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Will Quantum Supply Chains Fall Victim to Geopolitics?
29 Sep 2022

Although quantum mechanics emerged in the early 20th century, practical real-world applications in computing, communications, and sensing are more recent. As quantum technologies mature, policymakers and industry professionals are naturally becoming concerned about their impact.

The dual-use nature of quantum technologies has been an important factor motivating countries to limit their proliferation. Recent export controls by China and the United States have also raised the question of whether quantum supply chains will face geopolitical obstacles like those being observed for semiconductor chips.

With this in mind, RSIS’ Future Issues and Technology (FIT) research cluster has been collaborating with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) to explore developments within the quantum scientific and industrial ecosystems that are intersecting with national security concerns.

A webinar co-organised by FIT and CENS on 29 September 2022 aimed at unpacking some of the complexities surrounding quantum technology development. The panel comprised Dr Celia Merzbacher, Executive Director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium and Dr Edward Parker, Physical Scientist at the RAND Corporation, with Mr Manoj Harjani, Research Fellow at FIT, moderating the webinar.

The panellists highlighted the globalised nature of quantum supply chains, which continue to evolve with new technological advances. Within quantum computing, for example, the use of different components and materials in competing technology paradigms have caused supply chains to be dependent on a wide range of non-quantum technologies used in other sectors, such as electronics, control components, and measurement devices.

Although export controls on quantum technology have broadened in scope to target adjacent and non-quantum technologies, the panel observed that quantum supply chains were not consolidated in specific countries where unreliable suppliers could limit access.

Furthermore, the scale at which quantum devices need to be manufactured would be an important consideration affecting the vulnerability of supply chains. For instance, there would likely be a lot fewer quantum computers manufactured in the short term compared to sensors or network hardware.

The panel also discussed the importance of access to skilled workers as a supply chain concern. The movement of talent from higher education to industry could potentially be accelerated through short term training and additional pathways to help professionals in related fields at different educational levels make a jump into the quantum technology sector.

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