Call Iron Man, Northrop Grumman gets $12M contract from SHIELD

Are you a fan of Captain America, Iron Man and Nick Fury?

Then you know that SHIELD is the secretive peacekeeping and spy agency in the Marvel universe.

Reality bumped into fiction Tuesday when the Department of Defense announced it had awarded Northrop Grumman a $12 million contract to work for the program.

Put down your comic books fan boys, there's a catch.

The fictional SHIELD is the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. The Linthicum-based Electronic Systems unit of the defense giant will conduct research for the real deal — the Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense program.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants Northrop Grumman to develop a system for SHIELD that can detect counterfeit electronic components anywhere in the military supply chain.

The agency wouldn't comment on the contract or the names. One official, who asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak for DARPA, said it's "purely coincidental."

Information on the agency website spells out the risk posed for the military by counterfeit integrated circuits.

There's nary a HYDRA agent, fake SHIELD's nemesis, in sight.

"Counterfeiters use a variety of easy and inexpensive techniques to recycle discarded ICs, alter them, and reintroduce them to the supply chain for profit," the agency says. "These parts have questionable reliability and may not function as specified."

That could mean a weapons, radar or other piece of military electronics hardware could fail at a crucial moment, putting a mission and the lives involved at risk.

Directed by Kerry Bernstein from the Virginia headquarters of DARPA, SHIELD was created to make the process of producing fake circuits so complex and time-consuming that there wouldn't be enough profit to make it worthwhile.

"SHIELD aims to combine NSA-level encryption, sensors, near-field power and communications into a microscopic-scale chip capable of being inserted into the packaging of an integrated circuit," DARPA said.

That's compared to Marvel's SHIELD, which was created in the comic books as the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division after World War II. It was headquartered at the Triskelion island base, and has flying aircraft carriers.

Marvel movies and TV shows have made it the connective link between a lot of the various characters. Industrialist Howard Stark, father of Iron Man Tony Stark, is one of the founding members in the movies.

In real life, the plan is for SHIELD to provide some quality control in a supply chain that relies on integrated circuit manufactured overseas in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan and China. That has made microchips cheaper, but has also made evaluating the integrity of circuitry components difficult.

In September, SHIELD added advanced scanning optical microscope technology to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, to pick out bad microelectronics. If you love acronyms, meet ASOM.

Which brings the story back to Northrop Grumman's project to expand the real SHIELD.

Officials at the defense contractor, Anne Arundel County's largest private employer, weren't available for comment Wednesday.

Most of the work will be done at the Electronics Systems campus in Linthicum, according to the DOD announcement.

The company has worked on other DARPA projects, including the world's fastest integrated circuit — the Terahertz Monolithic Integrated Circuit — and the the XS-1 experimental spaceplane design.

No word on whether anyone named Stark will be involved in the newest project.

And there's still no flying aircraft carriers in sight.

Rick Hutzell writes about politics, and apparently Marvel Comics. Contact him at rhutzell@capgaznews.com

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
45°