Quantum Technology in the Air Force

While the nature of warfare remains constant‭, ‬military strategies continue to evolve‭, ‬particularly in response to the immense capabilities offered by new technologies‭. ‬One of the most significant advancements today is quantum technology‭, ‬capable of making‭ ‬significant breakthroughs across various fields of warfare‭. ‬This has led to a sustained race for acquisition and control among many nations‭.‬

General Mark Milley‭, ‬Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff‭, ‬emphasized that the most significant changes in warfare in the coming decades could arise from the rapid growth in artificial intelligence and quantum computing‭. ‬He noted that the convergence of these technologies alone would bring about a massive change in the nature of warfare‭. ‬To ensure the continuation of its deterrent‭ ‬strength and sovereignty‭, ‬the United States must remain the most advanced in this field‭. ‬While the appetite of major powers for‭ ‬quantum technologies is increasing‭, ‬and technological progress in this field in the coming years is becoming tangible and inevitable‭, ‬we are still far from what is now being referred to as‭ “‬quantum warfare‭.” ‬Experts agree that quantum technologies will provide strategic speed‭, ‬tactical advantage‭, ‬and deep battlefield knowledge‭, ‬allowing armies to be faster and more informed in the‭ ‬complex environment of modern warfare‭. ‬This capability significantly enhances their ability to overcome the prevalent‭ “‬uncertainty‭” ‬in today’s world‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬it is no surprise that major powers are heavily investing in quantum technology‭. ‬Currently‭, ‬the United States and China lead this race‭, ‬with European countries like France also investing more than ever before‭. ‬For example‭,‬‭ ‬France recently signed an agreement between the Directorate General of Armament and five startups to develop two quantum computers under the PROQCIMA project‭, ‬with an allocated budget of 500‭ ‬million euros over ten years‭. ‬Key Applications of Quantum Technology in the Aerospace Sector‭:‬

Enhancing Operational Connectivity‭:‬

Warfare domains like land‭, ‬air‭, ‬and sea‭, ‬as well as space and cyberspace‭, ‬are undoubtedly influenced by quantum technologies‭. ‬Particularly‭, ‬fields like encryption‭, ‬command and control‭, ‬and Intelligence‭, ‬Surveillance‭, ‬Target Acquisition‭, ‬and Reconnaissance‭ ‬‭(‬ISTAR‭) ‬have been significantly impacted‭.  ‬Modern armies can no longer afford to overlook the seamless integration of various battlefield functions‭. ‬This integration assists combat forces in deploying sensors and managing the collected information‭.‬

Improving Situational Awareness and Decision-Making‭:‬

‭ ‬Quantum technologies promise to enhance‭ “‬situational‭” ‬or‭ “‬contextual‭” ‬awareness on the battlefield and encryption in cyber warfare‭. ‬Quantum technology will provide clear operational advantages through extremely fast and highly effective attack vectors‭, ‬both in asymmetric and symmetric encryption‭, ‬thanks to unparalleled computational power‭. ‬In essence‭, ‬a quantum computer can test 70‭ ‬billion possibilities in one day‭. ‬Quantum computers are expected to play a significant role in Command and Control‭ (‬C2‭) ‬systems‭, ‬focusing on analyzing and providing situational awareness‭, ‬aiding in planning and monitoring‭, ‬including simulating various potential scenarios‭, ‬to ensure optimal conditions for decision-making‭. ‬Quantum computers can also improve and accelerate scenario‭ ‬simulation processes or process and analyze massive ISR‭ (‬Intelligence‭, ‬Surveillance‭, ‬Reconnaissance‭) ‬data to enhance situational‭ ‬awareness‭. ‬Without exaggeration‭, ‬we can envision a command and operations monitoring centre becoming omniscient on the battlefield‭, ‬freeing itself from the‭ “‬fog of war‭” ‬or uncertainty‭. ‬Quantum technology is approaching breakthroughs in operational improvement concerning Positioning‭, ‬Navigation‭, ‬and Timing‭ (‬PNT‭) ‬for achieving more powerful and accurate strikes‭.‬

Enhancing Aircraft Design and Development‭:‬

Quantum technologies will play a crucial role in expediting and streamlining the design cycles of airforce-specific devices by accelerating the resolution of industry-related challenges‭. ‬This will positively impact diverse areas such as missile aerodynamics‭, ‬fighter jets‭, ‬and aircraft payload enhancements‭.‬

