By Ichioka Toyohiro
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) has begun considering strategies to utilize quantum technology, which is expected to dramatically improve sensing and cryptic functions, for military purposes. The entire government has drawn up strategies for exploiting quantum technology and allocated related funds in the supplementary budget for this fiscal year. But no expenses are related to the MOD due possibly to a “consideration” unique to the ministry, which is reluctant to convert civilian technologies for military use.
At the inaugural meeting of the new AUKUS military alliance between the U.S., UK, and Australia held in December last year, the three countries declared cooperation in quantum technology as well as in artificial intelligence (AI) and cyberwarfare capability. A senior MOD official said: “AUKUS mentioned ‘quantum.’ This concerns Japan, too. We have to consider what we can do with quantum.”
Some companies are about to put quantum technology to practical use. In January, NEC successfully conducted a demonstration project with the aim of using quantum cryptography communication in stock trading. In the same month, an expert committee of the government decided to revise the “Quantum Technology and Innovation Strategy” and the government allocated some 80 billion yen for quantum-related investment in this fiscal year’s budget, including the supplementary budget.
The U.S. requested about 100 billion yen for quantum-related investment in the fiscal 2022 budget, and China is spending about one trillion yen to establish a research center.
Quantum technology receives much attention not only because it will become an industrial infrastructure in the future but also because it is regarded as an important security technology. A report compiled by the Defense Science Board (DSB), an advisory body of the U.S. Department of Defense, in December 2019 cites quantum sensing, quantum computing, and quantum communications as areas that are expected to be applied to military activities.
Quantum computers will be able to process a large volume of complex information. Their processing speed will be fast enough to decipher public-key cryptography, which is now commonly used. But it is said quantum computers will not be developed until the 2030s.
Quantum computers will also be used for highly confidential communications, an area where China leads the pack. The country launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite in 2016 and successfully conducted an experiment to build a quantum communication network reaching 4,600 km in 2021. But quantum technology lacks stability, and there remain many obstacles to be overcome for military applications.
Quantum sensing is the closest to military applications. A supersensitive radar [using quantum sensing] is expected to drastically improve the information-gathering ability of submarines. The MOD expects that the improved capability to obtain underwater positional information will enable it to carry out such operations as reconnaissance, self-defense, and harassment of enemies by using multiple unmanned underwater vehicles.
The government is revising the National Security Strategy and two other strategic documents that serve as a foundation for the nation’s diplomatic and security policies with the aim of finalizing these by the end of the year. At the same time, the MOD is examining long-term strategies for investment in quantum technology. But the ministry did not include any quantum-related expenses in the budget for the next fiscal year.
A MOD representative says [quantum technology] is “still being improved by the private sector.” But a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker who is close to the ministry says: “[The MOD] is only getting cold feet because of the criticism that it is diverting [quantum technology] to military use. The ministry should actively invest [in quantum technology] to beef up deterrence capability.” It is possible that “quantum wars” will be the principal sort of wars in the future. Excessive consideration could be a life-or-death matter for Japan.