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Published on May 30, 2023 Updated 29 Days ago
The introduction of the National Quantum Mission is welcomed but several key concerns need to be addressed to ensure its success
From quantum-arrival to quantum-ready The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, recently approved the National Quantum Mission—earlier referred to as the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications—with a budgetary allocation of INR 6,003.65 crores (approximately US$734.35 million) from 2023–24 to 2030–31. The Mission endeavours to accelerate quantum-related scientific and industrial research and development (R&D) and to usher in an era of quantum-led economic growth for India. While the telos of the Mission is aligned with the country’s long-term technological ambitions, there are a few concerns that the Mission planners must address to ensure all-round quantum tech development in India. With India’s quantum arrival, these measures will ensure that India is also quantum-ready. 

What are the provisions of the National Quantum Mission? 

The National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA) was announced in the budget speech of 2020 with an outlay of INR 8,000 crores for a period of five years. Over the course of the last three years, the Mission statement and vision went through several rounds of review, which resulted in the approval of the National Quantum Mission in April 2023. The objectives and the outcomes of the stated Mission are more fine-tuned compared to its precursor. There is a significant impetus to build quantum computers. As announced in the Mission, India will aim to build 50–1000 qubit quantum computers based on different methods like ion traps, photonics, and superconducting techniques. This will require advancing quantum hardware capabilities. Apart from this, the Mission also envisions developing quantum hardware capabilities. For example, one of the Mission’s objectives is to build sensitive magnetometers with atomic clocks for communications, precision timing, and optimising navigation systems. It will also offer support to researchers and scientists who are developing superconducting materials and topological materials for fabricating quantum materials.
One of the Mission’s objectives is to build sensitive magnetometers with atomic clocks for communications, precision timing, and optimising navigation systems.
Another key objective of the Mission is to enhance quantum communication. It also lays a strong focus on developing Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) and establishing quantum-secure communication at pan-India and global levels. There will also be a focus on developing capabilities in satellite-based secure quantum communication, which will cover a range of 2,000 kilometres between ground stations within India. To make India’s quantum research more accessible, the Mission has mandated the formation of four dedicated thematic hubs (T-Hubs), which will be set up in leading R&D academic institutes to facilitate the development of both hardware and software aspects of quantum science, which include quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum sensing and metrology, and quantum materials and devices. Apart from quantum software and hardware development, the Mission seeks to establish and nurture a quantum ecosystem in India. With this Mission, India plans to spearhead quantum technology development on a global level and carve a unique space for itself in the coming years. With the quantum revolution, nearly all industries will witness a wave of change—from new applications, to optimised business solutions, and to Quantum-secure communication—signalling the need for sustained adoption of these technologies. 

What else could be done? 

As the Mission becomes a ground reality, the Indian government and other relevant agencies need to accommodate a few concerns to not only ensure the Mission’s success but to also establish India’s strategic position on the map in the field. The first could be focusing investments towards foundational research. While the Mission has a sound budget for the development of quantum capabilities, India must ensure that foundational R&D gets a significant share of the pie. India should continue to invest heavily in core research to build a strong foundation for the quantum ecosystem. This includes allocating sufficient resources to the development of quantum information science, quantum hardware development, quantum optics, quantum cryogenics, et. al.
With the Mission’s broad objectives in place, relevant agencies and industry must work towards developing a skilled workforce in emerging technology.
 Another measure to ensure the Mission’s success could be to foster collaborations between academia and industry. In the last few years, Indian universities like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT)-Hyderabad, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc)-Bangalore, have signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with IBM, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Infosys, etc. to develop quantum capabilities. However, these are a handful and many more such industry–academia partnerships must be chalked out to ensure the Mission’s success. Also, such collaborations should also be expanded to include tier II and tier III Indian universities and colleges. This will also help in bridging the gap between research and commercialisation. Initiatives such as joint research programmes, incubation centres, and industry-academia partnerships can be undertaken. Also, these efforts could be streamlined to nurture India’s quantum workforce. With the Mission’s broad objectives in place, relevant agencies and industry must work towards developing a skilled workforce in emerging technology. This can be done by offering specialised training programmes and courses, providing research opportunities, and supporting early-stage startups. India’s innovation ecosystem can only thrive when there are apposite regulations. India should create a supportive regulatory environment for quantum technologies to flourish. This includes ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights, setting up regulatory bodies to oversee the development and deployment of quantum technologies, and promoting the development of international standards for quantum technologies. Also, India should promote international collaborations. In the past, Indian companies and research labs signed MoUs with their technology counterparts in Australia, Israel, and Finland to spearhead the global quantum revolution and to also mark its place in this emerging technology. It should continue to collaborate with other leading nations and organisations in the field of quantum research and development. This can help to facilitate knowledge sharing, cross-border research collaborations, and the exchange of best practices.
Indian companies and research labs signed MoUs with their technology counterparts in Australia, Israel, and Finland to spearhead the global quantum revolution and to also mark its place in this emerging technology.
By taking these steps, India can position itself as a global leader in the quantum space and pave the way for the successful commercialisation of quantum technologies in the future.

Conclusion 

The approval of India’s National Quantum Mission has been welcomed by academia, industry, and civil society alike. However, there are several key concerns that India needs to address in a timely manner to ensure success of the Mission. Planners and policymakers must ensure that funds are directed towards foundational science and development rather than rushing towards commercialisation of the technology. Apart from that, collaborations and public-private partnerships at both national and international levels should be fostered. Along with this, leading tech firms in India should aid in developing a workforce that can cater to the upcoming quantum age. With such measures, India will move from the stage of quantum-arrival and strive on to the path of being quantum-ready.
Prachi Mishra is a Young Leaders in Tech Policy Fellow at the University of Chicago, presently working at ORF’s Centre for Security Strategy and Technology for their quantum meta-ethics project.
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Prachi Mishra

Prachi Mishra

Prachi Mishra is a Young Leaders in Tech Policy Fellow at the University of Chicago presently working at CSST for their quantum meta-ethics project.

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