May 28, 2024

The Quest for Qubits

Assessing U.S.-China Competition in Quantum Computing

Executive Summary

The United Nations General Assembly recently declared 2025 the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology. Quantum information science, a field once exclusive to academic researchers, has rapidly expanded to “include significant private sector development and commercialization.” At this particularly opportune moment, science now “stands at the verge of a new quantum revolution.”

Amid climate crises, widespread food insecurity, pandemics, and countless other societal challenges, the new quantum revolution promises to benefit nearly every facet of modern life. Quantum technologies, with their unparalleled speed and processing power, could unlock transformative innovations in a range of industries, from energy and agriculture to medicine and finance. At the same time, however, irresponsible actors could use quantum technologies to break encryption, enable mass surveillance, and design new weapons systems. In short, global advancements in quantum technology have profound implications for U.S. economic and national security. The United States needs a long-term strategy to boost its competitiveness in quantum technology and ensure that the technology develops in alignment with U.S. values and interests.

This report takes stock of the global quest to build and scale quantum computers and emphasizes the U.S.-China dynamic. To counter the risk of U.S. adversaries achieving surprise scientific breakthroughs and weaponizing quantum systems, U.S. policymakers must understand the potential power of quantum computers, the state of quantum technology research and development, and the barriers to continued progress. They must also understand what U.S. adversaries hope to achieve in quantum technology and the implications of ceding U.S. leadership in this critical field.

This report arrives at several policy recommendations for the United States to secure its advantages in quantum computing and mitigate any vulnerabilities. The recommendations fall under two particularly pressing policy areas: supply chain management and workforce development.

Supply Chain Management

A well-established quantum technology supply chain with limited dependence on foreign suppliers is critical to U.S. leadership and competitiveness in quantum technology. To foster the development of a secure and reliable supply chain, the White House should:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the quantum technology supply chain to identify key inputs, detect critical nodes and potential vulnerabilities, and assess opportunities to develop additional suppliers across a range of regions.
  • Leverage financial incentives and the Tech Hubs Program to promote domestic production of quantum technology inputs deemed too sensitive to reside outside of the United States. The White House should leverage the Defense Production Act, Small Business Innovation Research program, Small Business Technology Transfer program, and related tools to support U.S. companies developing key quantum technology inputs, and incentivize them to align research and development efforts with U.S. government priorities.
  • Direct and resource the Quantum Economic Development Consortium to continually monitor U.S. and foreign competitor quantum computing supply chains. Early detection of emerging vulnerabilities will give policymakers the opportunity to shape the quantum computing supply chain before the United States develops unsustainable dependencies on competitors. Supply chain monitoring will also help illuminate which modalities adversaries are pursuing and how rapidly they are progressing toward fault-tolerant quantum computing.
  • Establish an international forum to coordinate supply chains with U.S. allies and partners, which will allow like-minded countries to maximize their comparative advantages and facilitate supply chain burden sharing.

Workforce Development

Access to a skilled and diverse quantum workforce is critical to a country’s competitiveness in quantum technology. Human talent is required to design quantum technologies, identify quantum applications, and ensure responsible technology use. But quantum expertise is a commodity in short supply and skills gaps could undermine the United States’ ability to reach critical development milestones. The U.S. government, private industry, and academia can take several steps to grow and enhance the United States’ pool of human talent.

  • The National Quantum Coordination Office should develop processes to understand workforce requirements and skills gaps within the quantum ecosystem. The United States needs a mechanism to pinpoint human talent vulnerabilities, identify opportunities for reskilling and upskilling initiatives, and assess the capacity of U.S. institutions—including universities, national labs, and private companies—to effectively nurture quantum talent. An annual systematic study of quantum workforce needs and projections will help policymakers, business leaders, and the academic community make more informed decisions about how best to foster a quantum-capable workforce.
  • Congress should establish a national quantum education and workforce development center to harmonize and support existing initiatives to build a more robust pipeline of quantum talent. A national center will provide a needed venue to coordinate disparate ongoing workforce development programs, share resources and best practices, and connect job seekers to relevant employers.
  • The White House should work with allies and partners to create cross-training and reciprocal research exchange programs with quantum centers worldwide. No country has exclusive access to the people required to advance state-of-the-art quantum technology. The White House should collaborate with allies and partners so that every country can benefit from readily available quantum expertise. The Biden administration should start by increasing the size of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) STEM Fellowship program and leveraging the budding U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral relationship to activate new workforce development initiatives.
  • Universities and quantum companies should work together to develop industry-specific postsecondary education programs, which will ensure that students gain the practical experience required to fill critical quantum talent gaps immediately upon graduation.
  • Quantum companies should partner with K–12 school systems to develop quantum curricula and experiential learning opportunities for students. Such engagement will help teachers gain confidence teaching quantum principles and increase student exposure to and interest in quantum technology.
  • Quantum companies should partner with state and local governments to expand quantum education and professional development opportunities to individuals in rural areas. Quantum apprenticeship programs, accelerated skill development programs, online certification programs, or similar initiatives will allow individuals in rural areas—a sizable untapped talent pool—to hone their skills and advance their earning and promotion potential, ultimately contributing to a more robust and diverse quantum workforce.


The United States and the People’s Republic of China are locked in a long-term, strategic contest for geopolitical power. One critical and emerging technology area—quantum information science (QIS)—is set to play an outsized role in determining which country prevails.