Enhancing Supply Chains in the Air Force Sector‭ (‬Quantum Logistics‭):‬

Traditional computers can only efficiently handle a limited number of variables simultaneously‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬logistics services tailored to the needs of the Air Force represent a challenge to the capabilities of traditional computers‭. ‬Additionally‭, ‬expectations regarding supply chains provided by traditional computers are mere assumptions closer to chaotic guesswork compared to what‭ ‬quantum computers can offer‭. ‬In 2019‭, ‬DARPA‭ (‬Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‭), ‬a branch of the US Department of Defense‭, ‬highlighted that the application of quantum technology could significantly improve planning‭, ‬guidance‭, ‬and supply chain management in challenging environments lacking infrastructure‭. ‬In this logistical context‭, ‬quantum computing will play a crucial role‭ ‬in organizing real-time material delivery‭. ‬Since quantum technology will enhance artificial intelligence capabilities in processing massive amounts of data instantly‭, ‬it will allow‭, ‬for example‭, ‬unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver spare parts or ammunition to units engaged in combat with the enemy more effectively than current solutions such as utilizing robots‭.‬

Recently‭, ‬the US Air Force announced its first contract for quantum computing programs in military logistical services‭. ‬It recently signed its first contract for quantum computing programs with Quantum Research Sciences‭, ‬receiving‭ $‬2.5‭ ‬million to build and‭ ‬support quantum computing programs capable of managing global logistical services for the US Air Force‭. ‬This represents a new era in US military aviation logistical services‭. ‬Ethan Kremins‭, ‬the company’s CEO‭, ‬stated that the company used quantum computing‭ ‬to accurately determine optimal inventory levels‭, ‬including intermittent or infrequent demand parts‭.‬

The majority of global inventory‭, ‬whether in the military or private industry‭, ‬is on shelves because predicting user demand is not easy‭. ‬The Air Force believes that much of its inventory cannot be predicted‭, ‬resulting in either too many or too few parts in‭ ‬the supply chain‭. ‬Studies show that QRS’s quantum computer program contracted for use by the US Air Force for three years achieves a 28%‭ ‬improvement compared to classical computers in the supply field alone‭. ‬The program not only determines the number of items that should be in inventory but also answers three main questions‭: ‬how many items are needed when they are needed‭, ‬and how‭ ‬they will reach their destination‭.‬

Communication Revolution‭:‬

The operation of quantum communication or detection systems relies on quantum entanglement‭ (‬The result of the division of photons that remain connected due to their quantum properties‭, ‬despite distances‭). ‬China launched Micius or Mozi‭, ‬the first quantum transmission platform‭, ‬into orbit‭, ‬ensuring an unprecedented level of communication security‭. ‬Launched in 2016‭, ‬the satellite-enabled transmission over 7400‭ ‬kilometres between Beijing and Vienna in 2017‭ ‬by distributing encryption keys‭. ‬In 2020‭, ‬Micius transmitted entangled photon streams between two stations 1200‭ ‬kilometres apart‭, ‬effectively serving as a secure‭, ‬hack-proof communication satellite‭. ‬China plans to have 20‭ ‬satellites of this kind‭, ‬thereby establishing the first quantum communication network‭.‬

‬Revolution in Detection and Monitoring‭:‬

The principle of quantum entanglement can be utilised in detection and monitoring systems‭. ‬After division‭, ‬photons transmitted by microwave waves in the atmosphere can act as‭ “‬ping‭” ‬for sonar or radar wave functions for detection‭, ‬scanning‭, ‬and radar monitoring operations‭, ‬at least within a range of 100‭ ‬kilometres in the atmosphere‭. ‬It is said that China was conducting experiments‭ ‬for radar detection at a distance of 1000‭ ‬kilometres in 2016‭. ‬Quantum techniques are also used on a short range in miniature RF‭ ‬receiving antennas and three-dimensional imaging systems‭. ‬These can be useful for mapping underground facilities and allowing detection and monitoring in challenging environments‭: ‬foggy weather‭, ‬muddy areas‭, ‬and jungles‭. ‬Aircraft antennas‭, ‬computers‭, ‬and communication systems onboard aircraft will be the first to benefit from these revolutionary technologies‭, ‬enhancing their flexibility and accuracy‭. ‬Quantum sensors have two main advantages‭: ‬they are extremely small and highly sensitive‭, ‬making them extremely accurate‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬it will be possible to miniaturise some equipment while improving performance‭. ‬For example‭, ‬this will be‭ ‬the case for satellite antennas on aircraft‭. ‬The quantum antenna’s surface area will be as small as one square centimetre‭, ‬yet‭ ‬it will be capable of capturing a wide range of frequencies‭, ‬including very low frequencies‭, ‬which traditionally require larger‭ ‬antenna dimensions‭. ‬This will enable their integration into the aircraft’s body and ultimately deploy them onboard small unmanned aircraft‭.‬

