JUST IN: Air Force to Host Quantum ‘Collider’ Event

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Photo: iStock

The Air Force is gathering industry, academia and startups on June 15-16 to get after advances in quantum technologies, said the service’s acquisition chief June 9.

Quantum capability involves the manipulation of neutrons, photons, electrons and protons to perform tasks. Scientists say it will have major long-term implications for defense when it is more fully developed, to include advanced computing, communications and sensing.

The technology is “going to eventually make an impact,” said Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. “We don't know when. It's difficult technology to mature," he noted.

But if the military doesn’t start investing now, it may find itself behind adversarial nations, he said during an online event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“This is going to be high stakes — big risk, big reward,” he said. “If we don't start doing this year after year, then another country, another military might get to the quantum goal line. … We don't want that to happen. We want to win the race.”

As it seeks to harness the technology for military use, the service is hosting a "Quantum Collider" virtual pitch day on June 15. Topics to be explored will include quantum timing, sensing, information processing/computing and communication/networking.

Roper noted that the Air Force has a pool of money — more than $100 million per year — under its Small Business Technology Transfer Research program that is meant to provide cutting edge technology developed by academia to companies that want to harness it, whether for commercial or military purposes.

“I see huge potential to create a wonderful ecosystem between university researchers, tech startups and venture capitalists to try to get university research of so many fields that could affect the future Air and Space Force and create a faster path to spin it out,” he said.

Quantum Collider is going to be the service’s first event to show a steady demand signal for not just doing research, but advancing quantum technology toward operational utility, Roper said.

“Whether it ends up being quantum communication or quantum sensing or quantum computing — or hopefully a combination of all three — that make it to the goal line first, this is about creating an accelerant so that our military gets that advantage,” he said.

The event — which will feature speakers from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Quantum Economic Development Consortium, National Security Innovation Network and more — won’t be the last "collider" initiative aimed at accelerating research, Roper said. “There are so many other areas that we need to be exploring from synthetic biology to new materials, all of which can have a huge impact,” he said. “We're doing this tech-field-by-tech-field.”

However, the Air Force is being mindful to not spread its resources too thin, he added. “I'm letting our research lab look at what's the right area for the next move for us,” he said. “The worst thing to do is have a strategy where you're putting nickels and dimes everywhere. … I'd rather make concerted moves in new fields of tech.”


Topics: Air Force News

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