Air Force to Craft a Quantum Information Science Strategy—and Wants Help

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The service is on the lookout for a contractor with a proven track record in the quantum development space.

The Air Force set sights on crafting a comprehensive strategy to drive its pursuits of quantum information science—and aims to partner with a proven player in the realm of quantum development that can provide connections and insight to help steer its creation. 

“Formulating a strategy on how to develop, demonstrate, produce, harden and field quantum systems will truly be extremely difficult and require competencies that are not easily developed,” Air Force Research Laboratory officials wrote in request for information released Monday. 

Quantum information science, or QIS, incorporates principles of quantum science—or the study of the tiniest particles of matter and energy—to process information in new ways and generate potentially revolutionary technologies and applications across sensing, communications, computing and beyond. The Defense Department and National Institute of Standards and Technology held their first workshops on the topic in the mid-1990s, but to date most government-led quantum initiatives and applications remain relatively nascent. Still, QIS has emerged as a weighty research and development priority for the U.S. government over the last half-decade, particularly boosted by the passage of the National Quantum Initiative Act in 2018 and quantum-accelerating funding and budget inclusions.

The Pentagon currently boasts a range of quantum efforts enveloping a strategic, but decidedly shorter-term focus. An array of those, including the development of an integrated photonics processor, are headed by the Air Force Research Lab, where officials in June also awarded more than $5 million to 23 small businesses during a first-of-its-kind virtual quantum pitch event. At the time, the director of the lab’s information directorate also acknowledged plans to soon open a Quantum Innovation Center of Excellence in New York.

To develop its ultimate QIS strategy, the research lab is on the lookout for partners with “experience leading multiple technology efforts, including experience in public and private technology development, marketing, product development, fabrication, testing and a strong management background with a proven record of success,” according to the RFI, which adds that they also need a “proven track record of multiple major accomplishments that has significantly impacted the quantum development sector.” 

Officials offer a list of needed support services they hope will enable the production of the overall strategy in an accompanying performance work statement. In terms of technical expertise, the lab wants a partner that can assist several of its internal directorates (that it explicitly lists) with the development of quantum clocks and sensors, technology for quantum assisted-positioning, navigation and timing algorithms and software to use on prototype quantum computers, and more. Insiders also want to be connected via the partner to key national and international players in the space, and receive support and engagement in its quantum work with potential federal customers including NASA, the Energy Department, NIST and more. 

And among a range of other services and deliverables that would ultimately inform the strategy’s development, officials also call for assistance in producing a quantum investment plan across relevant areas of research and “a listing of the needed capabilities, partners, technologies and components to make fieldable QIS systems a reality.”

The RFI’s creators note that the acquisition strategy is to-be-determined, but add that the results will help them decide whether the impending requirement will be a full and open, or a small business set-aside acquisition. The anticipated program ceiling is $10M, according to the RFI. 

The deadline for responses from interested contractors is set for Sept. 4. 

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