In the history of defense technology contracting, two companies continue to loom large: IBM and Raytheon. If quantum bets are correct, a partnership between both could mean joint leadership in the emerging space—one that will require established companies to back untested technologies.
Defense and aerospace contracting giant, Raytheon, has its sights set on quantum computing for AI, cryptographic, and other areas in aerospace and defense but is now leaning on partner, IBM, to share some of the technology development load.
While there are increasing numbers of quantum startups offering everything from remote hardware to algorithmic services, when it comes to big government and aerospace, a trusted backing might be the only advantage in securing any big but experimental system or software wins. The combination of IBM and Raytheon is a powerhouse. Others in the quantum arena with government contracting hooks, including Honeywell, also have opportunities as quantum starts its slow shift from proof of concept to practical tool. The R&D resources at the disposal of each is also noteworthy.
We have been covering IBM’s path through quantum computing for years but what might be surprising is how long Raytheon has been exploring quantum, especially for cryptography.
Raytheon has been investing in quantum technologies well before many companies even considered it. The BBN arm of Raytheon started exploring quantum crypto in the early 2000s and organized around DARPA funding in 2008 to continue that effort while adding programs focused on superconducting circuit design and implementation, quantum/classical methods, and integrated photonics until the present.
The defense contractor also has its own cryogenic measurement labs and a superconducting device fabrication lab as well. While these imply big investments, a recent progress overview from the Raytheon BBN Quantum Engineering and Computing group says there are only around twenty staff, from RF and software engineers to visiting scientists and interns.
Efforts are focused on four areas: optical and microwave photonics (optical processing, sensors, and networking); advanced materials (novel quantum bit types, 2D and quantum materials, spintronics, and single photon detectors); quantum algorithms and networking; and neuromorphic and related technologies, including quantum reservoir computing.
IBM has significant hardware and software expertise in quantum with one of the first platforms to market as well as a cloud interface to its device, tooling, and simulators. They also have their own phalanx of quantum engineers, developers, and algorithm specialists. Raytheon says their goal is to “quickly inset IBM’s commercial technologies into active aerospace, defense, and intelligence programs” and that the same team will keep looking for “promising technologies for jointly developing long-term system solutions by investing research dollars and talent.”
“Take something as fundamental as encrypted communications,” said Mark E. Russell, Raytheon Technologies chief technology officer. “As computing and quantum technologies advance, existing cybersecurity and cryptography methods are at risk of becoming vulnerable. IBM and Raytheon Technologies will now be able to collaboratively help customers maintain secure communications and defend their networks better than previously possible.”
“The rapid advancement of quantum computing and its exponential capabilities has spawned one of the greatest technological races in recent history – one that demands unprecedented agility and speed,” said Dario Gil, senior vice president, IBM, and director of Research. “Our new collaboration with Raytheon Technologies will be a catalyst in advancing these state-of-the-art technologies – combining their expertise in aerospace, defense and intelligence with IBM’s next-generation technologies to make discovery faster, and the scope of that discovery larger than ever.”