“By way of deception…”
(I’m sorry… I am literally pissing myself in fits of hysterical laughter EVERY time!)
The worlds superpowers are quantumly bullshitting each other… left, right and centre! Infinitely, everywhere at once! 😀
The armies of the future will ask… “Is the enemy dead or alive?… Or possibly both at the same time?” 😀
“Sir, the enemy have just won a decisive and strategically important battle!”
“Well… in a different alternative Universe, we actually won… so good job!”
RIGHT! I do not want my people engaging in quantum physics, researching quantum physics, discussing quantum physics… from now on anyone that even mentions the word ‘Quantum’ is getting ‘Kraved’ in the face!
(it is a mental illness, and I do not want my people engaging in it thankyou very much)
Same applies to the term ‘Cold Fusion‘.
Radar that can spot stealth aircraft and other quantum innovations could give their militaries a strategic edge.
In the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, American military planners began to worry about the threat to US warplanes posed by new, radar-guided missile defenses in the USSR and other nations. In response, engineers at places like US defense giant Lockheed Martin’s famous “Skunk Works” stepped up work on stealth technology that could shield aircraft from the prying eyes of enemy radar.
The innovations that resulted include unusual shapes that deflect radar waves—like the US B-2 bomber’s “flying wing” design (above)—as well as carbon-based materials and novel paints. Stealth technology isn’t yet a Harry Potter–like invisibility cloak: even today’s most advanced warplanes still reflect some radar waves. But these signals are so small and faint they get lost in background noise, allowing the aircraft to pass unnoticed.
China and Russia have since gotten stealth aircraft of their own, but America’s are still better. They have given the US the advantage in launching surprise attacks in campaigns like the war in Iraq that began in 2003.
This advantage is now under threat. In November 2018, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), China’s biggest defense electronics company, unveiled a prototype radar that it claims can detect stealth aircraft in flight. The radar uses some of the exotic phenomena of quantum physics to help reveal planes’ locations.
It’s just one of several quantum-inspired technologies that could change the face of warfare. As well as unstealthing aircraft, they could bolster the security of battlefield communications and affect the ability of submarines to navigate the oceans undetected. The pursuit of these technologies is triggering a new arms race between the US and China, which sees the emerging quantum era as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain the edge over its rival in military tech.
How quickly quantum advances will influence military power will depend on the work of researchers like Jonathan Baugh. A professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Baugh is working on a device that’s part of a bigger project to develop quantum radar. Its intended users: stations in the Arctic run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, a joint US-Canadian organization.
Baugh’s machine generates pairs of photons that are “entangled”—a phenomenon that means the particles of light share a single quantum state. A change in one photon immediately influences the state of the other, even if they are separated by vast distances.
Quantum radar operates by taking one photon from every pair generated and firing it out in a microwave beam. The other photon from each pair is held back inside the radar system.
Only a few of the photons sent out will be reflected back if they hit a stealth aircraft. A conventional radar wouldn’t be able to distinguish these returning photons from the mass of other incoming ones created by natural phenomena—or by radar-jamming devices. But a quantum radar can check for evidence that incoming photons are entangled with the ones held back. Any that are must have originated at the radar station. This enables it to detect even the faintest of return signals in a mass of background noise.
Baugh cautions that there are still big engineering challenges. These include developing highly reliable streams of entangled photons and building extremely sensitive detectors. It’s hard to know if CETC, which already claimed in 2016 that its radar could detect objects up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, has solved these challenges; it’s keeping the technical details of its prototype a secret.
Seth Lloyd, an MIT professor who developed the theory underpinning quantum radar, says that in the absence of hard evidence, he’s skeptical of the Chinese company’s claims. But, he adds, the potential of quantum radar isn’t in doubt. When a fully functioning device is finally deployed, it will mark the beginning of the end of the stealth era.
CETC’s work is part of a long-term effort by China to turn itself into a world leader in quantum technology. The country is providing generous funding for new quantum research centers at universities and building a national research center for quantum science that’s slated to open in 2020. It’s already leaped ahead of the US in registering patents in quantum communications and cryptography (see chart).
A study of China’s quantum strategy published in September 2018 by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a US think tank, noted that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is recruiting quantum specialists, and that big defense companies like China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) are setting up joint quantum labs at universities. Working out exactly which projects have a military element to them is hard, though. “There’s a degree of opacity and ambiguity here, and some of that may be deliberate,” says Elsa Kania, a coauthor of the CNAS study.
China’s efforts are ramping up just as fears are growing that the US military is losing its competitive edge. A commission tasked by Congress to review the Trump administration’s defense strategy issued a report in November 2018 warning that the US margin of superiority “is profoundly diminished in key areas” and called for more investment in new battlefield technologies.
