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Research Questions

  1. What are useful metrics for assessing the nascent industrial base in quantum technology?
  2. What do these metrics show about the currently leading nations' quantum industrial bases?
  3. What can policymakers do to keep the United States competitive?

Quantum technology could eventually deliver transformative new capabilities with significant economic and national security impacts. Only recently has research and development (R&D) expanded beyond basic science research (primarily conducted within academia) to include significant private-sector development and commercialization. The newness of significant private-sector investment in this technology, and the high uncertainty in its eventual applications and their timelines, make it difficult to form a holistic assessment of the overall industrial base in quantum technology.

In this report, we develop a set of flexible and broadly applicable metrics for assessing a nation's quantum industrial base, broadly defined, that attempt to quantify the strength of the nation's scientific research, government activity, private industry activity, and technical achievement. We then apply those metrics to the United States and to the People's Republic of China using a mixed-methods approach. The results for each metric are broken down across the three major application domains for quantum technology: quantum computing, quantum communications, and quantum sensing. We conclude with recommendations for policymakers for maintaining the strength of the U.S. quantum industrial base.

Key Findings

The United States is the current world leader in most, although not all, quantum technologies.

  • The United States' overall scientific research output in quantum information science (QIS) is broad, stable, and at or near the global forefront in every application domain.
  • The U.S. government is the primary funder of open QIS research and is on track to spend $710 million on QIS R&D in fiscal year 2021 across multiple agencies.
  • U.S. quantum technology deployment is now driven by the private sector, with a diverse range of firms pursuing a variety of technical approaches and applications and no clear technical leader.
  • The United States leads in demonstrated technical capability in quantum computing and sensing, but not in quantum communications.

China's quantum technology capabilities are developing rapidly.

  • China has high research output in every application domain of quantum technology.
  • Chinese reports of total government R&D funding for quantum technology are wildly conflicting, and we cannot determine from public sources whether the Chinese government is spending more or less than the U.S. government in this area.
  • Chinese quantum technology R&D is concentrated in government-funded laboratories, which have demonstrated rapid technical progress.
  • China leads in high-impact scientific publishing and demonstrated technical capability in quantum communications.

The eventual applications of quantum technology and their timelines remain highly uncertain.

Recommendations

  • Continue to provide a broad base of government R&D support across quantum technologies, complementing the most active areas of private investment.
  • Monitor—and, if possible, help protect—the quantum technology programs of key U.S. quantum technology firms.
  • Monitor the financial health and ownership of quantum start-up companies.
  • Monitor the international flows of key elements of the industrial base, such as critical components and materials, skilled workers, and final quantum technology products.
  • Do not impose export controls on quantum computers or quantum communications systems at this time.
  • Periodically reassess the rapidly changing quantum industrial base.

This research was sponsored by the Director for Technology and Manufacturing Industrial Base in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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