4 November 2020
HRL targets first W-band N-polar GaN low-noise amplifier
Targeting a disruptive improvement in radar, electronic warfare (EW) and communications capabilities, HRL Laboratories LLC of Malibu, CA, USA (a corporate R&D lab co-owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors) aims to develop what it reckons will be the first W-band, nitrogen(N)-polar gallium nitride (GaN) low-noise amplifier (LNA), launching a new generation of defense-oriented electronics applications with a possible improvement of four times the output power in the W-band over HRL’s existing technology.
HRL says that, by leveraging experience from designing many of the fastest electronics in existence, its team will design the new amplifier to enhance the range and sensitivity of sensors and high-frequency receivers far beyond existing specifications. Sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), the initial project aims to demonstrate the design, fabrication and functional testing of an N-polar GaN millimeter-wave integrated circuit that will enable the first W-band amplifier using GaN.
“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,” claims 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,” he adds. “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 existing instruments. Aircraft could have enhanced communications ability, increasing safety in the air. Ocean-going platforms could also have game-changing potential benefits from this technology, it is reckoned, which interested the US Navy.
“ONR wants to see how good an integrated circuit we can make,” says Denninghoff. “Previous demonstrations have been on small devices — no one has demonstrated monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMIC) made with N-polar GaN material. We look forward to demonstrating this exciting technology.”