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To enable gaining insight into degradation mechanisms of AlGaN/GaN high electron mobility transistors, devices grown on a low-dislocation-density bulk-GaN substrate were studied. Gate leakage current and electroluminescence (EL) monitoring revealed a progressive appearance of EL spots during off-state stress which signify the generation of gate current leakage paths. Atomic force microscopy evidenced the formation of semiconductor surface pits at the failure location, which corresponds to the interaction region of the gate contact edge and the edges of surface steps. (C) 2013 AIP Publishing LLC.