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In this short Reuters April 6, 2022 video LIVE: Australia PM Morrison holds news conference on AUKUS and in the official transcript Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said:

Now, of course, everyone knows the biggest part of that program was the nuclear powered submarines, and that's the first time that that technology has been made available by the United States to any other country since the United Kingdom had it in 1958. So this was the most significant defence agreement that Australia has entered into since ANZUS 70 years ago, and this enables us to keep ahead and stay ahead of the many challenges we're facing with security in our region.

Now the other things that are a part of AUKUS, even more significantly than in some respects, especially in the near-term, is the work we're doing on advanced defence technology. And here at Thales this is what they do. They are world leaders right here in Parramatta, in the sonar array technologies that they develop, not just for here in Australia, but all around the world. And that is a demonstration of Australia's defence industry capability. Now what we've announced overnight is that hypersonics and the various technologies that surround hypersonics are very much a part of what the AUKUS partnership is striving to deliver, not just in Australia but in the United States and the United Kingdom as well.

Working together, the best technologies, best defence industry, the best of our Defence Forces, ensuring that each of our capabilities is being realised and that goes along with artificial intelligence and quantum.

All of that is incredibly important for Australia's defence, but it's also an incredibly important part of our economic plan. Now our economic plan is about...

Question: What is "quantum" and why is it "incredibly important for Australia's defense", or for any advanced country's defense for that matter?

  • 1ANZUS = Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty "...a 1951 non-binding collective security agreement between Australia and New Zealand and, separately, Australia and the United States, to co-operate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region, although today the treaty is taken to relate to conflicts worldwide."

  • 2I've made a "quantum leap" assuming that Morrison's "quantum" refers to quantum computing. I'm pretty sure that's a reasonable premise but I felt I should flag it as there's no other occurrence of "quantum" nor any occurrence of "compu..." in the transcript.

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    I'd consider that the person meant quantum computing (which is extremely important for cryptography) but actually has no idea what quantum computing is.
    – jcollum
    Apr 7 at 15:40

5 Answers 5

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There isn't much detail available yet, but Morrison appears to be referring to 'quantum' as one of the advanced capabilities detailed in the joint leaders' statement back in September 2021, when the AUKUS partnership was announced:

Recognizing our deep defense ties, built over decades, today we also embark on further trilateral collaboration under AUKUS to enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability. These initial efforts will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.

The detail on the progress made is rather thin, but the new AUKUS joint statement details that a working group has been set up to work on the application of quantum technologies to defence:

Quantum technologies: The AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA) will accelerate investments to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities. It will have an initial focus on quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing. Together, we will integrate emerging quantum technologies in trials and experimentation over the next three years.

In terms of being 'incredibly important', then, Morrison seems to be referring to the importance of continuing to develop new technologies in general - rather than just relying on current capabilities. Indeed, the new joint statement stresses the importance of innovation:

Our work on innovation aims to accelerate our respective defence innovation enterprises and learn from one another, including ways to more rapidly integrate commercial technologies to solve warfighting needs.

Separately, in November 2021, Morrison announced that a "National Quantum Strategy" would be developed, and although that doesn't seem to have materialised just yet, he did go into details about the potential uses of such technologies:

Let me focus briefly on just one - quantum technologies - applying quantum physics to explore ways to acquire, transmit and process vast quantities of information.

Quantum science and technology has the potential to revolutionise a whole range of industries, including finance, communications, energy, health, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and mining.

Quantum sensors, for example, could improve the discovery of valuable ore deposits and make groundwater monitoring more efficient; and quantum communications could provide for secure exchange of information to better secure financial transactions.

Quantum technologies will also have defence applications, like enabling navigation in GPS denied environments and helping to protect us from advanced cyber attacks.

The Australian Government's Blueprint for Critical Technologies goes into even more detail:

The Government is acting to ensure that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) can continue to access the critical position, navigation and timing (PNT) information that it relies on for precision navigation and for sharing real-time operational and logistical information. Through research into the development, miniaturisation and maturation of quantum clocks, accelerometers, magnetometers and gravimeters, the ADF will have access to a reliable, affordable, resilient and secure PNT system that can be integrated with classical precision timing signals such as the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS). Fusing these systems would allow uninterrupted operation in challenging environments such as subterranean or dense urban settings, or in the face of jamming or deception of the GPS signal. The ADF’s critical reliance on PNT information is shared with the civilian and commercial sectors, who have integrated global navigation satellite systems information, such as GPS, into nearly all facets of life.

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Quantum here is a fancy word for modern electronics. Most computers and other electronic devices used nowadays are still classical (as opposed to quantum) in the sense that the size of the elements of the chips is sufficiently big to use usual circuit theory (in a more strict sense any semiconductor device can be called quantum, but such use of the term would be meaningless).

However, the miniaturization of electronic devices has reached its limits (saturation of Moore's law), in the sense that any further developments requires taking fully into account the quantum physics at nanoscale, which imposes completely different principles of design, modeling, production, etc.

While in research laboratories quantum devices are being studied already for a few decades, the transition to large scale industrial use is happening only now.

Remark: Although above I talked specifically about semiconductor electronics, the same applies to the devices (and potential novel devices) based on the use of quantum effects, e.g., using cold atoms or light/photons. However, the main idea remains the same - the technology hits the quantum limit (which is really not a limit, but new opportunities).

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  • Although I was wrong about it referring to quantum computing, CDJB's answer which cites several quotes about quantum including that it's likely to be "quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing. Vacuum tubes and specifically their cathode's thermionic emission is a quantum effect, so is the wavelength of the orange glow of the old neon light bulbs.
    – uhoh
    Apr 6 at 12:17
  • My comments under that answer link to a few questions about quantum mechanics-based gyroscopes and accelerometers that will be much better than current inertial navigations systems and are right in line with everything else there, so I disagree that Morrison is referring to conventional CMOS-based electronics that's been around in one form or another since at least the late 1960's.
    – uhoh
    Apr 6 at 12:21
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    @uhoh everything in the world is quantum. Which is why I define what quantum means specificaly in this context: I have seen many talks in physics conferences in the last two decades starting with the Moore's law as the motivation of why we need quantum modeling of nanodevices. Up to now they are just classical circuits - note it does not apply specifically to quantum computing, but any electronic device. Apr 6 at 12:21
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    @uhoh Perhaps, I was a bit restrictive talking about semiconductor electronics only since many interesting things are also done with cold atoms and light. But the idea remains the same - the technology hits the quantum limit. Apr 6 at 12:23
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    @uhoh there are many applications of quantum effects beyond quantum computing. Gyroscopes using cold atoms/bose-einstein condensates have been experimented with, as they are rather similar in spirit to the optical fiber gyroscopes, but have potential for being more precise. Apr 6 at 12:43
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"Quantum" in this context is not a well defined term, but refers broadly to technologies that depend upon the manipulation and control of quantum states ("state" here refers to physical states and is unrelated to political states!). Some quantum technologies are, relatively, old, whereas others have not yet progressed beyond a conceptual stage. A further discussion of quantum technologies per se is probably better suited to Physics.se, or indeed, QuantumComputing.se.

Whether or not quantum technologies will be useful, and how specifically they might be applied, in a military context remains a subject of much discussion. This is partly because many quantum technologies are very new, but also because the potential scope of quantum technologies appears to be so large that it is difficult to anticipate exactly how and where they will have an impact. There is, I think, an analogy here with the electronics "revolution" of the 1950s and 60s, and the information revolution of the 80s and 90s (you may disagree with the exact time frames of these developments, but the fact that they took place is widely recognised). At that time too, it was difficult to know quite how these new technologies would impact military technology and doctrine, but that they did so is not really debated. Naturally, many countries are anxious to be at the forefront of the development of quantum technologies for military applications, so that a, potentially fatal, gap does not open up between their own capabilities and that of their (potential) adversaries.

