ITAR PCB manufacturing

ITAR/EAR Compliance in PCB Supply Chain Management


As an aerospace and defense PCB supplier and design firm, we often get questioned about our compliance measures related to Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), including registration with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).

Rather than tout our compliance process and registrations, I’ve decided to use this column space to help readers better understand how a PCB design firm should approach ITAR compliance, whether as a receiver of technical data, supplier, or as a third-party logistics provider (3PL).

FAQs About ITAR Compliance For Electronics

Are 3PLs Required to Register With ITAR or Obtain Export Licenses?

ITAR governs the export and import of defense-related articles and services on the U.S. Munitions List (USML). Any person or company involved in the manufacture, export, temporary import, or brokering of items or services on the USML may have to register with the DDTC and may require appropriate licensing.

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that handle or facilitate the export of items on the USML could potentially be subject to ITAR requirements. Here's a general breakdown:

Registration - If a 3PL is involved in the export of defense articles, they may need to register with the DDTC. This registration doesn't necessarily grant the authority to export but is a prerequisite before applying for export licenses or requesting approvals.

Licensing - Not all exports of USML items require an export license. Some exports might qualify for exemptions. However, if an export license is required, the exporter (often the manufacturer or seller) would typically be the entity responsible for obtaining the necessary license. Still, 3PLs must ensure that any export they facilitate is properly licensed or qualifies for an exemption.

Brokering Activities - ITAR also has requirements around brokering defense articles and services. If a 3PL is involved in brokering activities (i.e., acting as an intermediary to facilitate the manufacture, export, or import of USML items), they might have additional registration and approval requirements.

Recordkeeping - Even if a 3PL isn't directly responsible for obtaining export licenses, they may still have recordkeeping requirements under ITAR.

It's crucial for any company involved in the export of defense-related articles or services to thoroughly understand its responsibilities under ITAR. Mistakes or oversights can lead to severe penalties, both civil and criminal. If you or your organization is a 3PL or works with ITAR-regulated items, it's essential to consult with an expert or attorney familiar with ITAR to ensure compliance.

Brokering Activities

In layman's terms, "brokering activities" can be thought of as the actions taken by middlemen or intermediaries. These middlemen don't necessarily make or buy the product themselves, but they help connect the seller and the buyer or help facilitate deals.

In the context of ITAR and defense-related items, "brokering activities" refer to those who act as middlemen to facilitate deals or transactions involving defense items or services, even if they don't physically handle the items themselves.

Do ICs, PCBAs, or Other Components Fall Under "Defense Items"?

Electronic components, like ICs, can fall under the definition of "defense items" if they are specially designed or modified for defense-related applications or if they're listed on the USML. However, not all electronic components or ICs are considered defense items by default.

The USML is a list of categories that describe various defense and space-related items, technical data, and services. If an electronic component, such as an IC, falls under one of these categories, then it would be considered a defense item.

For instance, an IC designed for general consumer electronics like a smartphone or a TV might not be considered a defense item. However, if the same IC is specially designed for a missile guidance system or satellite communication system used by the military, then it might be considered a defense item and be subject to ITAR regulations.


ITAR PCB manufacturing

This Xilinx FPGA is a commercial item, but depending on how it is designed and in what products it is used, it could be considered a dual-use item or could be covered under ITAR.


If you or your organization is dealing with electronic components and are unsure about their classification under ITAR, it's essential to:

  • Review the USML to see if the component falls under any of the categories.
  • Consult with experts or legal counsel familiar with ITAR and export control regulations.
  • In cases of uncertainty, submit a Commodity Jurisdiction (CJ) request to the DDTC to get an official determination on whether a particular item falls under the jurisdiction of ITAR.

Dual Use Items

ICs that can be used in both defense and commercial applications are typically referred to as "dual-use" items. The determination of whether such ICs fall under the USML or are instead governed by the EAR can be a nuanced process.

USML - If an IC is specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted, or modified for a military or space application, and it doesn't have a predominant civil application, it might be listed on the USML and thus fall under ITAR jurisdiction.

EAR and the Commerce Control List (CCL) - Dual-use items, which have both civilian and potential military applications, are generally subject to the EAR, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The CCL is a part of the EAR and lists items under its jurisdiction.

Evolving Nature of Lists - The specific listings on the USML and CCL are continually reviewed and can evolve based on technological developments and changing policies. An IC that's dual-use today might be moved to a different classification in the future, or vice versa.

If you're dealing with an IC and you're unsure about its classification, it's crucial to:

  1. Review both the USML and the CCL - Check to see if the IC or its specific functionalities are explicitly mentioned or if they fit within the described categories.
  2. Consider its design and intent - If an IC was specifically designed for military applications, even if it has potential commercial applications, it might be more likely to fall under the USML.
  3. Seek expert advice - Because of the nuances and potential penalties involved, it's a good idea to consult with experts or legal counsel familiar with ITAR and EAR.

In situations of uncertainty, one can request a formal commodity classification from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to determine whether a particular item falls under the EAR and, if so, its specific classification.

If the ICs fall under the purview of the CCL and are subject to the EAR, then they are not directly governed by ITAR or the USML. Thus, ITAR registration would not be required solely for brokering items under the CCL.

Does ITAR Registration Cover Provisions Under an EAR License?

No, ITAR registration and an EAR license serve different purposes and are governed by different regulatory frameworks. Here's a comparison to clarify the distinctions:


ITAR Registration

EAR License


ITAR registration serves as a declaration to the DDTC that a company is involved in the manufacture, export, or brokering of defense articles or services. Registration doesn't grant permission to export.

An EAR license grants permission to export, reexport, or transfer a specific item to a specific recipient under specified conditions. Having a license means you've received approval for that particular transaction.

Governing Regulation

ITAR governs defense articles and services listed on the USML.

EAR covers "dual-use" items, which have both civilian and potential military applications. These items are listed on the CCL.


Managed by the DDTC under the U.S. Department of State.

Managed by the BIS under the U.S. Department of Commerce.


Key Takeaways

ITAR registration is a general declaration of involvement in defense-related activities. It doesn't grant the right to export. An EAR license is specific permission for a particular transaction involving dual-use items. These requirements can apply to individual components, subassemblies, PCBAs, or fully assembled electronic products.

Even if a company is registered under ITAR, they still need to obtain specific export licenses (either under ITAR or EAR) for individual transactions, depending on the item, destination, end-use, and end-user.

It's crucial to understand that the two regulatory frameworks are distinct and cater to different types of items and activities. Companies must ensure compliance with both ITAR and EAR, as applicable, and cannot assume that registration or licensing under one covers requirements under the other. If in doubt, it's always wise to consult with legal experts familiar with export control regulations.


Whether you're designing an ultra-rugged aerospace system or feature-rich embedded computing products, make sure your design firm understands how to coordinate with electronics manufacutring services and contract manufacturers to help you produce military embedded systems with maximum quality. NWES helps aerospace OEMs, defense primes, and private companies in multiple industries design modern PCBs and create cutting-edge embedded technology, including power systems for high reliability applications and precision control systems. We've also partnered directly with EDA companies and advanced ITAR-compliant PCB manufacturers, and we'll make sure your next high speed digital system is fully manufacturable at scale. Contact NWES for a consultation.


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