The depth distribution of the strain-related tetragonal distortion e(T) in the GaN epilayer with low-temperature AlN interlayer (LT-AlN IL) on Si(111) substrate is investigated by Rutherford backscattering and channeling. The samples with the LT-AlN IL of 8 and 16 nm thickness are studied, which are also compared with the sample without the LT-AlN IL. For the sample with 16-nm-thick LT-AlN IL, it is found that there exists a step-down of e(T) of about 0.1% in the strain distribution. Meanwhile, the angular scan around the normal GaN <0001> axis shows a tilt difference about 0.01degrees between the two parts of GaN separated by the LT-AlN IL, which means that these two GaN layers are partially decoupled by the AlN interlayer. However, for the sample with 8-nm-thick LT-AlN IL, neither step-down of e(T) nor the decoupling phenomenon is found. The 0.01degrees decoupled angle in the sample with 16-nm-thick LT-AlN IL confirms the relaxation of the LT-AlN IL. Thus the step-down of e(T) should result from the compressive strain compensation brought by the relaxed AlN interlayer. It is concluded that the strain compensation effect will occur only when the thickness of the LT-AlN IL is beyond a critical thickness. (C) 2004 American Institute of Physics.