and testing capabilities that are concentrated in a handful of countries.

Developing secure sources of production is also challenging. A global supply chain increases the likelihood that compromised and counterfeit products can be introduced in mission-critical infrastructure.5


1The 2009 National Research Council (NRC) report Critical Code: Software Producibility for Defense assesses the growing importance of software for national security and examines how the U.S. DOD can most effectively meet its future software needs.

2The 2009 NRC report, Achieving Effective Acquisition of Information Technology in the Department of Defense calls for the DOD to acquire information technology systems using a fundamentally different acquisition process based on iterative, incremental development practices.

3This is reminiscent of the 20th century U.S. automobile sector. The U.S. auto industry moved from being the best in the world to being high cost and slow to adopt new processes and technologies. This decline was masked for years by the lack of credible competition. The arrival of Japanese and other foreign automakers changed the competitive landscape two ways. First, the Japanese focus on manufacturing efficiency exposed U.S. companies’ process problems and eroded near-term profits. Second, sustained long-term Japanese investments (e.g., on energy efficiency) contrasted with U.S. companies’ more near-term focus. Too much of a short-term focus cuts into long-term success. Moreover, once the former made less money available, addressing the latter became more difficult.

4See Last accessed on July 2, 2012.

5Indeed, an immediate challenge for U.S. access to the global semiconductor value chain is that some U.S. defense contractors have been deceived into using counterfeit electronics parts. At a November 2011 hearing, the Senate Armed Services Committee noted that such fake parts could have disastrous consequences for the performance of U.S. defense equipment such as helicopter night-vision systems and aircraft video display units. See U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, Hearing to receive testimony on the Committee’s investigation into counterfeit electronic parts in the Department of Defense supply chain, November 8, 2011. See also DOD’s TRUST in Integrated Circuits Program (available at (

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement