Industry Insights

Navigating EOL challenges in the mil/aero sector

In a world where the latest electronics are highly sought after, the military and aerospace (mil/aero) sector operates under different priorities. Unlike consumer electronics, which are often replaced within months, mil/aero electronics must be reliable for decades. Establishing robust relationships with authorised distributors who specialise in end-of-life (EOL) and obsolete semiconductors is essential for these long-term projects.

Thomas Skarbek, Director of Supplier Development, Flip Electronics further explores.

Semiconductors typically have a lifespan of about three years, including design time, leaving only two years or less for production availability. This timeline is impractical for markets requiring high-reliability (hi-rel) components with extended life cycles. Consider the following examples:

  • Lockheed Martin’s F-35 development began in 1995, with the first prototype flying in 2000 and the first production unit completed in December 2006. US Government purchases are expected to continue until 2044, with the aircraft operational until 2070 – a lifespan of 85 years
  • The Javelin missile system, introduced in 1989, is still in use today, notably in Ukraine with 5,000 systems recently shipped. Production is planned to continue until 2050, totalling a lifespan of 61 years
  • General Dynamics’ F-16 fighter jet, introduced in the 1970s, will be produced through 2026 for foreign military sales, with support extending to 2070, marking a 100-year lifespan

When an EOL notice appears for a critical component in these products, mil/aero buyers often lack the resources to stockpile components for the entire programme duration. In the past, the mil/aero sector dominated semiconductor procurement. Today, however, it represents only $12.9 billion of the $573.44 billion market in 2022, about 2%, significantly reducing its leverage.

Other industries face similar challenges as they incorporate more electronics into long-life products. Automotive, avionics, medical, energy, and industrial OEMs all need support for designs lasting 15 to 20 years or more. Without authorised partners specialising in EOL and obsolete semiconductors, these OEMs are left with two options: costly redesigns or risky grey market procurement.

By collaborating with authorised distributors, OEMs can mitigate these risks. Distributors manage EOL, excess, and obsolete goods, including wafers, dies, and intellectual property (IP). Transparency and communication with distributor partners are crucial. When a potential supply gap arises, authorised distributors can leverage their market connections to work with semiconductor manufacturers, securing residual inventory and performing last-time buys to support future needs.

Distributors can also manage residual wafers/dies and procure additional stock for future production. Some authorised distributors can acquire the IP under agreement with the original manufacturer, extending the life of critical devices and ensuring continued supply.

Proactive OEMs can secure their product pipelines by sharing bills of materials with key partners. This collaboration, combined with intelligence from other customers, allows distributors to aggregate demand and work with semiconductor manufacturers to address EOL challenges. The resulting risk mitigation justifies the effort, ensuring long-term support and reliability for mil/aero and other hi-rel applications.