Sandia begins work on ASIC chips for nuclear weapon systems

Sandia National Laboratories said on Wednesday that production of silicon wafers for nuclear weapon modernization has begun at their Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) complex.

Sandia said this is the largest production project that the facility has ever seen. The team is producing integrated circuits for the B61-12 Life Extension Program, W88 Alteration 370 and W87 Mk21 Fuze Replacement nuclear weapons.

Kaila Raby, manager of the Application-Specific Integrated Circuits Product Realization Team, said the facility will be manufacturing  ASICs for the military, which will use them in a reserve fashion through 2018.

"Ten different ASIC products go into the three weapon systems," Raby said. "Seven of the 10 ASICs have base wafers that are customized into product-specific designs during later production."

The facility completed fabrication for the W76-1 nuclear weapon in 2009. Shortly after that was completed, the research team was studying the needs of the B61 and W88 programs. Unlike the team's previous fabrication task, output for this project is over three times greater, Sandia said.

"We typically build early because the wafers have to be diced into chips, then packaged and delivered to subsystem customers, and those subsystems then integrated into higher-level systems,” Dale Hetherington, fabrication manager, said.

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