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Hard breakdown (HBD) is shown to be a gradual process with the gate current increasing at a predictable rate exponentially dependent on the instantaneous stress voltage and oxide thickness. This is contrary to conventional wisdom that maintains that HBD is a fast thermally driven process. The HBD degradation rate (DR) for a 15 /spl Aring/ oxide scales from >1 mA/s at 4 V to <1 nA/s at 2 V, extrapolating to <10 fA/s at use voltage. Adding the HBD evolution time to the standard time-to-breakdown potentially reduces the projected fail rate of gate dielectrics by orders of magnitude.