How Quantum Computing will Change the Future of Warfare

Quantum computing, an emerging technology, was merely a theory until the 1980s, while, today nations are trying to leverage Quantum computing in warfare.

Quantum mechanics, developed as early as the beginning of the 20th century, helped us glimpse simulating particles that interacted with each other at unimaginable speed.

A century and a few decades later, we aren’t able to fully simulate quantum mechanics. However, we can store information in a quantum state of matter. By developing and learning quantum computational communication, we can evaluate the benefits of the emerging technology. Quantum computing, unlike classical computing, utilises quantum bits (qubits) which comprise electrons and photons. They can allow the computation to exist in a multidimensional state that can grow exponentially with more qubits involved. Classical computing uses electrical impulses 1 and 0 for the main reason to encode information. However, when more bits are involved, the computational power grows linearly (source.)

1. Origins of quantum computing

Paul Benioff was a physicist research fellow at the Argonne National Laboratory when he theorised the possibility of a quantum computer. His paper The computer as a physical system: A Microscopic quantum mechanical Hamiltonian model of computers as represented by Turing machines was the first of its kind. Researchers David Deutsch, Richard Feynman, and Peter Shor to suggested the possibility that the theorised quantum computers can solve computational problems faster than the classical ones (source).

There was not much investment towards quantum computing thereafter. However, the 2010s saw a shift in quantum technology and other emerging technologies at the time. With more funding taken place by governments and industry, it gradually moved past more than a theory. In 2019, Google announced quantum supremacy with their Sycamore processor. This processor encompassed 53 qubits and could take 200 seconds to complete a task that involved, for one instance of quantum circuit one million times.

If the same task was to be done by a classical supercomputer, it would have taken 10,000 years (source). Google announces it as they’ve achieved quantum supremacy. This means having the quantum advantage or “worthy goal, notable for entrepreneurs and investors. Not so much because of its intrinsic importance, but as a sign of progress towards more valuable applications further down the road” (Source).

2. Breakthroughs in quantum computing

Adding more qubits is not the only strategy being made to gain quantum supremacy. Many innovations from academia and industry are being made by advancements in entanglement. Quantum entanglement, which Albert Einstein referred to as a “spooky action at a distance”, at the time being considered a “bedrock assumption” in the laws of physics. It is when two systems are strongly in tune with one another in gaining information about one system, where one will give immediate information about the other no matter how far apart the distance is between them.

The main usages of entanglement are:

  • quantum cryptography
  • teleportation
  • super-dense coding

Super-dense coding is being able to take two bits of a classical computer and turn them into one qubit, which could send half as fast as a classical computer (Source).

Quantum cryptography is the exchange between qubits that are in correlation with each other, when that happens no other party can able to come between the qubits, quantum cryptography uses the no-cloning theorem which is “infeasible to create an independent as well as an identical copy of an arbitrary unknown quantum state” (Source).

It cannot have a backup like classical. And, it cannot make a copy of the same data. Quantum teleportation “requires noiseless quantum channels to share a pure maximally entangled state”. The use of entanglement is present, and it is like cryptography. While quantum cryptography usually deals with the exchange of information from classical bit to a quantum bit, quantum teleportation usually exchanges quantum bits to classical bits. However, “the shared entanglement is often severely degraded in reality because of various decoherence mechanisms resulting in mixed entangled states.” (source).

3. Algorithms

The problems with standardisation and networking have been one of the main issues to be tackled in quantum computing. The main contenders on the front line have been industries in the west. China has been secretive about the process of researching emerging technology. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been hosting conferences for the public for PQC Standardisation. Industries in the West virtually evaluated all the algorithms submitted for potentially operating the quantum computer. The current efforts being made within the IEEE include:

P1913Software-Defined Quantum Communication
P1943Standard for Post-Quantum Network Security
P2995Trail-Use Standard for a Quantum Algorithm Design and Development
P3120Standard for Programmable Quantum Computing Architecture
P3155Standard for Programmable Quantum Simulator
P3172Recommended Practice for Post-Quantum Cryptography Migration
P7130Standard for Quantum Computing Definitions
P7131Standard for Quantum Computing Performance Metrics & Performance Benchmarking
ISO JTC1 WG14Quantum Computing
Note. Adapted from https://quantum.ieee.org/standards. Copyright by IEEE Quantum

In the research done at the University of Science and Technology and Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, the networking of quantum computing was a short distance of 250 miles. It was achieved in a star topology, and the vision for the future is for “each user to use a simple and cheap transmitter and outsource all the complicated devices for network control and measurement to an untrusted network operator. As only one set of measurement devices will be needed for such a network that many users share, the cost per user could be kept relatively low” (source).

