One of the reasons why American weapons systems have been so dominant is computer power. Whether it’s helping the M1 Abrams keep its gun on target or helping secure communications, computers give American troops an edge. Now, the Pentagon wants to bring the next generation of computers, quantum computers, into the fight.
You’re probably asking yourself, “what, exactly, is quantum computing and how would it give our troops an edge? Well, here’s a quick rundown.
As explained by one of America’s top tech companies, IBM, quantum computing is a form of computing that uses quantum mechanics — the mathematics of subatomic particle movements. Current processors distill all information down, eventually, to a simple ‘0’ or ‘1.’ Quantum processors, however, can distill information down to ‘0’ and ‘1.’ In short, this has the potential to greatly increase the baseline speeds at which computers operate. To put that increase in speed into perspective, it’s the difference between using a horse to go from New York to San Diego and using a SR-71 Blackbird for that same trip.
Joint Direct Attack Munitions, currently dependent on GPS, could become more accurate thanks to quantum clocks.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)
So, how might this translate to military operations? Well, one application could be a replacement for the Global Positioning System. The satellite-based system relies on multiple updates per day, and there have been concerns the system could be vulnerable to attack. Quantum clocks could provide GPS-like accuracy when the satellite system is down.
Quantum computing could help make satellite communications more secure.
A number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, and Australia, are also working on quantum computing programs. The Air Force Research Laboratory expects to have working prototypes in five years, with other systems rolling out later. In one sense, this program is an urgent one: China is also working on quantum computers, and has reportedly launched a purportedly unhackable satellite using that technology — and it’s not a good idea to be technologically outgunned if tensions should boil over.