Several files included technical requirements for a joint research project between the government-backed research lab Todd worked for in Singapore, the Institute of Microelectronics (IME), and Huawei Technologies, a China-based electronics giant. The project was aimed at making GaN power amplifier chips.
On one hand, it would hardly be surprising for Huawei to be pursuing such technology. Power-distribution systems, industrial systems, electric vehicles, and cell towers are all key GaN industries, according to a recent study by Markets and Markets, a market research firm in Dallas. As a result, the GaN power amplifier market is surging at a growth rate of 80 percent per year and is expected to exceed $1.7 billion in sales a decade from now, the report says.
"It's widely recognized as a key technology for next-generation wireless base stations," said Jannie Luong, a spokeswoman for Huawei Technologies in an e-mail. "The development of GaN technology is commonplace across the entire telecommunications industry."
But to outside experts, the 1,000 project files on Todd's hard drive raise many questions. Perhaps most alarming is that the project appeared to have clear military uses, say those who have seen the files.
"There's a specification in there for high-efficiency and high-power amplifiers that covers a frequency band known to be radar," says Mr. Huettner. "It just smelled like defense work."
Just as Huawei would love to have the technology for its cell towers, the Chinese military would love to have it for its radar. If, hypothetically, missiles could be detected 400 miles away by conventional radar, radar equipped with GaN chips could detect missiles perhaps 600 to 800 miles away, experts say. That would increase critical reaction time. Similar upgrades could occur in missile-seeking (homing) capabilities and other crucial military applications.