Application of Quantum Computers in Warfare Technology

A Continual Learner
7 min readJan 6, 2021

You may have heard of quantum computers and have thought, “what is the difference between that and my computer?” In reality, quantum computers will be the revolutionary technology that can solve problems that were once thought to be unsolvable.

Google’s Quantum Computer performed a task in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.

With the capacity of being 100 million times more powerful than normal computers, quantum computers can expedite and answer questions like vaccine development, chemical bonding, weather forecasting, financial modeling, and much more. In this article, we will examine the application of quantum computing specific to advancements in weaponry, both in offense and in defense.

Classical Computer vs Quantum Computer

A classical computer stores and computes operations using the information of bits, which are ones (on) and zeroes (off). A classical computer functions with the principle of classical physics, where there are exact measurable qualities to make calculations. However, a quantum computer operates using the information of qubits, or quantum bits, where they have 1, 0, and ones and zeroes that are existing simultaneously, with properties like overlapping (superposition), interfering, and intertwining (entanglement). A quantum computer defies logic and makes it millions of times more powerful than today’s most powerful computers.

Inside a Quantum Computer at IBM

To operate a quantum computer, we need to understand that what a qubit is. Qubits are like atoms, ions, photons, or electrons and their respective control devices are working together to act like a processor. In order for these atoms to compute, they are kept at near absolute zero, or 0 Kelvin, which is -460 Fahrenheit. The container, known as a dilution refrigerator, is made to be extremely cold so that the small processor can operate.

The reason why it is so cold is because at extremely cold temperatures, atoms and molecules simply move around less. These atoms are calibrated in a specific voltage and frequency, meaning there is a designated position for each atom, and if there is a lot of energy, it will make the atoms more volatile for movement. So the lower the temperature, the less movement for the atoms, and less chance of atoms incorrectly flipping into different positions.

Advantages of a Quantum Computer

A quantum computer contains properties that a classical computer simply cannot contain. One of its properties is known as superposition. To explain Quantum Superposition, imagine spinning a penny. You may not know whether it is heads or tails, but once you stop spinning, you know if it is heads or tails.

Using this principle, we can find that qubits will spin as both zero and one simultaneously, but once you stop and determine the basic state, you will know if it is heads or tails. Whereas the classical computer can only calculate in logical sequence, the advantage of superposition is that it can process a vast number of calculations simultaneously rather than sequentially, thus optimizing the outcome and reducing a tremendous amount of time.

Explanation of Bit (0 and 1) and Qubit (0,1, 1 and 0)

For Quantum Entanglement, think of a pair of gloves. If you find a right glove alone in your drawer, you can be certain the missing glove would fit your left hand. The two gloves could be described as entangled, as knowing something about one would tell you something important about the other. Likewise, subatomic particles like photons are inextricably linked in perfect unison, sharing the same quantum states, even if separated by great distances. As a result, measurements performed on one particle seem to be instantaneously influencing other particles entangled with it and the transfer of state takes place 100 million times faster than the speed of light.

Illustration of Quantum Entanglement

The advantage of Quantum Entanglement is that entanglement allows multiple states to be acted on simultaneously, thus giving the quantum computer the ability to process complex programs exponentially quicker than a classical computer. Another advantage is the long-distance secure communications, as quantum states remain the same state over large distances. The principles of quantum superposition and entanglement is the essence of quantum computing, and this type of computing will be applied in every aspect of our lives in the future, including weaponry.

Application of Quantum computers in Warfare

In modern warfare, more and more technologies that are integrated in the military rely heavily on computers, whether it is GPS-guided missiles, Remotely Piloted Aircrafts, or secured networks for communications. Quicker, more efficient computers will be a necessity and the application of quantum computers in military will be critical to mission success.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

One aspect of quantum computing that can be used offensively is already integrated with the supersonic 5th generation fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. This fighter aircraft is combining advanced stealth capabilities with integrated avionics, fully-fused sensor information, and network-enabled operations. The multi-role aircraft relies on quantum computing because the F-35 contains 24 million lines of code, making it the most complex software system of any modern weapon system. The quantum computers would verify the millions of lines of code in the F-35 simultaneously to ensure the aircraft can operate safely.

D-Wave Systems

The company responsible for providing quantum computing services for the F-35 is known as D-Wave Systems, a Canadian quantum computing company, and has partnered with the Pentagon and the Department of Defense to ensure all aircrafts are at the highest level of operations. The Department of Defense is also looking to apply this system for crunching massive amounts of data, as well as optimizing logistics efforts for moving US military materials. D-Wave Systems has also partnered with NASA for its Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL), which aims to tackle “machine learning, pattern recognition, mission planning and scheduling, distributed navigation and coordination, and system diagnostics and anomaly detection.”

China’s Quantum Satellite Project

In terms of defense, China has incorporated the property of quantum entanglement by creating a quantum satellite. The entanglement’s advantage is transferring information, or teleporting information, through long distance. In the case of China’s satellite, Micius, the entangled particles create a key for a secured connection, and if a hacker listens to the communication, the connection between entangled particles will fall apart and the network will close. Once the network closes, another network will be made seamlessly and continue the connection.

The experiment was successful in 2017 as the satellite performed the world’s first quantum-encrypted virtual teleconference between Beijing and Vienna. This proves that quantum satellites provide tremendous encryption system for communication, and is the fruit of $100 million Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) program in China.

Satellite-to-Earth link established between quantum satellite Micius and the quantum communication ground station in Xinglong, north China’s Hebei Province.

Another defensive technology that utilizes quantum entanglement is the Quantum Radar Detection System. A quantum radar works by using entangled microwaves to detect objects at a distance using only a few photons, raising the prospect of stealthy radar systems that emit little detectable electromagnetic radiation.

Illustration of how Quantum Radar works

It works by first sending the ‘signal photon’ toward the object of interest and listen for the reflection. Then they store the second photon, called the ‘idler photon,’ and when the reflection arrives, it interferes with this idler photon, creating a signature that reveals how far the signal photon has traveled. Although quantum radar technology is at its early stage, this technology will transform stealth capabilities.

The Race to Quantum Supremacy

Quantum supremacy is when a quantum computer is able to compute operations a classical computer simply cannot. In 2019, Google achieved quantum supremacy as it was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. Although this claim is strongly debated by its competitor, IBM, Google’s achievement has opened a new realm for quantum computation.

Google’s 54 Qubit Quantum Processor, Sycamore

The United States will need to keep reinvesting in quantum research and continue applying quantum computing to become an integral part of the US military for multi-domain supremacy. The People’s Republic of China will continue to militarize the cyberspace domain and invest heavily into quantum computing. As of 2020, China plans to spend $10 billion over the next 3 years, which is 13 times more than what the US government dedicates for quantum research. In conclusion, quantum computing will continue to exponentially improve, and it is only a matter of time before this advancement will be incorporated into military technologies.



A Continual Learner

With passion for technology, military, and economics, In Bok Lee has created A Continual Learner with the purpose of sharing knowledge.