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    NUWC Division Newport physicist advancing quantum computing at the warfare centers

    NUWC Division Newport physicist advancing quantum computing at the warfare centers

    Photo By Richard Allen | Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport physicist Mike Warnock of the Platforms...... read more read more



    Story by Public Affairs Office 

    Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport

    NEWPORT, R.I. – Quantum computing has the potential to exponentially improve the way the U.S. Navy operates. Possibilities include improved processing time that would quickly advance machine learning and autonomy efforts, the removal of noise clutter would optimize sensing, and encryption methods would become virtually impenetrable.

    This exciting field has been active for more than 50 years, but much of quantum computing’s benefits remain in the theoretical stage. The Navy’s efforts to harness the benefits of quantum computing are ongoing at warfare centers specializing in research and development.

    Small teams at the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWCPAC) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren have been researching quantum computing and developing algorithms while at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, physicist Mike Warnock serves as the quantum research point person.

    Warnock spends half of his time on transient shock finite element model for the Platforms and Payload Integration Department, and the other half on quantum research — all while earning his doctorate degree in physics from Brown University. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics, Warnock began work at Division Newport in the Underwater Sound Reference Division in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, working on underwater transducers.

    “Pretty much as soon I started at NUWC, I began my master’s in physics at Brown University,” Warnock said. “Between 2015 and 2019, I completed my master’s and when I was graduating, I also ended up switching over to the Platforms and Payload Integration Department to perform the work with the computational finite element modeling. The quantum computing work began back in 2018 with a small amount of seed funding to see what the state of the technology was.”

    Like many undergraduates studying physics, Warnock had an immense interest in quantum mechanics and how this heavily theoretical subject could be used.

    “When I came up to NUWC, I hadn’t even thought that I would come close to quantum computing, so when myself and two former co-workers saw the opportunity to work with quantum computing, I naturally jumped at the opportunity due to that interest in quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, and nanotechnology,” he said.

    U.S. Navy efforts

    Quantum computing work performed in the Navy is sparse, although there are research efforts at the Naval Research Laboratory and funding sources such as the Office of Naval Research. The Navy, as a whole, has recently begun investing more in quantum computing, Warnock said.

    “There are some quantum computing efforts at NSWC Dahlgren and NIWCPAC that have been going on for years, but the majority of other warfare centers — including NUWC Division Newport — haven’t had any quantum computing programs that are as mature as either of those two,” Warnock said.

    However, because of the efforts of Warnock and his colleagues, Division Newport has started to be considered a more mature program in terms of knowledge of the field in comparison to other warfare centers. NSWC Carderock and the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University (ARL-PSU) are looking to Warnock’s expertise for some collaborative efforts.

    Warnock is also collaborating with a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratories on quantum resource estimation for algorithms solving non-linear differential equations. He is also working with the University of Rhode Island through the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology program. In the past year, several colleagues at Division Newport have approached Warnock about submitting proposals relating to quantum/post-quantum cryptography.

    “Ultimately, I hope to be full time on quantum computing work and expand it throughout NUWC,” Warnock said.

    As for Navy applications of quantum computing, Warnock has many ideas.

    “If we had a perfect, large, fault-tolerant quantum computer and efficient methods for data loading onto quantum systems, there would be numerous applications,” he said. “Applications including the finite element modeling I perform, machine learning, signal processing, cybersecurity, and more. However, we do not have access to such a quantum computer at this time. A large research effort in the community has been to determine what is possible on near-term quantum computers and I believe that it would be relevant to the Navy to pursue this line of research. I think the top application for quantum computing specifically would be quantum-inspired algorithms in the context of optimization and machine learning algorithms. The top application for the Navy for any quantum information science research area would be quantum sensing.”

    How far off is the Navy from implementing quantum computing in the fleet?

    “This is a delicate and difficult question,” Warnock said. “Theoretically, quantum computing can be computationally quicker than classical computers. Indeed, there have been a few publications explicitly showing quantum advantage, although those applications are very contrived. Then, one has to start wondering about less contrived problems relevant to the Navy and those particular problems on a quantum computer. At the moment, these types of problems are going to be too large for any modern quantum computer, leading to a horizon of use in the fleet on the order of 20 to 30 years, especially for those interested in having quantum computer on a mobile platform such as what we work with here at NUWC. However, I don’t believe that horizon is a reason, in and of itself, for the Navy to not be investing in quantum systems and building the workforce. There are plenty of applications in quantum sensing and communication that I believe are useful now. For example, there is a researcher looking to perform experimental tests using radar and quantum communication with drones. There are many examples like this where researchers are performing experiments and tests for these systems that could be useful to the Navy on a much closer time horizon. Furthermore, it’s worth thinking more outside of the box and starting to guess how ideas from quantum systems can be ported over to classical systems. Two examples come to mind, such as quantum-inspired algorithms and topological acoustic systems.”

    At the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) level, the Naval Quantum Computing Program Office was recently started and Warnock is Division Newport’s representative. For anyone at Division Newport considering what kind of quantum algorithms could be used for their problem, Warnock can provide an answer.

    Topological quantum systems

    For the time he dedicates to quantum research, Warnock is involved in a few different projects including researching topological quantum systems under time-dependent fields.

    “One may ask how this relates to quantum computing,” he said. “Well, the easiest way is to imagine an atom being pulsed with a laser many times per second. Replacing the atom with a superconducting qubit and the laser with some sort of changing current, then you all of a sudden have the building block for a quantum computer and a method for applying quantum gates. So, essentially, a quantum computer is just a quantum system with some varying current. Another piece of technology that involves a varying current would be the radio in your car. The current is varied in such a way that a song is encoded into the waveform that is then transmitted from the radio tower to your car that is then decoded for listening. Therefore, essentially, I have been investigating how these same methods apply to a quantum system and it turns out you can get some very interesting physics such as topological systems from varying the fields, where these topological systems have applications from quantum computing and sensing, to photonics and topological acoustic systems, and more. Unrelated to this research, I am looking to expand to using quantum-inspired algorithms/quantum algorithms for applications in signal processing and beyond.

    “Topological quantum computing is the perfect quantum computing,” Warnock said. “This computing is ‘robust to noise’ meaning it is not susceptible to noise. Topological quantum computing is more robust and able to stay in a coherent state longer, making it very useful for sonar.”


    In place of a $10-million quantum computing system, Warnock is able to find resources online to aide his research.

    “For the time-dependent fields, most of my work is analytic with some numeric work. However, to perform the work I would like to do for signal processing and other applications, there are a ton of resources available online. For example, IBM’s Qiskit allows one to build quantum circuits and apply them to near-term quantum computers. Some other examples include D-Wave’s Ocean and Google’s Cirq. Beyond that, there are a lot of resources on github as well,” Warnock said.

    In fact, Navy researchers have access to IBM’s 54-qubit quantum computer. In December 2022, NRL and all 14 warfare centers signed a memorandum of understanding with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Information Directorate “to establish a conduit for exchange of technical expertise and the exploration of co-projects with a focus on creating useful quantum computing capabilities for the Department of Defense.”

    The agreement gives Navy scientists and engineers access to IBM’s advanced quantum computing systems, through the AFRL's hub in the IBM Quantum Network, providing the ability to explore Navy-relevant problem sets focused on operations research, quantum machine learning, quantum simulation, classical simulation and crypto-analysis. Researchers need only pay for the waiver in order to get access to IBM’s machine.

    Challenges ahead

    Warnock points to a few different types of challenges for quantum computing, some technical and some more of a social challenge.

    “First, technical challenges include the usual methods of best ways to control a quantum system, small quantum computers, the best way to encode problems, and what type of algorithms are best suited for a quantum computer. These are all very active areas of research with a lot of great minds looking to solve these problems,” he said. “For example, a lot of current quantum computers rely on superconducting qubits and cross-talk between these qubits and physical constraints, such as cooling, make it challenging to increase the number of qubits per system, where the maximum number of qubits is 433, which is IBM’s quantum computer, or 5000, which is D-Wave’s quantum annealer. However, changing the type of qubit can lead to more easily increasing the number of qubits. For example, there is a company seeking to use qubits based off of photonic systems that are promising approximately one million qubits. Discoveries such as the recent room temperature superconductor — if the results are able to be replicated — could avoid the issues of cooling and allow for an increase in the number of superconducting qubits.

    “Ultimately though, I believe the greater challenge is the social one, especially at a place like NUWC where our primary customer is the fleet,” Warnock said. “We want to be able to deliver novel/superior technology to the fleet in reasonable time frames. At the same time, we want these promised computational speed-ups from quantum computers, however, those two don’t necessarily mesh at this point in time. Being able to socialize that, while also communicating that there is still significance in pursuing research and work in quantum information science has easily been the greatest challenge.

    NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

    Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.



    Date Taken: 08.22.2023
    Date Posted: 08.22.2023 14:28
    Story ID: 451904

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