News | July 1, 2003

Moore’s Law: A Department of Defense Perspective

By Gerald M. Borsuk and Timothy Coffey Defense Horizons 30


Moore's LawOverview

The past 50 years have seen enormous advances in electronics and the systems that depend upon or exploit them. The Department of Defense (DOD) has been an important driver in, and a profound beneficiary of, these advances, which have come so regularly that many observers expect them to continue indefinitely. However, as Jean de la Fontaine said, “In all matters one must consider the end.” A substantial literature debates the ultimate limits to progress in solid-state electronics as they apply to the current paradigm for silicon integrated circuit (IC) technology. The outcome of this debate will have a profound societal impact because of the key role that silicon ICs play in computing, information, and sensor technologies. 

The consequences for DOD are profound. For example, DOD planning assumptions regarding total situational awareness have been keyed to Moore's Law, which predicts the doubling of transistor density about every 18 months. While this prediction proved to be accurate for more than thirty years, we are entering a period when industry will have increasing difficulty in sustaining this pace. Under the current device and manufacturing paradigm, progress in areas such as total situational awareness will slow or stagnate. If DOD planning assumptions are to be met, the DOD science and technology program would be well advised to search aggressively for alternate paradigms beyond those on which Moore's Law is based to ensure new technology capabilities. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current prognosis for silicon IC technology from a DOD perspective.