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Air Force Seeks Ideas for How Quantum Computing Can Help Warfighters

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The Air Force wants white papers that describe new ways quantum computing could help achieve its mission, according to an amended Broad Agency Announcement posted Friday. Eventually, the government could provide a test-bed where a contractor might install, develop and test a quantum computing system, according to the announcement

Last year, the Air Force announced it had about $40 million available to fund research into, and the eventual maintenance and installation of a quantum system -- a branch of emerging computing technology that relies on the mechanics of atomic particles to process complex equations. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate, which focuses on processes such as signal processing, networking technology, cyber research and supercomputing, is collecting those white papers. 

Many problems that stump traditional computers can be re-framed as "optimization problems," the solicitation says; one of quantum computing's potential benefits is its ability to quickly find the optimum solution to a multidimensional problem, given certain constraints. 

The Air Force is among several other federal groups interested in quantum.

Last year, for instance, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, which focuses on research and development, said it planned to award a multiyear grant to IBM to build out a component of a quantum computer. A true quantum computer might be useful, IARPA program manager David Moehring told Nextgov then, because it might be applied to complex questions like the "Traveling Salesman Problem" -- what's the best way for a salesman to visit several different locations?

A quantum system might be able to help other parts of the Defense Department, including in projects involving machine learning, pattern recognition, and logistics, the Air Force posting said. The Air Force also wants to build out a network of users who might think of new ways to apply quantum computing to their own agencies. 

Ultimately, the Air Force wants to figure out how to most effectively use quantum computing power when attacking a specific question, the solicitation said. For instance, a scientist might use different strategies if he or she wants a computing system to spit out an answer more quickly, or if he or she would rather have a more precise answer. Parameters "should be tailored" to match the specific problem, according to the Air Force. 

To get funding in the 2017 fiscal year, the solicitation recommended submitting white papers by Sep. 30. 

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