From The Editor | June 2, 2023

How Quantum Technologies Will Help The U.S. Military Keep Its Edge

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By John Oncea, Editor

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Emerging disruptive technologies are revolutionizing all industries, including defense. One of these technologies – quantum – is at the forefront of this revolution and it promises to keep militaries that harness its power one step ahead of those that don’t.

The European Parliament writes, via its blog Think Tank, “Emerging disruptive technologies (EDTs) can potentially revolutionize warfare. The EU and its Member States have recognized the importance of EDTs, launched several initiatives, and dedicated substantial funds to EDT research and development.”

They further note the European Defence Agency (EDA) has identified these six EDTs as standing out for their strategic implications: artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data analytics, robotics and autonomous systems, hypersonic weapon systems and space, new advanced materials, and quantum-based technologies.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) concurs, writing, “Technologies such as Big Data, AI, autonomous systems, and quantum technologies are changing the world and the way NATO operates. These and other EDTs present both risks and opportunities for NATO and Allies. That’s why the Alliance is working with public and private sector partners, academia, and civil society to develop and adopt new technologies, establish international principles of responsible use, and maintain NATO’s technological edge.”

The EDTs that EDA and NATO write about can potentially disrupt the defense industry, both domestically and abroad. Here, we look at quantum technologies, which DefenseScoop writes will be a key technology to ensuring the U.S. military remains competitive now and in the future.

What Are These Quantum Technologies You Speak Of?

The EDA, writing about quantum technologies, notes, “Quantum physics offers virtually unlimited and instantaneous computing power – once it is mastered. Despite large investments in quantum computers, particularly by the private sector, it is still early [in its development and it will be a while] before it can be fully exploited. However, its potential applications are many for the military: supercomputing, encrypted key distribution, crypto-analysis, and decoding, or used for surveillance and detection.

“Quantum-based sensors are so sensitive to the tiniest disturbances at the magnetic levels, for example, that they will be used to locate and detect deployable objects underwater, meaning the days of stealthy movements by submarines and other vessels will be over. Satellite-based quantum sensors will do the same over the Earth’s surface.”

Perhaps the most well-known quantum technology is quantum computing, which Forbes notes “are expected to achieve a 60-second coherence time by 2025, a huge leap from the current record of 30 minutes.

Quantum computers utilize subatomic particles to revolutionize the way we process and store information. This technological advancement has the potential to produce computers that operate a trillion times faster than traditional processors. As a result, new algorithms and programming languages are being developed to maximize the potential of this breakthrough.

“Another potential benefit of quantum computing is its ability to provide enhanced protection for sensitive data,” writes TS2 Space. “The technology could enable data to be much better protected from malicious actors, as quantum computers could be used to detect and prevent cyberattacks. Additionally, quantum computers could be used to create unbreakable codes that would render any attempts to intercept or decode sensitive data completely futile.”

Quantum computing also presents an opportunity to create novel and effective solutions to prevalent security risks. By capitalizing on its distinct capabilities, specialists can devise algorithms and methods that can swiftly and precisely detect and combat threats. This has the potential to lower the likelihood of security breaches and safeguard our nation's highly sensitive data.

Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize that quantum computing could pose significant security risks since any nation that develops this technology at scale would have the ability to breach the encryption of other countries, businesses, and security systems.

The DoD And Quantum Transition Acceleration

With that understanding of what quantum technologies are, let’s explore one specific program the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is putting in place to capitalize on all they have to offer – a new-start project referred to as Quantum Transition Acceleration.

“The Office of the Secretary of Defense is requesting $75 million in fiscal 2024 to initiate a brand-new pursuit intended to both accelerate the commercialization and operationalization of quantum devices for Pentagon purposes and mature the U.S. supply chain underpinning the making of emerging quantum technologies,” reports DefenseScoop.

The DoD has, as part of its latest batch of budget justification documents, added a new-start project referred to as Quantum Transition Acceleration. “The [DOD’s] research and development of quantum technologies is critical to maintaining the nation’s technological superiority,” officials wrote in the Defense-wide justification book for fiscal 2024 budget estimates.

“Quantum technology is approaching a tipping point that will determine how quickly it can make an impact. If the [U.S.] can stay on pace, many important outcomes for the [DOD] can be realized including robust position, navigation, and timing for DOD freedom of operations with precision strike even with contests in spectrum, space, or cyber operations,” Pentagon officials wrote in the budget justification documents.

Pentagon officials expect quantum technologies to “lead to ‘rapid advances in materials and chemistry for advanced energetics, propulsion, and platform coatings’ — as well as enable nascent optimization techniques for stealth properties, logistics, and machine learning.

“Quantum tech might also drastically enhance electromagnetic spectrum capabilities, which they said holds promise to supply DOD with “significant advantages” associated with electronic warfare, intelligence collection, and more.”

As for the $75 million requested for the Quantum Transition Acceleration project, $45 million would go to “maturing, demonstrating, and transitioning quantum inertial sensors, gravity sensors, atomic clocks, and quantum electromagnetic sensors. The balance would be used for “identifying, developing, and maturing critical components supporting technology for atomic clocks, quantum sensors, and quantum computers” — and ultimately help “accelerate the transition of laboratory-scale systems to manufacturable commercial products.”