In terms of networking, there is still a long road ahead. It would require many innovations from the materials of cabling to the different logic gates required to sustain the qubits.

4. Brief overview of the history of merging technology in warfare

Militaries have always been testing grounds for emerging technologies. Using emerging technologies in the military has been present since WWI, when having the most advanced technology in mechanics and they considered science having a leg up in the fight.

WWII marked the shift from chemistry to physics, which resulted in the first deployment of the atomic bomb. “Between 1940 and 1945 the convergence of science with engineering that characterizes our contemporary world was effectively launched in its primarily military direction with the mobilization of U.S scientists, most especially physicists, by the Manhattan Project and by the OSRD (The Office of Scientific Research and Development)” (source).

5. China

As an emerging player in the international arena, China has pushed forth technological sciences since the 1950s. However, because of self-sabotage led by Lin Biao, Chen Boda, and “The Gang of Four”, they suffered stagnated progress in academic pursuits (Source).

A few years on, they held a conference. “At the conference, Fang Yi gave a report on the programme and measures in the development of science and technology” – he made key arguments stating that “The National Programme for Scientific and Technological Development from 1978 to 1985, demanding that stress be laid on the eight comprehensive fields of science and technology which directly affect the overall situation, and on important new branches of science and technology as well.” (Source).

5.1 Focus fields

The eight comprehensive fields include agriculture, energy sources, materials science, electronic computer technology, laser space physics, high-energy physics and genetic engineering. China’s military technology has risen since. They have big ambitions for the research on quantum technologies.

In the annual report to the American congress published by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the People’s Republic of China and their strategy of “The Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation” by the year 2049 included that “pursuit of leadership in key technologies with significant military potential such as AI, autonomous systems, advanced computing, quantum information sciences, biotechnology, and advanced materials and manufacturing” (Source).

They also have plans to exceed competitors in the innovation of commercialisation in the homeland. “The PRC has a 2,000 km quantum-secure communication ground line between Beijing and Shanghai and plans to expand the line across China” and by 2030, “plans to have satellite-enabled, global quantum-encrypted communication” (Source).

Also, the PRC sees tensions rising with the US and other competitors as it makes advancements toward its agenda. “In the PRC’s 2019 defence white paper criticised the US as the ‘principal instigator’ of the global instability and driver of ‘international strategic competition,” and in 2020, “PRC perceived a significant threat that the US would seek to provoke a military crisis or conflict in the near-term” (Source).

The PRC will also utilise the private sector to apply innovations for the military, “The 2017 National Intelligence Law requires PRC companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, to support, provide assistance, and cooperate in the PRC’s national intelligence work, wherever they operate” (Source).

6. Who will win the race?

It is too early to tell who is successfully going to achieve quantum supremacy. However, the prospects are turning towards China and the US. A report by the RAND Corporation stated, “China has high research output in every application domain of quantum technology.” And unlike the US, “Chinese quantum technology R&D is concentrated in government-funded laboratories, which have demonstrated rapid technical progress.”(Source).

Under the Biden Administration, the US has engaged in a full-on trading war with China and had focused on the exports of tech to China, which includes quantum tech however the same way Russia cut access to supply of natural gas when they were engaged in a war with Ukraine. Cutting off exports might backfire on the US as China could still purchase advanced tech from other nations like Japan. For example, “A world in which China is wholly self-sufficient in the production of the world’s highest-performing chips, on the other hand, is the Pentagon’s nightmare.” (Source).

Quantum computing is still an emerging tech that is achieving breakthroughs. There is a lot of innovation occurring at this very moment. We will only have to wait a short while until it performs military exercises and is considered officially in warfare.

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