One of those technologies is likely to be quantum communication networks. Chinese researchers have already built a satellite that can send quantum-encrypted messages between distant locations, as well as a terrestrial network that stretches between Beijing and Shanghai. Both projects were developed by scientific researchers, but the know-how and infrastructure could easily be adapted for military use.
The networks rely on an approach known as quantum key distribution (QKD). Messages are encoded in the form of classical bits, and the cryptographic keys needed to decode them are sent as quantum bits, or qubits. These qubits are typically photons that can travel easily across fiber-optic networks or through the atmosphere. If an enemy tries to intercept and read the qubits, this immediately destroys their delicate quantum state, wiping out the information they carry and leaving a telltale sign of an intrusion.
QKD technology isn’t totally secure yet. Long ground networks require way stations similar to the repeaters that boost signals along an ordinary data cable. At these stations, the keys are decoded into classical form before being re-encoded in a quantum form and sent to the next station. While the keys are in classical form, an enemy could hack in and copy them undetected.
To overcome this issue, a team of researchers at the US Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, is working on an approach called quantum teleportation. This involves using entanglement to transfer data between a qubit held by a sender and another held by a receiver, using what amounts to a kind of virtual, one-time-only quantum data cable. (There’s a more detailed description here.)
Michael Brodsky, one of the researchers, says he and his colleagues have been working on a number of technical challenges, including finding ways to ensure that the qubits’ delicate quantum state isn’t disrupted during transmission through fiber-optic networks. The technology is still confined to a lab, but the team says it’s now robust enough to be tested outside. “The racks can be put on trucks, and the trucks can be moved to the field,” explains Brodsky.
It may not be long before China is testing its own quantum teleportation system. Researchers are already building the fiber-optic network for one that will stretch from the city of Zhuhai, near Macau, to some islands in Hong Kong.
Researchers are also exploring using quantum approaches to deliver more accurate and foolproof navigation tools to the military. US aircraft and naval vessels already rely on precise atomic clocks to help keep track of where they are. But they also count on signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS), a network of satellites orbiting Earth. This poses a risk because an enemy could falsify, or “spoof,” GPS signals—or jam them altogether.
Lockheed Martin thinks American sailors could use a quantum compass based on microscopic synthetic diamonds with atomic flaws known as nitrogen-vacancy centers, or NV centers. These quantum defects in the diamond lattice can be harnessed to form an extremely accurate magnetometer. Shining a laser on diamonds with NV centers makes them emit light at an intensity that varies according to the surrounding magnetic field.
Ned Allen, Lockheed’s chief scientist, says the magnetometer is great at detecting magnetic anomalies—distinctive variations in Earth’s magnetic field caused by magnetic deposits or rock formations. There are already detailed maps of these anomalies made by satellite and terrestrial surveys. By comparing anomalies detected using the magnetometer against these maps, navigators can determine where they are. Because the magnetometer also indicates the orientation of magnetic fields, ships and submarines can use them to work out which direction they are heading.
China’s military is clearly worried about threats to its own version of GPS, known as BeiDou. Research into quantum navigation and sensing technology is under way at various institutes across the country, according to the CNAS report.
As well as being used for navigation, magnetometers can also detect and track the movement of large metallic objects, like submarines, by fluctuations they cause in local magnetic fields. Because they are very sensitive, the magnetometers are easily disrupted by background noise, so for now they are used for detection only at very short distances. But last year, the Chinese Academy of Sciences let slip that some Chinese researchers had found a way to compensate for this using quantum technology. That might mean the devices could be used in the future to spot submarines at much longer ranges.
A tight race
It’s still early days for militaries’ use of quantum technologies. There’s no guarantee they will work well at scale, or in conflict situations where absolute reliability is essential. But if they do succeed, quantum encryption and quantum radar could make a particularly big impact. Code-breaking and radar helped change the course of World War II. Quantum communications could make stealing secret messages much harder, or impossible. Quantum radar would render stealth planes as visible as ordinary ones. Both things would be game-changing.
It’s also too early to tell whether it will be China or the US that comes out on top in the quantum arms race—or whether it will lead to a Cold War–style stalemate. But the money China is pouring into quantum research is a sign of how determined it is to take the lead.
China has also managed to cultivate close working relationships between government research institutes, universities, and companies like CSIC and CETC. The US, by comparison, has only just passed legislation to create a national plan for coordinating public and private efforts. The delay in adopting such an approach has led to a lot of siloed projects and could slow the development of useful military applications. “We’re trying to get the research community to take more of a systems approach,” says Brodsky, the US army quantum expert.