‬Providing Independent Navigation Systems Beyond GPS‭:‬

Today‭, ‬the aircraft’s path is measured using optical gyroscopes‭, ‬enabling the aircraft’s inertial navigation unit to determine its position in its environment‭. ‬However‭, ‬these systems accumulate inaccuracies as the flight progresses‭, ‬but this deviation does‭ ‬not pose a problem in practical practice because the system also uses data from satellite navigation and navigation systems such as the Global Positioning System‭ (‬GPS‭) ‬or Galileo‭. ‬However‭, ‬if the GPS signal is jammed‭, ‬this could be a significant problem‭, ‬especially for military aircraft operating in theatres of operations‭. ‬Quantum technologies provide a solution to ensure highly accurate positioning without the need for the Global Positioning System‭ (‬GPS‭). ‬The idea is to replace the mechanical and optical‭ ‬elements of current inertial navigation units with quantum devices based on cold atoms‭, ‬close to absolute zero‭ (-‬273‭ ‬degrees‭). ‬This improves the accuracy of traditional inertial navigation units by a factor of 100‭, ‬providing accuracy equivalent to that of‭ ‬the Global Positioning System‭ (‬GPS‭).‬

This innovation paves the way for the development of a navigation system entirely independent of the Global Positioning System‭ (‬GPS‭) ‬or Galileo‭, ‬which can be integrated into both traditional military aircraft and unmanned aircraft‭. ‬

Moreover‭, ‬the future Franco-German-Spanish air combat program‭ (‬Scaf‭) ‬will benefit from this‭.‬


Quantum technology has become increasingly important in the context of the resurgence of warfare in Europe and the interconnected and complex international tensions‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬countries are engaged in a race for quantum superiority‭, ‬fearing the loss of their military advantage‭. ‬It is expected that the global military quantum technology market will continue to grow‭, ‬reaching‭ $‬184.6‭ ‬million by the end of 2024‭, ‬and over‭ $‬2‭ ‬billion by 2035‭. ‬While the annual growth rate for the period 2024-2035‭ ‬is expected to be 25.57%‭. ‬Future quantum capabilities will not be possible without what is called the‭ “‬second quantum revolution‭,” ‬which promises to redefine computing‭, ‬security‭, ‬and other fields‭. ‬This second revolution can be compared to the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century‭. ‬It relies on the ability to isolate and control quantum bodies‭, ‬as well as providing ultra-secure communications and extremely sensitive detectors that enable unparalleled precision measurements‭. ‬The second revolution would also‭ ‬provide extraordinary capabilities for solving complex problems and open up many new horizons in warfare‭. ‬After decades of uneven conflicts‭, ‬and in the context of the return to intense warfare following the Russo-Ukrainian War‭, ‬some countries are funding‭ ‬the development of disruptive quantum technologies‭. ‬Moreover‭, ‬the risk of hostile intelligence agencies collecting encrypted data for later decryption‭ (‬collect now‭, ‬decrypt later‭) ‬using a quantum computer poses a credible threat‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬experts believe‭ ‬that achieving post-quantum encryption should be done as soon as possible‭.‬

The French National Cybersecurity Agency‭ (‬ANSSI‭) ‬warns of quantum cyber-attacks threatening the European Union‭, ‬emphasizing the‭ ‬urgent need to develop migration plans for post-quantum encryption now and make the right technological choices before it’s too‭ ‬late‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬armies‭, ‬and at their heart the air forces‭, ‬must affirm their quantum strategy to ensure their sovereignty in this complex and interconnected world‭, ‬or risk falling behind and wandering in the‭ “‬fog of war‭” (‬Nebel des Krieges‭), ‬a state of uncertainty and ambiguity faced by participants in military operations‭, ‬especially regarding the adversary’s capabilities and intentions during combat or military operations‭, ‬making them entirely at the mercy of their opponents‭.‬

‮«‬ By:Dr Wael Saleh‭

(‬Expert at Trends Research and Advisory Centre‭)‬

Al Jundi

Please use portrait mode to get the best view.