January 30, 2024

How Policymakers Can Advance American Quantum Technology Leadership in 2024

2024 could be a pivotal year for America’s quantum technology leadership. Two pieces of legislation — the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act Reauthorization and the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — are vital to advancing American competitiveness in quantum technology and safeguarding critical U.S. advantages. To maintain an edge in quantum technology in the year ahead, Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) must move quickly to reauthorize the NQI and implement the NDAA’s quantum initiatives.

Misguided policies now could tip the quantum scales in an adversary’s favor later, perhaps irreversibly.

The United States is at an inflection point in quantum research and development. The quantum industry achieved several milestones in 2023 that significantly improved the capability and maturity of quantum systems, including breakthroughs in quantum error correction, the creation of the first 1,000-plus qubit quantum system, and the development of the first quantum circuit with logical qubits. As a result of these accomplishments, quantum technologies are more powerful, reliable, and broadly applicable than they were a year ago. Many technical hurdles remain before quantum can deliver real-world impact, but quantum technologies are progressing rapidly and could soon benefit a range of industries, from medicine and energy to transportation and finance. Over the next 12 months, quantum researchers will likely focus on consolidating research gains and building larger, scalable quantum systems.

At the same time, the United States faces stiff competition from allies and adversaries alike. International investments in quantum technology were high and consistent in 2023. Multiple countries, particularly in Asia and Europe, now threaten to beat the United States in quantum application development and commercialization, which could give them an upper-hand in establishing quantum technology governance frameworks, standards, and best practices.

U.S. adversaries have also intensified cooperation on quantum technology. In January 2024, scientists in Russia and China announced the establishment of a 3,8000-kilometer quantum communication network connecting Moscow to Urumqi, paving the way for a secure, unbreakable quantum communication network among nations aligned with the two countries, including India, South Africa, and Brazil. The United States still has a slight lead in most quantum technology areas—including quantum computing and quantum sensing—but competitors are closing the gap. Misguided policies now could tip the quantum scales in an adversary’s favor later, perhaps irreversibly.

The NQI and NDAA play instrumental roles in promoting American quantum leadership because they set the United States’ quantum technology priorities, allocate federal funding towards research and development, and authorize various government agencies to carry out specific quantum programs and initiatives. To foster a coordinated, self-sustaining, and globally competitive quantum technology ecosystem, the NQI and NDAA must be complimentary and mutually reinforcing.

Reauthorizing the NQI is essential to build on the U.S. quantum industry’s 2023 achievements, keep pace with international quantum advancements, and maintain the United States’ quantum technology advantages. The NQI, enacted in 2018, initiated a whole-of-government effort to enhance cooperation between quantum technology stakeholders and drive research and development through the establishment of various centers, consortia, and programs. In its first five years, the NQI helped double federal funding for basic quantum research, strength and expand the quantum ecosystem, and launch 13 quantum research and education centers nationwide. As Dr. Celia Merzbacher noted in recent congressional testimony, the NQI has enabled the United States to become “a leader in many areas” of quantum technology.

Reauthorization of the NQI will allow the United States to maintain this leadership and maximize the impact of the NQI’s early successes. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology unanimously passed a bipartisan reauthorization bill in December 2023. Lawmakers should move quickly to continue advancing it through Congress. To strengthen the NQI program and ensure long-term U.S. competitiveness in quantum, the reauthorization should focus on transitioning quantum technologies from research laboratories to the market, developing of a robust and diverse quantum workforce, and building a resilient quantum technology supply chain.

The FY 2024 NDAA is also critical to U.S. quantum technology leadership. The NDAA includes several important provisions for quantum technology and mirrors the NQI reauthorization—both documents prioritize more advanced quantum research, application development, and preparing the quantum ecosystem for commercial success.

The NDAA’s quantum computing pilot program and workforce development efforts are particularly noteworthy. The NDAA will establish a pilot program on near-term quantum computing applications to test and evaluate how quantum could solve DoD’s technical and research problems and meet immediate capability requirements. DoD and external quantum computing experts will identify challenges that quantum technologies can address, develop proofs of concept to transition quantum technologies into operational use, assess quantum’s ability to support warfighters, and strengthen relationships between DoD and entities that may have quantum technology solutions to key challenges.

Commendably, the program takes a comprehensive and inclusive approach. It will evaluate the efficacy of multiple quantum computing architectures, including quantum-classical hybrid systems, quantum annealing, and all qubit modalities, from superconducting and trapped-ion computing to neutral atom and photonic computing. This approach helps ensure that DoD remains at the cutting-edge of quantum technology development and has access to the best-performing quantum systems that can support strategic, operational, and tactical planning and operations.

The NDAA also includes laudable initiatives to bolster the availability of STEM talent, taking important steps to patch current quantum workforce gaps. The bill authorizes a quantum technology fellowship program for graduate and post-graduate students, with a particular emphasis on attracting “minority, geographically diverse, and economically disadvantaged” students who historically lack access to quality STEM education resources and job opportunities. The bill also empowers DoD to partner with universities to “enable students to engage in multidisciplinary courses of study.” Multidisciplinary talent is critical to the successful implementation and deployment of quantum technologies, which requires a unique blend of hardware and software expertise.

The NDAA also establishes talent exchange programs with private-sector entities working on quantum technology applications. Such programs will help improve collaboration between the U.S. government and private industry, which is largely driving quantum technology innovation and discovery and retains most of the United States’ quantum-specific talent. However, the bill stipulates that talent exchange programs may only include up to 10 participants. To achieve maximum impact, DoD should significantly scale these programs in the future.

In short, the stakes for quantum technology research and development in 2024 are high indeed. While the U.S. quantum industry achieved exciting milestones and built significant momentum in 2023, so did U.S. adversaries and competitors. U.S. policymakers should use the NQI reauthorization and the FY 2024 NDAA to capitalize on the United States’ recent advancements, foster continued innovation, and support the development of a resilient and agile quantum ecosystem. Policymakers have a great opportunity to advance and secure U.S. leadership in quantum technology in 2024, but they cannot wait to act.

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