Still, the US military does have some distinct advantages over the PLA. The Department of Defense has been investing in quantum research for a very long time, as have US spy agencies. The knowledge generated helps explains why US companies lead in areas like the development of powerful quantum computers, which harness entangled qubits to generate immense amounts of processing power.
The American military can also tap into work being done by its allies and by a vibrant academic research community at home. Baugh’s radar research, for instance, is funded by the Canadian government, and the US is planning a joint research initiative with its closest military partners—Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand—in areas like quantum navigation.
All this has given the US has a head start in the quantum arms race. But China’s impressive effort to turbocharge quantum research means the gap between them is closing fast.
CHARLES TAHAN is a NSF Distinguished International Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, Cavendish Laboratory, JJ Thomson Ave, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, United Kingdom.
New technologies based on the exploitation of so-called “second order” quantum phenomena – such as quantum entanglement – deserve a public-friendly, rational, and sexy name. Spookytechnology is that unifying term.
Asmorgasbord of quantum clichés testifies to the influence of quantum physics on technology and society in the 20th century, from Quantum Leaps to Quantum® corporations. And quantum theory still excites. The new field of quantum information science, as one example, promises a unifying language in many areas of physics and computer science as well as fantastic technologies based on the craziness of the universe. Yet the broader hardware terminology remains poorly considered. Will the new man-made quantum systems also be called “quantum technology”? Or will “quantum information technology,” “quantum coherent technology,” “(quantum) entanglement-based technology,” or “quantronics” be used instead, as recent grant proposals suggest? We need to avoid the mistakes made in the labeling of nanotechnology, but repeat the successes. By good fortune, the inherent non-intuitiveness of quantum physics has created an opportunity, where the science leads the science fiction.
Global powers are now shifting their attention to acquire strategic technology for future warfare. The quantum technologies that are critical to securing strategic dominance are opening a new era of the arms race. In particular, experiments in the field of quantum entanglement, which were esoteric to theoretical physicists in the past, have increasingly, opened new possibilities for gaining an edge in military power and intelligence gathering. These developments are drawing serious attention from policy-makers, who bet on issues of life and death to achieve military predominance. Other technologies, such as quantum tunneling and quantum superposition, are also being applied in high-stakes competitions to create new types of computation, sensing and cryptography for military applications. The mastery of these technologies is likely to tip the scales of ongoing day-to-day cyberwarfare as well as state-on-state combat in the future. As the first movers take advantage in a giant industry for decades to come, global powers are throwing their hat into the ring for quantum supremacy.
Technological Leap Forward
In 2016, China’s world-first quantum satellite, Micius, made a breakthrough in the field of ultra-long-distance quantum communication. The prospect of hack-proof quantum teleportation based on quantum entanglement is a ground-breaking competitor among traditional encryption methods, such as the use of fiber-optics communication. The fiber optic communications and wireless airwaves that are commonly used to pass digital information with encryption have made revolutionary strides in the transmission of massive amounts of data. However, these modes are still vulnerable to attempts by eavesdroppers to decrypt the traffic. In theory and practice, the systems require the maintenance of a high level of mathematical complexity to prevent unauthorized access to decrypt the content. The traditional communication methods enabled the construction of a global network system, yet failed to provide reliable methods for detecting eavesdroppers.
The quantum technologies, however, have two advantages that traditional communication channeling lacks. First, quantum communication is safe, as any interference is detectable. This form of communication works on the basis of quantum entanglement, where pairs of particles, such as pairs of photons, work like quantum twins that share their quantum properties, such as spin, position, and momentum, in a particular way. If one of the measured halves of a pair goes up, the other one goes down—that is, each photon of a pair works according to the principle of opposites. Until quite recently, however, the distance and the magnitude to maintain entanglement between two particles remained one of the major obstacles to commercialize from the theory.
China’s experimental satellite, Micius, proved that entangled photon pairs can be securely sent and received over the long distance between the satellite and ground observatories. The satellite, which orbits at nearly 8km/sec, cruising between 500 to 2,000 kilometers above the earth, succeeded in beaming entangled pairs of photons to two ground stations, Delingha in Qinghai and Gaomeigu Observatory in Lijiang, which are about 1,200 kilometers apart. These telescopes are emplaced on high mountains to reduce the atmospheric disturbance that photons need to traverse. This quantum experiment became a major milestone of intercontinental quantum communication between the satellite and the ground observatories to demonstrate that pairs of photons are not fragile. In theory, this enables perfect security in communications, since by observing the photons, any changes made by an intruder or manipulator will be detectable.
