By Rizwan Mirza
Ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu, in his classic strategy book ‘The Art of War’ written some 1500 years ago which stands equally inspiring for military and business strategists of the date, noted an important point – “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”, emphasising the protection of ‘information’ of the nation and strategic use of ‘information generated of the rival nation’.
Information dominance has always been the key strategy to win the Information Warfare (IW) being substantially common in the geostrategic battlespace. However, cyberspace has made it easier, faster and efficacious for IW threats to operate on a large scale.
Global digitisation has changed the character of conflict and warfare. The extensive rise of Information and Communication Technology has brought a paradigm shift in IW, leading to a new dimension in terms of cyber espionage or cyber warfare for the offensive and defensive purpose at par, to intrude, disrupt and control the rival’s data and resources.
The current risk through critical data or information landing in the hand of the enemies has grown manifold which may provide a competitive advantage to the rival nation at two severe levels. Firstly, enhanced ability to intrude systems and jeopardise the strategic intent; secondly, extensive automation of defence systems and armament can use data to attain desired goals of the adversaries.
Modern lives are entirely dependent on technologies the digital age has provided, whereby the traditional warfighting domains of land, air and sea have evolved to include cyber and outer space due to such technology. This means the present military might or supremacy can well be understood in terms of technological and information superiority. What cutting-edge technology provides the nation with technological and information superiority? The answer is ‘Quantum Technology’.
Understanding Quantum Technology
Quantum theory is over a century old, which led to the twentieth-century first quantum technology revolution marked by transistors leading to the rise of classical computers, lasers leading to the ultra-fast fibre-optic communication system, and atomic clocks making satellite navigation possible. The second quantum technology has just begun and is predicted to harness the absolute power of quantum theory to improve upon the desired results of technological devices to an unimaginable extent.
For example, Google Inc introduced a ‘Sycamore’ quantum processor having just 53 qubits completed a task in 200 seconds, whereas a state-of-the-art supercomputer will take 10,000 years to finish that task as claimed by Google in a paper published in ‘Nature’ in October 2019. Qubit or quantum bit are the superposition of computer bits in the state of 0, 1 and its combinations, whereas classical computers have bits in 0 and 1 only. Besides superposition, the other two strange principles of quantum technology are entanglement and observation.
Quantum entanglement is when two particles are linked and share properties despite being at a distance through which entangled qubits will do a reduced number of logic operations enabling complex problems to be solved quickly. Superposition and entanglement only exist as long as quantum particles are not observed or measured, ‘observing’ the quantum state yields information. The second quantum revolution will ultimately be a revolution of quantum information science that will significantly impact the national security and defence system.
Defence & Security Implications
The second quantum technology revolution impacting all domains of modern warfare will have unprecedented capabilities and techniques of the weapons and defence system. The remarkable application of the technology in defence could be roughly categorised into (i) quantum sensing, (ii) quantum computers, and (iii) quantum communications. Quantum sensing will considerably boost the ability to filter, decode, correlate and identify features in signals captured through intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and enhanced situational awareness.
It could provide alternative positioning, navigation, and timing options that could, in theory, allow militaries to continue to operate at full performance in GPS-degraded or GPS-denied environments. Quantum computers will be used by defence planners to do large-scale simulations of military deployments to improve the speed and accuracy of decision making and optimisation. It will enable the development of new cyber warfare tools and higher accuracy lethal autonomous weapon systems, or weapons capable of selecting and engaging targets without manual human control.
Quantum communication will enable physically assured security of communications between operational and strategic level nodes and will have reduced errors in conventional communication networks. By relying on the collapsing nature of qubits once they are read, quantum communication methods such as quantum key distribution (QKD) aim to make the sending and receiving of sensitive encryption keys potentially immune to undetected interception.
The quantum defence technology research outcome will certainly produce disruptive instruments like superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) magnetometer to operate without cooling ultra-hard armour or high-temperature tolerance material with camouflage and stealth fighter jets. This would be possible with about 70 logical qubits quantum computers sufficient for the basic research on high-temperature superconductors.
Quantum Technology Race
The global quantum technology race is consistently rising through global public investment and has gone up to 25 billion USD, where China has taken a leap through the quantum research investment to the tune of 10 billion USD. ‘Global Tech’ giants are also making significant efforts at the cutting edge of quantum technology with the leading names of Google, IBM and Amazon in the US and Baidu, Huawei and Alibaba in China. China has more total patents across the full spectrum of quantum technology, but US companies have a dramatic lead in quantum computing patents.
However, China has a more sophisticated quantum network and claims to have the top two quantum computers. It is pretty apparent that the US and China dominate the race, with almost all significant military powers having substantial investment and research. India too wishes to tap the second quantum revolution by launching the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications with Rs 8000 crores and the National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems with an investment of Rs 3660 crores over five years starting from 2020-21. Many Indian Startups like BosonQ Psi, Qulabs.ai are also in the race.
Future Predictions & Required Preparedness
Quantum computing and technology will do something perhaps five to ten years down the line, which could only be of science fiction type for today. Though it will never replace the classical computers on account of its ultra-fragile conditioning in terms of zero vibration impact and cold environment, it will provide unthinkable optimisation solutions for super complex and large problems like gene sequencing and flight or delivery route scheduling. Such solutions may ease the production of synthetic matter, and most of the critical biochemicals will be possible to produce in labs.
It would be easy to steal the global personal data and information within a fraction of seconds and can be used remotely for strategic purposes in the absence of QKD. I must say that quantum technology will create its own future, and global dominance will be established or maintained through the power of quantum technology at the core.
What is required is ‘Quantum Innovation Ecosystem’, where the government should connect with experts from industry and academia to share information, problems and solutions across this group to enhance the ability of all of its members to meet the challenges of quantum technology. For decades, Western defence advantage has been built on the free flow of ideas and technology.
About The Author
The writer is a US National award-winning serial innovator with 34 patents pending with US and India patent offices. Known for revolutionising education in the United States by developing and implementing courses to teach young kids to innovate. He is currently working as Chief Innovation Officer with Si2 Microsystem, where he is responsible for leading and managing global innovation teams to deliver high-tech solutions in the aerospace & defence industry.