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How to Fight a War With a Quantum Computer

The Australian Government recently announced plans to invest $26 million in the development of quantum computing technology as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). Prime Minister Turnbull has argued that NISA is part of a new “ideas boom” designed to “create a modern, dynamic and 21st century economy for Australia.” It emphasizes quantum computing as an important area for government investment based on its ability to produce “jobs and economic growth.” And while this industry could certainly be “worth billions,” it offers much more than financial prosperity: quantum technologies could play a significant role in our future defense and security.

Quantum technology harnesses the obscure properties of subatomic matter to achieve computing processes unobtainable with classic computers. Today’s computers run on binary digits, or bits, which exist as either 1s or 0s. In contrast, quantum bits, or qubits, exploit the bizarre principle of superposition that enables them to occupy all possible states (both 1 and 0) at the same time. This allows quantum computers to undertake multiple calculations in parallel, unlocking unprecedented processing power that could “solve problems that would take conventional computers centuries.”

Another important quantum quality, entanglement, means two qubits can become inextricably linked, such that a change in one causes a change in the other. The qubits can remain connected even when separated across large distances. This delicate connection can be used for instantaneous communication, and its vulnerability to interference means the act of eavesdropping fundamentally alters the transmission, rendering it provably secure.

NISA asserts that those technological tricks will have a “transformational impact on Australian and global businesses” but fails to mention the revolutionary role they could play in improving Australia’s defense force in three key areas.

Efficiency

The ability of quantum computers to undertake multiple calculations at once makes them an enormous asset for the optimization of defense logistics. A quantum computer could examine all possible strategies and quickly identify the most rapid or low-energy solution, in order to determine the military’s preferable travel path, which is likely to increase the efficiency and speed of military operations.

Increasingly complex weapons systems also rely on ever-growing volumes of activation software. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter now requires more than twenty million lines of code to be fully operational. The brute force of quantum computers could offer a strategic advantage by improving the efficiency of code validation where defense assets are deployed in time-sensitive scenarios.

Intelligence

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