Thursday, May 19, 2022

The quantum tech arms race is on the rise – and it will dramatically change national security

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Shreya Christina
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Quantum technology, which takes advantage of the surprising and often counterintuitive properties of the subatomic universe, is revolutionizing the way information is collected, stored, shared and analyzed.

The commercial and scientific potential of the quantum revolution is enormous, but it is in national security that quantum technology is making the biggest waves. National governments are by far the largest investors in quantum research and development.

Quantum technology promises breakthroughs in weapons, communications, detection and computer technology that could change the military balance of power in the world. The potential for strategic advantage has led to a major increase in funding and research and development in recent years.

The three main areas of quantum technology are computing, communication, and sensing. In the United States and China in particular, all three are now seen as crucial parts of the struggle for economic and military supremacy.

The race is on

Developing quantum technology is not cheap. Only a small number of states have the organizational capacity and technological know-how to compete.

Russia, India, Japan, the European Union and Australia have established major research and development programs in the field of quantum. But China and the US have a significant lead in the new quantum race.

And the race heats up. In 2015, the US was the world’s largest investor in quantum technology, with approximately $500 million dollars. By 2021 this investment had grown to almost US$2.1 billion

However, China’s investment in quantum technology over the same period expanded from US$300 million to an estimated US$13 billion

The leaders of the two nations, Joe Biden and Xi JinpingIn recent years, both have emphasized the importance of quantum technology as a critical tool for national security.

The United States federal government has a “three pillar modelof quantum research, dividing federal investment between civil, defense and intelligence agencies.

In China, information about quantum security programs is more opaque, but that is known to the People’s Liberation Army support quantum research through its own military science academies and extensive funding programs in the wider scientific community.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Advances in quantum computing can lead to: a leap forward in artificial intelligence and machine learning

This could improve the performance of lethal autonomous weapon systems (which can select and attack targets without human oversight). It would also make it easier to analyze the large data sets used in defense intelligence and cybersecurity.

Enhanced machine learning can also provide a major benefit in conducting (and defending against) cyber-attacks against both civilian and military infrastructure.

The most powerful current quantum computer (as far as we know) was made by the American company IBM, which works closely together with US defense and intelligence services.

Unhackable communication

Quantum communication systems can be completely secure and unhackable. Quantum communication is also required for networking quantum computers, which is expected to exponentially improve quantum computing power.

China is the clear world leader here. A quantum communications network that already uses ground and satellite links connects Beijing, Shanghai, Jinan and Heifei

China’s priority for secure quantum communications is likely linked to: revelations of US covert global surveillance operations† The US has been by far the most advanced and effective communications, surveillance and intelligence force for the past 70 years, but that could change with a successful Chinese effort.

More powerful sensors

Quantum computing and communications hold the promise of future benefit, but the closest quantum technology to military deployment today is quantum sensing.

New quantum detection systems offer more sensitive detection and measurement of the physical environment. Existing stealth systems, including the latest generation of combat aircraft and ultra-quiet nuclear submarines, may no longer be so hard to spot.

Superconducting quantum interference devices (or SQUIDs), which can make extremely sensitive measurements of magnetic fields, are expected to make it easier to detect submarines underwater in the near future.

At present, undetectable submarines armed with nuclear missiles are considered to be: an essential deterrent to nuclear war because they could survive an attack on their homeland and take revenge on the attacker. Networks of more sophisticated SQUIDs could make these submarines more detectable (and vulnerable) in the future, disrupting the balance between nuclear deterrence and the logic of mutually assured destruction.

New technologies, new arrangements

The US integrates quantum cooperation agreements into existing alliances such as NATO, as well as more recent strategic arrangements such as the Australia-UK-US AUKUS Security Pact and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“the Quad”) between Australia, India, Japan, and the US.

China already cooperates with Russia in many areas of technology, and events can drive closer quantum collaboration.

In the Cold War between the US and the USSR, nuclear weapons were the transformative technology. International Standards and Agreements were developed to regulate them and ensure a degree of security and predictability.

In much the same way, new agreements and arrangements will be needed as the quantum arms race heats up.

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article

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