The Union Cabinet has given an approval for the National Quantum Mission (NQM) at a total cost of Rs 6003.65 crore from 2023-24 to 2030-31. As per the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the aim is to seed, nurture and scale up scientific and industrial R&D and create a vibrant & innovative ecosystem in Quantum Technology (QT). It is expected that such significant commitment would help accelerate the overall QT-led economic growth.
As per the official communication, the NQM targets development of intermediate-scale quantum computers with 50-1000 physical qubits in eight years in various platforms like superconducting and photonic technology. In a digital (classical) world, we use a binary bit (0’s and 1’s) is as the basic unit of information. While in the quantum world, a qubit (or quantum bit) is the basic unit of information in connection with quantum computing. It is envisaged that within few years, the country should be able to have satellite-based secure quantum communications between ground stations over a range of 2000 km within India, long-distance secure quantum communications with other countries, inter-city quantum key distribution over 2000 km as well as multi-node Quantum network with quantum memories.
India’s S & T organisations (and private industry) would be working towards the development of magnetometers with high sensitivity in atomic systems and Atomic Clocks for precision timing, communications, and navigation. It will also support design and synthesis of quantum materials such as superconductors, novel semiconductor structures, and topological materials for the fabrication of quantum devices. Single photon sources/detectors, and entangled photon sources will also be developed for quantum communication, sensing, and metrological applications.
As per the DST, the mission implementation includes setting up four Thematic Hubs (T-Hubs) in top academic and national R&D institutes in the domains like Quantum Computing, Quantum Communication, Quantum Sensing & Metrology, and Quantum Materials & Devices. The hubs will focus on the generation of new knowledge through basic and applied research as well as promote R&D in areas that are mandated to them. It is expected that the NQM would boost the technology development ecosystem. The mission is expected to greatly benefit various sectors including communication, health, financial, energy with applications in drug design, space, banking, security etc.
Defence sector could be one such sector, which could indirectly get benefited from all these investments. It is important to note that Quantum Technology is a dual-use technology and globally various defence research agencies are working towards military applications for quantum technologies. Quantum puzzle is difficult to crack and hence even after sustained efforts for some years, the major research agencies in the world are still found grouping in dark in some arenas of quantum physics. However, in some areas there have been successful attempts towards applications of these technologies. Many of them are still in initial level of development however there are many expectations for the future and the technology offers a great promise.
Scientists have been experimenting in the field of quantum sciences with lot of rigour. The first quantum revolution was more of a silent revolution. The quantum backdrop behind the development of nuclear energy & weapons, lasers, semiconductors and digital cameras was not known to many. Today, we are witnessing second quantum revolution, where the focus is on quantum cryptography, quantum computing, quantum commutations and quantum internet. All these quantum applications have defence relevance.
Our present-day computer systems work in binary/on-off mode (0’s and 1’s). Hence, it is possible to hack these systems by using various cyber tools. In case of quantum computers, qubits also represent a 0 or a 1, but they achieve a mixed state, called a ‘superposition’, where both 1 and 0 exist at the same time. Such computers have the potential to solve complex problems more than 100 million times faster than supercomputers. Hence quantum computers would not only relieve the armed forces from challenges of cyber security, but they could also help in making computer based military simulations more real owing to their ability for quick computing and managing huge data. From a defence utility perspective, quantum cryptography and quantum commutations have great relevance. Quantum technologies are expected to offer an alternative for space-based navigational systems like the GPS. Various other military related fields like submarine detection, radars and sensors are showing a lot of potential for applicability of quantum technologies.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are already working on quantum sciences. With the announcement of NQM, it is important for DRDO to connect with DST and start working on joint projects. Already, academic institutes like IIT, Delhi and some other are working on quantum sciences and DRDO could also connect with them along with DST. DRDO’s Young Scientist Laboratory (DYSL-QT) has got established at Pune some years back. They are working in the field of Quantum Computing, Communications and Sensing technologies. Now the onus would be on the young scientists working at this lab to derive benefits from India’s overall quantum policy.
As for international collaborations, DRDO is working with Israel’s Directorate of Defence Research & Development (DDR&D). Their focus is towards promoting innovation and accelerating R&D in start-ups and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) of both countries. Both these agencies have organised bilateral workshops (2021/2022) for brainstorming and deciding on the roadmap for the future. It is expected that by now there must be some clarity about identifying the exact military grade quantum technology specific domains for future collaborations.
During 2022, Indian Army has issued a commercial Request for Proposal (RSP) and its deployment to the Bengaluru-based start-up QNu for Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) communication systems. India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is evolving an ecosystem to foster innovation and already systems like Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) and Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) are put in place. Now with NQM taking a shape, a major thrust could be given for defence innovation in quantum sciences. Globally, apart from Israel, the US, China, Russia and Australia are capitalising on quantum research and development. India’s defence establishment needs to look for collaborations mainly with the states like the US and Australia.
It needs to be understood that a major quantum revolution is happening in the civilian field, globally. This is the opportune time for India’s defence establishment to push for the development of relevant quantum technologies. Overall, India’s military leadership should take advantage of the impetus given by the government for the quantum sciences.
– The writer is a Consultant with MP-IDSA, New Delhi. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda