The quantum future of naval warfare
(USNI.org) Lieutenant (junior grade) Lucian Rombado, U.S. Navy, has written an assessment of the US Navy’s need to achieve technological superiority for tomorrow’s conflicts or surrender its competitive advantage to China. Inside Quantum Technology news summarizes here:
China’s quantum computing research and development (R&D) is well underway, and the global race for quantum superiority has begun. This disruptive technology will transform military science and the way computers process data in a wartime environment. The CNO’s recent 2021 Navigation Plan stresses that “we are engaged in a long-term competition [with] China . . . and we must be prepared to flawlessly execute our Navy’s timeless roles of sea control and power projection. To preserve sea control and maintain a competitive edge in the Indo-Pacific amid rising Chinese aggression, the Navy must establish itself as a key player in the U.S. quantum technology community. To do so, the Navy should host operational testing on board its platforms in two critical areas: quantum cryptography and quantum sensing. The Navy’s operational tests in a rugged field environment will provide valuable feedback to the engineers who design the technology. Ultimately, the Navy’s role in the quantum development cycle will accelerate the process of transferring quantum technology from the laboratory to warfighting units.
China has already developed the “world’s first integrated quantum communication network, combining over 700 optical fibers on the ground with two ground-to-satellite links to achieve quantum key distribution over a total distance of 4,600 kilometers for users across the country.” Further advances in Chinese quantum communication networks, especially networks designed for military use, will put the Navy at increased risk when deployed to the Indo-Pacific. If Chinese communications are virtually unbreakable and U.S. Navy communications can be exploited by Chinese quantum code-breaking technology, it will quickly lose its ability to safely operate among PLAN forces. While efforts to develop quantum key distribution are well underway with organizations such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, it will be a long road from the design phase to battle-tested field use. However, the Navy can help speed up this process by partnering with research organizations to set up a wireless quantum key distribution network across multiple naval platforms.
quantum sensing will provide new capabilities for both stealthy open-ocean navigation and intelligence collection on foreign vessel locations. Quantum sensing—the use of quantum properties to measure changes in the surrounding environment—offers promising solutions to the chronic naval dilemma: dependence on GPS for navigation at sea. The Navy’s current dependence on GPS leaves platforms vulnerable to GPS-jamming while at sea. If a ship’s GPS downlink was jammed by a malicious Chinese signal, it would be unable to navigate safely in the open ocean. Though naval platforms also use internal navigation systems, these lose accuracy over time and require periodic GPS downlinks to confirm the vessel’s location.
Because China’s quantum technology R&D is state-driven and U.S. quantum development is inherently more “disparate [and] spread across dozens of funding agencies, universities and private companies,” DoD leaders must ensure the development and application of quantum technology for military use is efficient. Partnerships with quantum technology developers and operational testing on Navy platforms will be key to leveraging this technology across the DoD for years to come. A failure to keep pace with China in the race for quantum technology will leave the DoD vulnerable to a myriad of threats in the Indo-Pacific. This is a race the United States cannot lose.