HRL Laboratories Sets Sights on Next-Generation Defense Electronics With Advanced Semiconductor Material

HRL Laboratories scientists are aiming for a disruptive improvement in radar, electronic warfare, and communications capabilities with the N-polar GaN amplifier. © Maxiphoto.

HRL Team Hopes for a Disruptive Leap Forward With First W-Band Nitrogen-Polar Gallium Nitride Amplifier for Potential Radar, Electronic Warfare, and Communications Platforms

HRL Laboratories scientists are aiming for a disruptive improvement in radar, electronic warfare, and communications capabilities they hope will be enabled by their new project. If they are successful, the W-band, nitrogen-polar (N-polar) gallium nitride (GaN) low-noise amplifier could be the world’s first such device, launching a new generation of defense-oriented electronics applications with a possible improvement of 4 times the output power in W-band over HRL’s existing technology.

We hope to set another record with this amplifier.

By leveraging experience from designing many of the fastest electronics in existence, the HRL team will design the new amplifier to enhance range and sensitivity of sensors and high-frequency receivers far beyond current specifications. Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the initial project aims to demonstrate design, fabrication, and functional testing of an N-polar GaN millimeter-wave integrated circuit that will enable the first W-band amplifier using the advanced semiconductor material.

“HRL has been at the forefront of high-speed GaN electronics for decades. We demonstrated the world’s fastest GaN transistors and we’re applying that expertise to these new materials in a way that no other facility in the world can do,” said HRL’s Principal Investigator Dr. Dan Denninghoff. “In fact, we are the only foundry that can make GaN devices this fast, with vertically integrated material design and nanometer-scale device fabrication. We have the capability to go all the way from gases to circuits, and not just any circuits, but the highest performing integrated circuits in the world. We hope to set another record with this amplifier.”

The goal of the HRL team is to improve receiver amplifiers that could potentially give platforms such as radar better performance than current instruments. Aircraft could have enhanced communications ability, increasing safety in the air. Oceangoing platforms could also have game-changing potential benefits from this technology, which interested the US Navy.

“ONR wants to see how good an integrated circuit we can make,” Dr. Denninghoff said. “Previous demonstrations have been on small devices—no one has demonstrated monolithic microwave integrated circuits made with N-polar GaN material. We look forward to demonstrating this exciting technology.”

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HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California ( is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.

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