If you would like to know more about military applications of quantum technologies, a fairly thorough overview, suitable for lay audiences, can be found here. To save the casual reader from the hassle of following the link, here is the author's view on the three main domains in which quantum technologies may prove useful in a military context:

• Quantum Computing and Simulations
– Quantum Computers (digital and analogue quantum computers and their applications, such as quantum system simulation, quantum optimisation, ...)
– Quantum Simulators (non-programmable quantum circuits)

• Quantum Communication and Cryptography
– Quantum Network and Communication (quantum network elements, quantum key distribution, quantum communication)
– Post-Quantum Cryptography (quantum-resilient algorithms, quantum random number generator)

• Quantum Sensing and Metrology
– Quantum Sensing (quantum magnetometers, gravimeters, ...)
– Quantum Timing (precise time measurement and distribution)
– Quantum Imaging (quantum radar, low-SNR imaging, ...)

My own, rather glib, summary of these three domains would be that they consist of:
- Designing better weapons.
- Ensuring adversaries cannot listen to your communications, while being able to listen to theirs.
- Learning more about the battlefield, e.g. where you are, and where the enemy is.

As a final, perhaps rather facetious, remark, I will say that, in my view, many people who speak with great enthusiasm about "quantum" and all the things it will do have approximately zero idea what they are talking about. In this sense, it has become something of a catchall buzzword for "advanced" technologies.

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With regard specifically to Quantum Computing (I don't know much about "quantum" as that word relates to other fields), the basic premise is that a lot of modern internet security is based on algorithms that are "not solvable". By this, what I mean is that it will take a longer amount of time for someone to break your Gmail password than it will for all the data contained in whatever emails you are storing to become irrelevant (I've used a micro example here but this also holds true on a macro scale). However, the algorithms used, in many cases, which guarantee this level of security do not do so against a technology known as a "quantum computer". I've done a bit of studying about quantum computing and it is VERY DIFFICULT, but here's the basic premise (and I'm brushing a lot under the rug when I say this so I hope that people actually knowledgeable in quantum computing don't jump on my head, as I'm not an expert myself):

Traditionally, the only way to break a password using modern encryption is by iteratively trying all possible passwords, one by one, until you find the right one. This is why longer passwords tend to be more secure. Given a 62-character charset (A-Za-z0-9), there are 62^k possible choices for a password of length k. As you can guess, for even small values of k, like, say, 10, that number is EXTREMELY LARGE. In perspective, if you could try 1 password every nanosecond (10^-9 of a second), it would take roughly 26 years to break a password of length 10, even if you know beforehand that the password is of length exactly 10 and that it is alphanumeric; if you don't know the password length and you include special characters that number blows up even more.

The thing about quantum computers is that quantum technology allows you infinite parallelism. What this means is that you can try every possible password, all at the same time. So it takes you as much time to try 62^10 passwords as it does to try 1 password. Obviously, this means everything we know about computer security goes to shit. That's why quantum computing is a big deal.

Now, this isn't the end of the story; the above statement isn't true for every encryption algorithm, and there are quantum-resistant algorithms, and some of them are being used in the wild today. That said, a lot of encryption is being done using algorithms which are not quantum-resistant, so quantum computing being a real thing will break a lot of things, and it's important for any computer-reliant economy to be aware of and prepare for that.

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    Yes, that's the "ideal" of quantum computing: doing lots-and-lots of things all at once. But capturing the one-out-of-a-zillion interesting outcomes is a highly, highly non-trivial task. Not to mention that making a real, physical, functioning "quantum computer" is still essentially impossible by any means publicly known (and there is substantial math-phys proving that several difficulties are present). But, again, yes, the idea of trying lots of passwords "simultaneously" hints at the reality (but/and, again, how to capture the one success out of an ocean of failures? :) Apr 7 at 2:50
  • @paulgarrett As I said, I have studied quantum computing a little bit. A very little bit, but enough to know the following: The algorithm that allows you to test infinitely many passwords at the same time also spits out the correct one. It's been a long time since I studied it, and even at the time I didn't understand it very well, but it has something to do with quantum entanglement.
    – Ertai87
    Apr 7 at 4:15
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With the recent ascendancy of China globally and particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia has become increasingly security conscious. Especially given the new security arrangements between Solomon Islands and China.

In 2016 China tested a hack-proof quantum satellite communications system and again in 2020. This alarmed both Australia and the United States.

By wanting to develop quantum technologies, with respect to some aspects of military technology, Australia is wanting to "keep up with the Joneses" encroaching in its back yard.

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