China increasingly aims to reshape the long-standing U.S.-led international order in its own image and is developing the economic, diplomatic, and military capabilities to do so. The gap in national strength between the United States and China is narrowing rapidly. For the first time since the Cold War, the United States risks losing its position as the global superpower.

Technology is a key battleground of U.S.-China competition. Critical and emerging technologies—including QIS, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and semiconductors—are tools that help countries promote their interests and maximize their global competitiveness. As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged in a 2022 speech, “Advancements in science and technology are poised to define the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century.” The United States cannot prevail in strategic competition without first establishing leadership in emerging technologies.

Maintaining an edge in QIS, a technology area with tremendous economic and military potential, is especially important to U.S. technological and global leadership. U.S. government officials across multiple administrations have identified QIS as an area that demands attention over the coming decade. They understand that competitiveness in quantum technology could significantly enhance overall national competitiveness. The countries with the best quantum technologies could also have the best pharmaceuticals, batteries, fertilizers, intelligence collection, and weapons systems.

Quantum technologies promise to support transformative advancements in industries like healthcare, finance, and agriculture. Quantum computers could simulate interactions between complex molecules, paving the way to more effective medications, diagnostics, and vaccines. They could also interpret financial data and model trends, contributing to dramatically improved portfolio optimization, risk analysis, fraud detection, and capital allocation. Quantum computers even have a role to play in mitigating climate change and fostering sustainability. They could accelerate improvements in electric battery technology, unlock more eco-friendly fertilizer manufacturing processes, and help solve power grid optimization problems. Nearly every facet of modern life stands to benefit from the unmatched power of quantum computers.

Global advancements in quantum technology have profound implications for U.S. economic and national security

But quantum computers could become a double-edged sword. Countries that harness the power of quantum computers for good might simultaneously use the technology for more nefarious purposes. Quantum systems could help improve the accuracy and lethality of militaries and intelligence services, making it easier for governments to identify and neutralize targets or surveil and repress specific populations. Quantum systems could also help countries design new weapons, overwhelm adversaries’ defensive capabilities, or rapidly analyze data across multiple domains of warfare. Many emerging technologies possess such dual-use applicability, but quantum technologies are exceptionally challenging to manage—quantum is a relatively new and rapidly evolving technology whose full potential has yet to be fully explored or even conceived. The first-mover advantages of quantum technologies are thus significant. The first country to master the process of building a useful quantum computer will possess not just a powerful tool, but technical know-how that is extremely difficult to cultivate.

The first country to develop, scale, and integrate quantum technologies could attain an upper hand in establishing market dominance, setting technology standards, and crafting frameworks for quantum governance. The global leader in QIS will gain a set of tools that could be used to crack encryption methods and threaten the security of adversaries’ corporate, military, and government infrastructure. Quantum computing could also bestow new capabilities to shape ethical norms—the technology holds the potential to exacerbate global socioeconomic divides, breach individuals’ privacy and security, and contribute to job displacement. In other words, the country leading in QIS will significantly influence whether quantum technologies are used to promote and protect democratic values or undermine them.

There are three primary subsets of quantum technologies: quantum computing, quantum sensing, and quantum communications. This report focuses on quantum computing, the subset of QIS that has received the largest share of public and private funding in the United States thus far, reflecting its perceived importance to U.S. national security. It is also the subset in which the United States arguably faces the fiercest competition. Quantum computing has the most competitors among the three QIS subsets, the largest estimated market, and the most funding globally. At least 17 countries have national strategies to support quantum computing research and development (R&D), including the United States and China. According to most estimates, China outspends the United States on quantum technology R&D by approximately $13.4 billion.

This report explores how the United States can maintain and advance its competitiveness in quantum computing. It provides an overview of QIS and the current state of quantum computing R&D. It also compares the United States’ and China’s quantum computing priorities and capabilities, as well as their capacity for continued innovation. Thereafter, the report highlights two key policy areas—supply chain management and workforce development—that demand policymakers’ immediate attention. U.S.-China competition in quantum computing raises several pressing policy concerns, including questions about export controls, outbound investment restrictions, standard setting, and international governance frameworks. However, the United States cannot effectively address these questions without first establishing a resilient quantum supply chain and fostering the workforce required to remain at the cutting edge of this fast-moving field. The report concludes with recommendations to maximize U.S. advantages in these areas to ensure sustained American quantum competitiveness.

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  2. Edward Parker et al., An Assessment of the U.S. and Chinese Industrial Bases in Quantum Technology (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, February 2, 2022), 1–115,
  3. McKenzie Prillaman, “Building a Quantum Workforce Doesn’t Just Mean Graduating More Ph.D.s,” APS News, March 15, 2024,
  4. Jake Sullivan, “Remarks by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the Special Competitive Studies Project Global Emerging Technologies Summit” (public event, Special Competitive Studies Project Global Emerging Technol- ogies Summit, Washington, DC, September 16, 2022),
  5. Sullivan, “Remarks by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the Special Competitive Studies Project Global Emerging Technologies Summit.”
  6. Edward Parker, Commercial and Military Applications and Timelines for Quantum Technology (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, October 28, 2021),
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  9. Kania and Costello, Quantum Hegemony? China’s Ambitions and the Challenge to U.S. Innovation Leadership?
  10. Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science Committee on Science, National Quantum Initiative Supplement to the President’s FY 2023 Budget (National Science & Technology Council, January 2023),; Mateusz Masiowski et al., Quantum Technology Monitor (McKinsey Digital, June 2022),
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  • Sam Howell

    Adjunct Associate Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Sam Howell is an Adjunct Associate Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her research interests include qu...

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