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    Critical thoughts on quantum technologies

    The Pentagon’s Uphill Battle with Quantum Technology Integration

    ByThemba Hadebe

    Feb 13, 2024
    The Pentagon’s Uphill Battle with Quantum Technology Integration

    The Department of Defense is facing significant challenges when it comes to incorporating advanced quantum technologies into its operational systems, according to a report released by the Mitchell Institute. The report highlights the gap between ongoing research projects and their practical applications in the defense sector.

    Heather “Lucky” Penney, the lead author of the report and a national security analyst, stresses the importance of growing the quantum industrial base through real programs of record. She points out that the Pentagon’s traditional methods of incorporating private-sector innovations may not be well-suited for the unique challenges posed by quantum technology.

    Unlike software and robotics, where there is significant commercial interest, the lack of civilian applications for quantum technologies, particularly in areas like sensing, navigation, and communication, creates a funding shortfall. This makes it difficult for small startups, which dominate the quantum sector, to scale up their operations.

    The current outreach efforts by the Defense Innovation Unit and the Air Force’s AFWERX and SPACEWERX provide limited support, which is insufficient to bridge the gap between research and practical application. Quantum hardware production also presents challenges as it requires specialized tooling and expensive facilities, creating a high barrier to entry.

    While there have been a few successful field testing of quantum technologies, such as the MAGNAV project, which demonstrated the potential of quantum magnetometers for navigation without GPS, there is a need for a more comprehensive approach. This entails substantial funding and institutional support to move these technologies from experimental stages to practical military applications.

    The report recommends establishing formal acquisition programs that focus on specific military platforms like inertial navigation systems, precise timing using quantum clocks, and ultra-sensitive radio receivers based on Rydberg atoms. By investing in these areas, not only can the U.S. military enhance its capabilities, but it can also stimulate the growth of a quantum industrial base.

    The Mitchell Institute’s report highlights the urgent need for the Pentagon to reevaluate its approach to quantum technology integration. With targeted investment and programmatic support, the defense sector can successfully transition from laboratory experiments to operational military systems, ensuring technological superiority in the future.

    An FAQ section based on the main topics and information presented in the article:

    1. What challenges does the Department of Defense face in incorporating advanced quantum technologies into its operational systems?
    According to the report by the Mitchell Institute, the main challenge is the gap between ongoing research projects and their practical applications in the defense sector. The lack of civilian applications for quantum technologies, particularly in sensing, navigation, and communication, creates a funding shortfall. Quantum hardware production also presents challenges due to specialized tooling and expensive facilities.

    2. Why are small startups finding it difficult to scale up their operations in the quantum sector?
    The lack of civilian applications and funding shortfall make it difficult for small startups, which dominate the quantum sector, to scale up their operations. The high barrier to entry, including specialized tooling and expensive facilities for quantum hardware production, contributes to the challenges faced by startups.

    3. How can quantum technologies be applied in the defense sector?
    The report recommends establishing formal acquisition programs that focus on specific military platforms like inertial navigation systems, precise timing using quantum clocks, and ultra-sensitive radio receivers based on Rydberg atoms. By investing in these areas, the U.S. military can enhance its capabilities and stimulate the growth of a quantum industrial base.

    4. What successful field testing of quantum technologies has been conducted?
    One example mentioned in the article is the MAGNAV project, which demonstrated the potential of quantum magnetometers for navigation without GPS. However, the report emphasizes the need for a more comprehensive approach and substantial funding and institutional support to move quantum technologies from experimental stages to practical military applications.

    Definitions:
    – Quantum technologies: Advanced technologies that harness the principles of quantum mechanics, such as quantum computing, quantum cryptography, and quantum sensing.
    – Rydberg atoms: Highly excited atoms in which one or more electrons have reached states of very high energy.

    Suggested Related Links:
    Department of Defense
    Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)
    AFWERX
    SPACEWERX
    Mitchell Institute