17. MILLIONS OF UNTESTED TRANSISTORS JEOPARDIZE NATIONAL
Last year, a major defense supplier quietly admitted to the Defense
Department that it had failed to test millions of transistors as required
before selling them to the government and defense contractors.
As a result, government officials say the reliability of vital defense
and space systems may be in jeopardy.
The transistors have been used in the nation's missile systems, radar
defenses, space shuttle and air traffic control systems along with virtually
every government electronic device produced, modified, or repaired since
An estimated 13 million transistors, produced over more than a three
year period of time by Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., were not
tested as required by government procurement standards.
Transistor manufacturers would not discuss failure rates during the
testing process, calling the information proprietary. But a Defense
Department spokesman said that the failure rate for transistors under
far less rigorous testing was 0.41 of 1 percent. At this rate, an estimated
53,300 Fairchild transistors could be expected to fail.
Although a transistor is only a small component in any electronic chain,
the failure of any component, however minor, can be catastrophic. For
example, the two false alarms last June in a North American Air Defense
Command computer, which indicated a Soviet nuclear attack, were caused
by a malfunctioning semiconductor chip.
Steve Forish, of the Electronic Industries Association, refused to
discuss the Fairchild transistors. "We would rather not publicize
(it) or have it discussed," he said. "We're against any publicity
(and consider any) very inappropriate." He said the association
had reached the decision that knowledge of the situation "should
not be made public" or go beyond the industry because Fairchild's
failure to meet government standards is "proprietary information."
The Fairchild situation "is a hushed-up subject at EIA," he
The electronics industry cover-up of this potential threat to our national
defense qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best
censored" stories of 1980.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Dec. 12, 1980, "Millions of untested
transistors: Defense supplier admits lapse," by Thomas Love, Washington