Epitaxial aluminum nitride thin films have been grown on silicon carbide (6H-SiC) substrates by pulsed low-energy ion-assisted reactive magnetron sputter deposition (+5/-20 V of bias pulses), with ion-assisted energy (Ei)≅22 eV, under ultrahigh-vacuum conditions. Surface ion interactions during the negative bias pulse gave rise to enhanced surface mobility of adatoms with beneficial effects, which extended over the limit of ion repelling in the positive pulse as the film thickness increased. High-resolution electron microscopy shows that a large (≫90 nm) AlN domain width can form on the substrate. Domain-boundary annihilation and domain suppression during film growth have been observed. The growth rate also increased by a factor of ∼4 compared to growth conditions with no ion assistance (Ei=2 eV) and by a factor of 2 from dc ion-assisted growth. This indicates that the supply of nitrogen is a limiting factor for AlN formation and that the reactivity of nitrogen is increased on the growing AlN film surface for pulse ion-assisted deposition. High-resolution x-ray diffraction shows a reduction in the full width at half maximum of the rocking curve from 1490 to 1180 arcsec when pulsed ions are used. The cathodoluminescence shows high intensity of near-band edge emissions at wavelengths of 206 (6.02 eV) and 212 nm (5.84 eV) at a measured temperature of 5 K, with relatively low defect and oxygen and carbon impurity related emission, which is indicative of a high quality electronic material. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.