RAND’s look at Quantum Applications for the Military and Security

In a recent fifty-page report, the RAND organisation has outlined applications of quantum technology and put timelines against some of those applications. The report provides an overview of the current state of quantum technology and its potential commercial and military applications. Each of the three major categories of quantum technology: quantum sensing, quantum communication, and quantum computing are discussed. The likely commercial outlook over the next few years, the major international players, and the potential national security implications of these emerging technologies are discussed.

Outline of the technologies consdiered

  • Quantum sensing refers to the ability to use quantum mechanics to build extremely precise sensors. This is the application of quantum technology considered to have the nearest-term operational potential.
  • The primary near-term application of quantum communication technology is security against eavesdroppers, primarily through a method known as quantum key distribution (QKD). Longer-term applications include networking together quantum computers and sensors.
  • Quantum computing refers to computers that could, in principle, perform certain computations vastly more quickly than is fundamentally possible with a standard computer. Certain problems that are completely infeasible to solve on a standard computer could become feasible on a quantum computer.

Quantum technology potentially has major implications for national security

  • Some of the primary applications for quantum sensing include position, navigation, and timing and possibly intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
  • Quantum communication technology could use QKD to protect sensitive encrypted communications against hostile interception, although some experts consider other security solutions to be more promising.
  • Quantum computing could eventually have the most severe impact on national security. A large-scale quantum computer capable of deploying Shor’s algorithm on current encryption would have a devastating impact on virtually all internet security.

No clear overall world leader in quantum technology

  • The United States, China, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada all have specific national initiatives to encourage quantum-related research.
  • The United States and China dominate in overall spending and the most-important technology demonstrations, but Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union also lead in certain subfields.
  • China is the world leader in quantum communication, and the United States is the world leader in quantum computing.

Highest-impact quantum technologies are still many years away

  • Applications of quantum sensing could become commercially or militarily ready within the next few years.
  • Limited commercial deployment of quantum communication technology already exists, but the most-useful military and commercial applications still lie many years away.
  • There may be niche applications of quantum computers over the next few years, but all currently known applications are likely at least ten years away.

If you would like to read the report in-depth, head over to the RAND report.