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Quantum Technology

  • Published
  • By Maj Chad Everett

In the next five to ten years, the United States will face never-before-seen technological threats to its national security. Chief among those threats is the development and fielding of quantum technology by potential adversaries, like China or Russia. Quantum technology represents a radically new way to transmit, store, and process information, which will drastically change how modern IT-based devices function. Nearly every industry will benefit from quantum-enabled technology, ranging from entertainment and communication to research and defense. From a national security perspective, early adopters of quantum technology would obtain a potentially decisive military advantage and further the current Revolution of Military Affairs (RMA).[1] National competitors like China and Russia have already made deliberate progress towards quantum-enabled capabilities. While quantum technology is not directly lethal on its own, the vast array of potential applications will inevitably include both lethal and non-lethal military systems. Some specific military applications include quantum computing, quantum sensing, and quantum communication.

Unlike conventional technology that relies on binary bits characterized by “1” or “0” values, quantum computing is based on qubits that rely on the “superposition” of these two values as determined by a complex set of weights and probabilities. This expanded basis for data storage enables quantum computers to operate at speeds many orders of magnitude faster than conventional non-quantum computers.[2] These incredibly fast processing speeds would greatly increase the performance of military capabilities like signal decryption and artificial intelligence (AI). Both China and Russia have invested heavily into quantum technology research and have either made or are about to make major breakthroughs in this realm. China is already leading the world by fielding quantum satellites and networks while Russia has announced a $790 million quantum technology roadmap culminating in 2024.[3] Improvements in data decryption or AI have particularly concerning military implications.

Brute force decryption of top tier security would take modern supercomputers many centuries to complete, some analysts even believe that a quantum computer is likely required to break modern encryption methods.[4]However, with a sufficiently powerful quantum computer even the most advanced encryption currently in use today could be decrypted in a matter of seconds. If this were to happen, secure military communications would be nearly impossible using today’s infrastructure. Data at rest or in transit would be subject to interception and exploitation by any quantum-enabled adversary. This would include (but not be limited to) military research data, command and control communications, or intelligence reports. Any one of these could have disastrous national security implications.

Quantum computing will advance other emerging technologies like AI and data analysis. Pairing quantum computing power with AI will produce more advanced image recognition tools, more sophisticated autonomous weapons, and more refined targeting solutions.[5] Proportional to the increase in processing speeds, quantum computing will also enable the analysis of much larger data sets than conventional computers. Quantum enabled simulation and design programs will provide unprecedented levels of realism and detail due to their enhanced ability to ingest and process vast amounts of data at incredibly fast speeds. More well-informed and rapid simulations will produce better prototypes or plans that would require fewer resources for physical testing and evaluation.

The next military application, quantum sensing, involves measuring the quantum properties of particles enabling drastically improved understanding of both position and nature of matter through various obstructing mediums. Research suggests that quantum sensing could have applications including biological imaging, underground mapping, and next-generation detection tools.[6] However, military applications include new navigation techniques and underwater sensing. Currently, adversary nations like China are ranked number 4 in development of quantum sensing but are quickly closing the gap on global leaders like the United States and Germany.[7]

The common basis for many modern navigation tools is the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of satellites. Both military and non-military organizations rely on this easily accessible and reliable system. However, the modern threat environment suggests that GPS signals may be jammed by adversaries or rendered unusable by natural phenomenon like weather. Quantum sensing would allow individual units to map and navigate through GPS-denied environments without external support. Such sensors could be affixed to aircraft or smart munitions to improve their ability to penetrate air defenses or land vehicles improving their ability to navigate despite enemy electromagnetic jamming efforts.

Quantum sensors would also see through mediums like water. While this is useful in the commercial sector for mapping or prospecting purposes, the military implications are quite severe. In effect, quantum sensors would make the ocean “transparent” and thus compromise the security of the U.S. sea-based nuclear deterrent, submarines.[8] For the United States and others, this represents a significant degradation of the nuclear triad by threatening the survivability of nuclear second-strike capabilities. However, should the United States deploy this technology, the ability to locate and track enemy submarines would greatly degrade an adversary’s ability to hold U.S. maritime assets and territory at risk from conventional or nuclear attacks.

