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What Quantum Means for Aerospace Defence
December 7, 2020 Blog


Authored by: Nancy Friedrich, Industry Solutions Manager, Aerospace & Defense, Keysight Technologies 

Once a focus of sci-fi dreamers, quantum technologies are now being targeted for their potential in real-world applications outside of R&D. Aerospace defence is one industry that stands to be greatly altered by quantum technologies. The advantages of quantum technologies range from better encryption and decryption for secured communications through improved detection of threats – either in code or by air, land, or sea. To prepare to leverage quantum in aerospace defense applications, it is best to gain an understanding of the current state of quantum technologies.

According to the Keysight University course, “Impact of Quantum Technologies on Aerospace Defense,” three main quantum technologies are being researched today:

  • Quantum communications – the building of secure data pipelines through quantum cryptographic key distribution
  • Quantum computing – data encryption including optimisation of computational algorithms for modelling systems as well as big data and artificial intelligence
  • Quantum sensing – extreme sensitivity for applications in terms of precision, timing, and navigation through methods like electromagnetic sensing

To understand quantum computing, it is essential to understand qubits. Classical computers perform tasks with billions of deterministic transistors, measured in 0s or 1s. For a quantum computer, information is defined by qubits. It scales exponentially, whereas classic systems scale linearly. Qubits are notable for their property of entanglement, which leads qubits to react to changes in other states instantaneously, over any distance. By measuring just one entangled qubit, you can deduce the properties of its partner as well.

Qubits are limited by quantum decoherence, which is the loss of information from the quantum system to the environment. Essentially, it places the qubit in an uncontrolled quantum state. It arises from imperfections in qubits, uncontrolled interactions with the environment, or errors in classical control. To avoid decoherence, you can increase system isolation from environmental defects, engineer control hardware and cabling for better qubit lifetime, and improve qubit materials. Preventing decoherence is critical to the realisation of quantum computers.

This is just a small example of the immense knowledge to be gained around quantum technologies. In a world where spectrum dominance and technological superiority determine the winning side, aerospace defence agencies worldwide are prioritising quantum for the vast improvements it will deliver.

In recent years, most economic powers have ramped up their quantum investment, with China and the US investing billions. Japan, Germany, The Netherlands, India, and others also are investing more in quantum research, looking to speed development efforts. They recognise the advantages offered by quantum computing, sensing, and communications.