The UK government has reportedly acquired its first ever quantum computer, for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

However there is no word officially about the development. Silicon UK contacted the Ministry of Defence directly about the matter on Thursday morning, but a MoD spokesperson confirmed there was no actual information or update about this matter.

Meanwhile the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DTSL) did not respond to inquiries made by Silicon UK at the time of writing.

Intel’s 48-qubit test chip. Credit: Intel

Quantum computer

However the BBC has reported that the MoD has acquired the government’s first quantum computer.

The MoD will work with British quantum computing specialist Orca Computing to explore applications for quantum technology in defence.

Stephen Till, of the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), reportedly called it a “milestone moment.”

The Times newspaper meanwhile reported that the MoD has ‘begun’ to develop a quantum computer.

It reported that the new device aims to use single particles of light to solve complex problems at speeds that can not be achieved by conventional supercomputers.

The Times said the MoD will explore whether a hybrid of Orca’s quantum system and traditional computers can create more powerful artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Qubits are coming. Read Silicon UK’s assessment of working with quantum computers.

Possible applications

Officials reportedly said that the applications could range from aiding a platoon in active combat to assess the enemy’s most probable next move, to military scientists exploring the effects of new toxins on the human body.

A quantum system could also analyse images and other data gathered from the battlefield, as well as being asked to assess the enemy’s likely next move and potentially advise on a best response.

The MoD will reportedly work with Orca’s small PT-1 quantum computer.

Last November IBM claimed a breakthrough in quantum computing, with the unveiling of its new Eagle processor.

Big Blue said the Eagle processor “delivers 127 qubits on a single IBM quantum processor for the first time with breakthrough packaging technology.”

It should be remembered that the UK is also developing its own centre of excellence for quantum computing.

The National Quantum Computing Centre has a £93 million investment through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The centre is being delivered jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

It is set to open in mid-2023.

UPDATE:

The MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DTSL) responded after publication to inquiries made Silicon UK and confirmed Orca Computing is working with the MoD to develop “future data processing capabilities.”

In a year-long programme of activity, MoD will use ORCA’s PT-1 model, the first computer of its kind to operate at room temperature and be based on-premises, it told Silicon UK.

Orca computing has developed software that allows small scale photonic processors, which use single units of light, to be applied to complex machine learning and optimisation tasks.

These include image analysis, handwriting recognition and decision making.

After installation, the MoD is expected to develop programmes for the PT-1 in collaboration with partners.

“This work with ORCA Computing is a milestone moment for the MoD,” said Stephen Till, Fellow at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). “Accessing our own quantum computing hardware will not only accelerate our understanding of quantum computing, but the computer’s room-temperature operation will also give us the flexibility to use it in different locations for different requirements.”

“We expect the ORCA system to provide significantly improved latency – the speed at which we can read and write to the quantum computer,” said Till. “This is important for hybrid algorithms which require multiple handovers between quantum and classical systems.”

The Orca PT-1 apparently contains unique technology that avoids bulky and expensive refrigeration. It puts the power and potential into a compact, plug-and-play rack-mounted system built with easily available components, such as standard optical fibre.

“We’re delighted to be working with the MoD. This represents a significant vote of confidence, particularly given the critical importance of national defence,” said Orca Computing CEO Richard Murray.

“While there has been much discussion and debate in the industry over the realities of near-term quantum computing, our partnership with MoD gives us hands-on close interaction; and working with real hardware will help us to jointly discover new applications of this revolutionary new technology,” said Murray.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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