Challenges and opportunities for securing a robust US quantum computing supply chain
Based on a survey of quantum computing (QC) commercial entities spanning the QC ecosystem, there are significant concerns that there could be a serious QC-related supply chain disruption in the next few years. Potential choke points are widely dispersed across the supply chain spanning assured access to necessary raw materials to a steady supply of trained software experts. Further complicating this issue is that the QC sector is currently in a nascent and rapidly changing state with a spate of new technologies, hardware and software implementations, and related production and distribution schemes yet to be firmly established. The QC sector will likely remain fluid for at least the next few years, and the establishment of a well-defined, complete, and stable supply chain for the sector will remain in flux for at least as long, if not longer.
In order to generate a first-order understanding of key QC supply chain issues and to better assess the current and potential future choke points for the domestic QC supply chain, Hyperion Research, at the behest of QED-C®, recently conducted a survey seeking information and insights on the various challenges facing the global QC supply chain. The survey was sent to a wide and diverse collection of primarily US-based QC organizations, and input was collected from 47 different respondents with participation across a broad base of the US QC supplier base.
Key findings of this survey included:
Nearly 60% of survey respondents indicated that some form of a QC supply chain disruption was likely in the next three years relating to materials, components, or sub-assemblies supplied to the QC sector or QC-related goods and/or services marketed to end users. Specifically, 32% of respondents indicated that such an event was very likely, while 26% indicated it was somewhat likely.
When asked what would be the single most likely cause of a QC-related supply chain disruption within their organization in the next three years, respondents answered that access to key raw materials and manufacturing/assembly equipment would be the most likely candidates. The two next most selected options were related to access to needed technical expertise in either hardware of software design/production. Only 6% of respondents saw access to R&D funding as a major QC choke point in the next three years.
- Strong concerns with assured access to raw materials and manufacturing/assembly equipment may represent apprehensions by QC suppliers to end user markets that they only have indirect access to – and hence little control over – the lowest and most basic levels of the overall QC supply chain.
- In contrast, respondents across the QC supplier sector exhibited little to no concern over access to QC markets, either domestic or foreign, as a supply chain issue within the three years.
- When asked how long it would take their organization to find an alternate supplier for their single most critical manufacturing choke point, the most selected response was more than one year, followed by between nine months and one year.
Survey respondents had strong opinions on the value of various US government policy initiatives related to QC supply chain dynamics. In general, the policy initiatives deemed most beneficial centered on increased support, both financial and technical, from US government programs, while any initiatives that could hinder US QC supplier efforts to freely engage in a global QC ecosystem were deemed detrimental. Specifically:
- Survey respondents considered the most beneficial US government policy initiatives to be increased direct government funding for organization’s quantum R&D, improved and expanded US Government-conducted quantum R&D programs, and increased and strengthened R&D incentives, such as R&D tax credits, for their organization’s quantum R&D expenses.
- US policy options that were considered very detrimental included more severe import/export tariffs, strengthened deemed export policies, and more stringent goods and services export control regulations.
Owing to the broad range of US QC supply chain concerns, US policy options to eliminate, or even lessen, the specter of any significant QC supply chain disruptions are neither clear nor reducible to a one size fits all solution. Ultimately a comprehensive range of mutually reinforcing initiatives will be needed to adequately secure all aspects of the US QC ecosystem. At the same time, these programs, as is typical for any critical advanced technology, must address key US government use cases for the technology while furthering the overall and global competitive ability of the domestic commercial sector. Suggested next steps include:
- Continual tracking of the overall dynamics of the US QC supply chain to identify the most critical vulnerabilities from either domestic or foreign sources, especially as the current QC supply chain is continually shifting with new vulnerabilities rising and falling as the technology evolves.
- Continued US government support to the sector in the form of research partnerships or direct funding for at least the next few years as a way to encourage QC-related funding within the commercial QC sector while demonstrating to the large pool of potential QC end users that QC technology will soon evolve into a stable, mature, and economically beneficial market sector.
- Careful monitoring of foreign QC commercial and government efforts to foster their own domestic and independent QC ecosystem, particularly in those countries with national security agenda concerns. Such foreign efforts become even more critical in cases where foreign policies, either deliberately or as an unintended side effect, have a detrimental effect on the US QC commercial sector’s ability to compete fairly in that country or region.