Eying military gains, France goes big on national quantum technology

Eying military gains, France goes big on national quantum technology

STUTTGART, Germany – France is diving into the quantum realm with a new multi-sector, cutting-edge computing platform, and by investing billions of euros over several years to support research-and-development efforts in the emerging technology field.

Cabinet officials announced the launch of a national hybrid quantum computing platform in a Jan. 4 event. The effort stems from the nation’s quantum technology strategic plan, which President Emmanuel Macron started one year ago. The plan earmarked 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) to develop quantum technologies between 2021 and 2025, with the state providing 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion). The remaining funds will come from a mix of industry programs, European funding, and relevant startup investments. Leaders hope to create about 16,000 new jobs within this sector by 2030, per the French government.

An initial 70 million euros ($61.9 million) and up to 170 million euros ($150.2 million) will enable the new “hybrid quantum computing” platform to interconnect traditional systems and quantum computers, according to a French government statement. Those systems will then be available for an international community of research institutions, start-ups and industry partners to access.

The platform itself will be managed by France’s National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (INRIA), and housed at the country’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission’s (CEA) military tech-focused facilities in Paris.

Leaders representing multiple French government ministries participated in the half-day event on Tuesday. Mastering quantum technology is an “absolutely strategic interest” for France’s national defense, said Defense Minister Florence Parly in a virtual address.

“Everyone can imagine the benefits of autonomous navigation, without the need for GPS, which is possible with some quantum technologies,” she said. “We know that this will be decisive in tomorrow’s conflicts.”

Eying military gains, France goes big on national quantum technology

Quantum-based sensors would eventually deliver “unparalleled” levels of precision for sophisticated weapon and navigation systems that would no longer need to rely on satellite signals, but could function by measuring the “tiny variations in the Earth’s gravity,” Parly said.

The communications domain is also a key area of military interest for quantum computers, including breaking cryptographic algorithms for intelligence purposes, she added. While Parly acknowledged that that concept remains theoretical for now, she said France is ready “to face it someday.”

France is eager to become a thriving hub for quantum technology and computing companies. Atos, a French-based information technology company, sees value in quantum computing to more quickly and efficiently support high-performance computing, said Philippe Duluc, chief technology officer for Atos’ big data and security portfolio.

“Moore’s Law is slowing down; we are reaching the limits of the density of chips,” he said during Tuesday’s launch event. “For that reason, we have to find another way to speed up computing. One of these ways is quantum computing.”

Meanwhile, Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum technology startup partially funded by the French Ministry of Defense, will merge with a yet-unnamed European software company “to strengthen our position in this field,” said CEO Georges Olivier Reymond on Tuesday.

European quantum computer builder IQM announced last month that it would open its fourth continental office in Paris. The company’s chief of products, Bjorn Potter, lauded France for having “gained a lot of momentum in accelerating quantum programs” as a major factor in their decision to set up shop there. IQM built a quantum fabrication facility in Espoo, Finland, and also holds offices in Munich and in Bilbao, Spain.

Hosting the platform at CEA’s military facilities will be “a real asset” to attracting defense industrial partners to the quantum world, Parly said. “We need to federate a quantum community … of start-ups, large groups, scientists and researchers to appropriate these new capacities, to test their limits in their respective fields of interest and to disseminate the new methods.”

AboutVivienne Machi

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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