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Quantum Science to Deliver Cutting-Edge Technology to Warfighters, Official Says

Feb. 23, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

During Engineers Week, the Defense Department is highlighting its efforts to develop a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce and to increase understanding of and interest in engineering and technology.

Quantum science is important for the Defense Department because of the revolutionary technologies that it will bring to warfighters, the principal director for quantum science in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said in an interview recently.

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Among the technologies in development are advances in quantum computing and networks that are many times more effective at encrypting or decrypting today's communications, Paul Lopata said.

DOD scientists and civilian partners are working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop new cryptographic standards that ensure information stays private, he added.

Quantum sensors are another exciting future possibility that could be used for such things as missile and aircraft tracking, as well as more advanced gyros and accelerometers, he said.

A graphic depicts an atom.
Atom Photo
A graphic shows a stylized version of an atom.
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"We're just starting to understand the possibilities," he said.

An application where quantum science is used today is in powering the atomic clocks used by GPS satellites, which must be precisely synchronized. Lopata said that's important because military systems such as aircraft and missiles need to have a great deal of precision, navigation and timing.

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Lopata likened quantum science to the military's first use of electricity in the 1800s, which was used to power telegraphs — the first information technology of its kind that greatly improved long distance command, control and communications.

A scientist works with equipment attached to wires.
John Hannegan
John Hannegan, a graduate student and research scientist at the University of Maryland, adjusts photon collection optics in preparation for linking the trapped ion lab with another quantum lab. He is working with Army research at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.
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Of course, the U.S. isn't the only nation pursuing quantum science for military use, he said. So-called great power competitors Russia and China are, as well.

Fortunately, so are our allies and partners, he said, meaning that these nations can and are collaborating on some of these quantum science projects.

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The Army is conducting research on quantum computing at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.
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In the U.S., the department is leveraging academia and the private sector to advance quantum science, Lopata said. DOD's efforts are concentrated in each of the service's research laboratories and engineering departments, as well as organizations that include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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Binary Code
A graphic depicts binary code.
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There's a wide range of basic scientists, applied scientists and engineers looking to understand how the department can take advantage of quantum science and apply it to current and new systems, he said.

"DOD is a top tier place to be a quantum scientist because of the broad possibilities for research, the opportunity to pioneer new technologies, and the ability to serve our country," he said.