By John Keller
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Intel Corp. leaders are abandoning the military business, a move which is worrying some defense electronics integrators, and causing resignation and disappointment in others. Few Intel customers were surprised by the announcement.
Officials of the Intel Military Product Group in Chandler, Ariz. - maker of mil-spec versions of the i960 32-bit RISC microprocessor for the U.S. Air Force F-22 jet fighter, and the i860 digital signal processor that is the mainstay of most U.S. Navy sonar systems - will quit taking orders for military parts on Dec. 24.
Intel`s last shipment of any military and special-environment products will be Dec. 23, 1998. Company officials are strongly urging their customers to make lifetime buys of military parts, or redesign their systems for commercial Intel parts or devices from other manufacturers.
"It`s time to call it quits on our military product line," says Barbara LaFara, the group`s marketing manager. The reason: parts for the commercial market are far more lucrative than mil-spec parts.
Intel joins a host of other companies that have abandoned the military market in recent years, including Motorola Semiconductor of Phoenix, Ariz., and Advanced Micro Devices of Sunnyvale, Calif.
"It`s primarily a resource issue," LaFara says. "Intel has been going through tremendous growth in the past several years, and the corporation sees us continuing to grow. Engineering resources and test space become very valuable, and we decided those resources would be better spent on products with better return."
Military-grade devices that Intel is phasing out, in addition to the i960 and i860, include static random access memories, erasable programmable read-only memories, flash memories, the 8088, 80186, 80286, 80386, 80486, and Pentium microprocessors, and direct memory access controllers.
LaFara has spent the past several weeks on the road discussing issues with customers. "They were accepting," she says. "It would hard to characterize them as happy. They say the don`t like it, but they understand."
Some defense integrators, however, are not quite so sanguine. "This announcement was a big surprise to us since we had always considered Intel one of the best military supporters in the semiconductor industry. It`s going to affect us quite a bit," says James Levie, manager of the Northrop Grumman Advanced Digital Technology Group in Rolling Meadows, Ill.
Levie`s group primarily designs and manufactures electronic warfare equipment, and uses a wide variety of Intel`s military products, including the 486 and Pentium processors, as well as solid state memory.
"There are a lot of options, none of which are very good," Levie says. "One is to use commercial parts and run at de-rated frequencies, or screen them over the mil temperature range. We can also design them out altogether, but that`s not very realistic."
Levie says he is consider lifetime buys from Intel, and doing business through distributors. But he adds that Intel`s leaving the military business is not what bothers him most.
"It`s becoming really difficult to find reliable military semiconductor manufacturers," he says, citing the departures of LSI Logic, VLSI Technology, and Altera from the military business. "Intel has always been one of our favorite because they have been so supportive."