China recently announced the launch of its Jinan Project, a quantum information effort billed as “the world’s first unhackable computer network.” Building on its launch last year of the world’s first quantum-enabled satellite, China has made significant strides in quantum technology, a field with rapidly increasing relevance to national security. Its satellite has been hailed as a major step toward “unbreakable” encrypted communications.
China is far from the only country interested in quantum technology and its potential applications to national security. Beyond secure communications, quantum computing offers new ways of modelling chemical processes, as well as superior (and artificial intelligence-empowered) targeting and autonomous decision-making systems. Quantum computers may provide the ability to crack existing secure communications, by attacking the security of public key cryptosystems. And they may even augment the performance of “standoff detection” in military settings, in which targets with magnetic or gravitational signatures are detected at a distance, and without contact with the threats themselves.
In truth, however, the full promise of quantum technology is unknown, in national security or any other field. While major claims on the subject sometimes reflect hype more than reality, it’s incontrovertible that governments and companies around the world are investing in it in a serious way. The United States has directed significant defense and intelligence dollars into quantum research. The European Union is devoting over a billion euros to its own quantum technology ecosystem. And it appears Russia may be making quiet investments as well.
Read the full commentary in War on the Rocks.