The third military application, quantum communication, relies on the unique properties of quantum particle entanglement. In 1935, Albert Einstein collaborated with others and identified “spooky action at a distance”, particles entangled at the quantum level transfer information instantly regardless of distance. Scientists are still investigating how this transmission happens, but it appears to occur faster than light with predictable errors.[9] This has both interception and security implications for military forces. Currently, China has already built a 2,000-kilometer quantum network and intends to continue heavy investment to expand that network nationwide.[10]

Due to the characteristics of quantum particles, mere observation changes the traits of these particles making access by a third party impossible.  A current technological limitation requires the sender and receiver to compare measurements after the transmission of information to predict these changes in state. This exchange of measurements is similar to handing over decryption keys and must be done by conventional means. Once this hurdle is overcome, information encoded using quantum states cannot be read or decrypted by a third party. As there is no currently understood physical connection between entangled particles, there is also no known method to intercept transmitted information. Properly developed, this technology will enable secure and instant communication across any distance and through any medium, to include the Earth itself. An adversary would have nothing to intercept and therefore no chance of exploiting enemy communications. Additionally, the act of communicating will be impossible to detect and therefore locate. Military assets will be able to securely communicate without fear of giving away their location or signal interception. Both stealth aircraft and submarines will clearly benefit from remaining hidden in the conduct of their nuclear deterrence mission. While it is currently unclear how quantum sensing will interact with stealth technology, the ability to hide the act of communicating with nuclear assets would still degrade a quantum-enabled enemy’s ability to anticipate nuclear movements or deployments.

Quantum technology is still in the beginning of its development. Countries like China and Russia are accelerating their efforts to acquire effective versions of quantum technology including computing, sensing, and communicating. The United States must do the same. Each of these technologies have the potential to radically change the nature of combat on their own but taken within the entire context of emerging technologies, their impact is likely going to change the environment of war in ways planners are only now beginning to understand. Failing to proactively leverage new combat support technologies will give adversaries a devastating advantage in warfare. Any computer-supported device today would be radically improved using quantum technology. The United States and its national security interests rely on computer technology integrated into nearly every level and type of military system. Given the US reliance on and dedicated enemy pursuit of advanced computing it is reasonable to assess that quantum computing will be the most dangerous adversary threat to national security in the next 5 to 10 years. It is therefore critical the Department of Defense prioritize investment and development of quantum technology or risk ceding innumerable technological advantages to competitors like China or Russia.

Major Chad J Everett
Chad Everett currently serves as the Commander of the 42d Communications Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He is a certified joint planner and has served in a variety of cyber planning positions supporting the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, USEUCOM, USAFRICOM, and USCENTCOM. Maj Everett earned his Bachelor’s in Military History from the United States Air Force Academy and is a distinguished graduate of Air Command and Staff College.

This article was based on a paper written as part of the Air Command and Staff College’s Contemporary Warfare course.


[1.] “Emerging Technology and Future Threats” (lecture, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, AL, 9 January 2023).

[2.] Don Monroe, “Quantum Computers and the Universe: Ideas for Quantum Computing Change the Way We Think about Space and Time,” Communications of the ACM 65, no. 12 (December 2022): 9–10.

[3.] Kelley M Sayler, Emerging Military Technologies: Background and Issues for Congress, CRS R46458 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2022), 25-26.

[4.] Ibid., 24.

[5.] Ibid., 27.

[6.] Brij Mohan Gupta, Surinder Mohan Dhawan, and Ghouse Modin Mamdapur, “Quantum Sensing Research: A Scientometric Assessment of Global Publications during 1991-2020,” International Journal of Knowledge Content Development & Technology 12, no. 3 (January 2022): 31–32.

[7.] Ibid., 35.

[8.] Sayler, Emerging Military Technologies, 24.

[9.] M. A. Cusumano, “From Quantum Computing to Quantum Communications: Attempting to Disentangle Mechanical Principles,” Communications of the ACM, 66, no. 1 (January 2023): 25.

[10.] Sayler, Emerging Military Technologies, 26.


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