In theory, quantum computing has the explosive potential to rewrite the principles of classical physics as we know them. This potential brings possibilities that we have believed to be impossible.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) recognises this and wants to use quantum for military applications.

On the 14 June, the DoD announced it will back a project that will advance quantum technology applications to kinetic weapon systems.

This quantum-based capability will “enable greater precision at longer range, lower collateral damage and more agile platforms,” the DoD stated.

Quantum computers use the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform computations.

The DoD chose the Army Research Laboratory-led project team investigating quantum constructs to revolutionise precision weapons as the winner of the 2024 Applied Research for Advancement of Science and Technology Priorities programme award competition.

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The CLassical quantum hybrid constructs to Advance Weapons Systems (CLAWS) project was selected as one of three out of nine projects to receive DoD support.

The winners were chosen based on specific measures including eligibility for applied research funding; ability to address a specific technology or capability gap; capacity to enhance collaboration across the DoD; presentation of a realistic programme plan and demonstration of a clear pathway from research to product fielding.

The three-year, $45m project will support scientists and engineers across the DoD and will see the team partner with academia and industry to develop emerging technologies into disruptive capabilities in areas including imaging, positioning, navigation, timing and quantum.

Using quantum for precision targeting

We have not yet realised the full potential of quantum; GlobalData, a leading intelligence consultancy company, tells us that quantum supremacy is a decade away at least.

It will be years before any quantum computer can run Shor’s or Grover’s algorithms – these are algortithms that run on a quantum computer and improve its efficiency over any classical algorithm – at any scale that can solve industry problems.

In the mean time, quantum computing researchers will develop algorithms for quantum simulators. These algorithms can run on classical computers, on noisy, intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) devices, or a hybrid of both.

For this reason, the CLAWS team plan to develop a hybrid approach that will imrpove the overall functionality of weapon systems on the market.

The next few years will see a progression of noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) devices and the development of modular systems, each generation incrementally more powerful and less fragile, GlobalData adds.

They will provide some quantum edge in optimisation applications and begin operating in hybrid systems; just as the CLAWS team hopes quantum will perform an optimising role within its weapon systems.

However, at the moment, directed energy weapons (DEW) are at the forefront of precision fire support, particularly in air defences. GlobalData intelligence says that while there is a proliferated use of uncrewed aerial systems, drone swarming tactics and the introduction of hypersonic missiles, these new methods have led some observers to consider the potential of DEW as an effective countermeasure to these emerging technologies.

With that in mind, the DoD’s decision to back a hybrid quantum approach will help to support the quantum market which GlobalData tells us is undergoing a slow period in investment due to the “fiendishly difficult engineering problems and excess hype.”