Second, this satellite-to-ground quantum communication enhances the quantum cryptography with quantum computers. In the past, the loss of photons delivered by optical fibers was high due to the light absorption, with the result that, generally, photons cannot be delivered over distances greater than 200 kilometers. With Micius, quantum cryptography proved that the loss of photons is far less, going beyond the border between the two parties sharing the key to encode and decode the message. The video conference between the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna validated the quantum privacy guaranteed with a one-time pad. The possibility for global-scale communication opens the promise of a future global quantum network both for commercial and military purposes that attracts many to consider making the heavy investment necessary for quantum research.
In addition to communication, quantum metrology technology appears to establish advanced radar technology for military purposes. This technique enables the immediate changes of a targeted object at the atomic scale. For instance, the effect of gravity on subatomic particles and other key changes in other characteristics of the object is immediately noticeable. It opens the possibility of improved radar capability against electromagnetic stealth techniques, in which the U.S. has invested nearly 1 trillion USD. If the new form of quantum radar incorporates the quantum mechanics, it is nearly impossible to evade detection. The development of quantum metrology can further enhance the key application of autonomous vehicles or submarines freed from the GPS system or other external navigation settings that are vulnerable to jamming and detection.
The scope of quantum technologies for both commercial and military applications appears to be almost limitless, stimulating a race among nations to achieve quantum supremacy. Currently, two giants are leading the trend. Last year, China, which established itself as the first mover to launch a quantum satellite, announced the plan to invest 10 billion USD in building a new quantum research center in Hefei by 2020. China set two principal goals for this national laboratory: developing quantum metrology and developing a quantum computer as part of the national defense plan. With quantum metrology research, China appears to intend to pioneer various military platforms for vehicles to improve communication systems to be un-hackable as well as jam-proof. In the field of quantum computing, China was a latecomer, however, Beijing is making a proactive investment to get ahead of its competitors. The prototype of quantum computing is known 100 million times faster than the current computers using microwaves and quantum particles.
China’s move has alarmed many in Washington to step up in the race. As part of maintaining U.S. military supremacy, the U.S. government re-prioritized the strategic planning with innovative technologies, reinforcing the joint cooperation among academia, national laboratories and the private sector into a national security innovation base. Quantum computing and its linkage with artificial intelligence appear to be the priority as part of the catching-up strategy. The U.S. appears to have spent 200 million dollars on quantum research on average since the mid-2000s. In 2016, the Obama administration set up an inter-agency working group for quantum research, while many still believe that it is not enough to compete with China for capturing quantum supremacy. The recent National Quantum Initiative Act passed by Congress incorporates a ten-year development program through inter-agency coordination on quantum research to spur a competitive edge. A quantum industry coalition, including Intel, Google, Lockheed Martin, OxBranch, and so on has been initiated to mobilize the quantum science research across the government.
Some discussions are also ongoing about China’s quantum radar and imaging development plans that aim at reducing the U.S. advantage in stealth technology. The F-35 stealth fighter, a single-engine, multirole stealth combat aircraft, is one of the main weapon systems of the U.S. air force. In 2016, China already had developed a single-photon quantum radar that effectively works up to one hundred kilometers distance from its targets.
In Europe, the European Commission (EC) is the leading agency to invest in quantum research and has announced the creation of a 1.1 billion U.S. dollar initiative as the institution’s quantum technology flagship. However, the industrial partners seem to be less enthusiastic for such an EC-led coordination, which has induced many countries, including Germany, Austria and Hungary, to launch independent quantum technology programs. Furthermore, in the wake of Brexit, the possibility of including Britain in such projects has become politically complex. As Britain was one of the few countries promoting an inter-agency research program, worth some 450 million USD under the National Quantum Technologies Program, the political hurdles have slowed the joint research apart from the initial ambitious agenda.
India also is joining the race. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Raman Research Institute launched joint quantum technology research to secure satellite communications. In 2017, the Space Applications Center under ISRO funded the Quantum Information and Computing laboratory at Raman Research Institute, which took the first step toward quantum communications. Japan and Singapore also conduct quantum-communication experiments through micro- and nanosatellites, respectively. However, both countries’ experiments have yet to involve quantum entanglement, or quantum teleportation.
More to go
The door has just been opened to visualize quantum physics. However, a number of issues remain to be solved before technological obstacles can be overcome. At present, the quantum satellite needs to fly directly over the receiver. To improve the tracking accuracy, the receiver needs to be placed high on a mountain to receive the data. The limitation on the bandwidth determines the effective coverage of the satellite communications. Also, the cost and size of the device matters. In coming years, perhaps a decade or so, the quantum technologies will improve by leaps and bounds, which is sure to truly open a new type of arms race among the global powers.
Ji Yeon-jung is a Lecturer at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul.