HELSINKI — Nordic defense companies could have a greater share of the world’s quantum computing pie, as regional players Sweden and Finland each aim to advance their capabilities using the disruptive technology.
Under the purview of the Chalmers University of Technology, or CUT, Sweden wants to use quantum technology to improve the performance of radar systems. In Finland, the state-funded organization VTT Research wants to bolster the processing capability of an existing quantum computer
“There are many reasons why the defense industry might want to monitor, if not engage with, the quantum computer projects running in Sweden and Finland. It is generally recognized in defense quarters — and increasingly by governments, too — that while quantum science is a positive, its disruptive nature will bring challenges and a certain degree of threat,” Lars Sundström, an independent computer industry analyst based in Stockholm, told Defense News.
The challenge for cybersecurity specialists, Sundström said, is to build solutions based on quantum technology that offer a superior level of protection to critical IT networks and infrastructure. “The big defense and cybersecurity players in the Nordic region are already connected in some way, and indirectly to the quantum projects in Finland and Sweden. Saab is probably the most well-known name in the mix,” Sundström added.
Saab is an “industrial partner” to the Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology, a co-partner with CUT in the quantum computer project. Saab is currently running several PhD-level projects at the center aimed at developing new applications for the defense industry, the most high-profile of which is for a quantum-enhanced noise radar. Researchers are investigating whether entanglement between generated photons can improve the performance of radar systems.
In a significant move, CUT has decided to produce a copy of its quantum computer — the school currently has a 25-quantum bit system — that would be available to companies operating in the country’s IT, defense and engineering industries within eight to 12 months.
For its part, Finland currently has a 5-qubit computer, but VTT Research plans to have a 20-qubit version operational by year’s end. It’s slated for an upgrade to 50 qubits in 2024 — a level that can more capably demonstrate the quantum advantage to solving individual problems.
But to solve industrially relevant computational problems, the computing power must rise to 100 to 300 qubits, said Pekka Pursula, a research manager at VTT.
“When the number of qubits increases from 50 to 100, the computing power of a quantum computer does not double — it grows exponentially. This will enable companies to use quantum computing for industrial applications and achieve the quantum advantage,” Pursula told Defense News.
Quantum technology is developing rapidly and will become key in the areas of energy, defense and finance, according to Per Delsing, a professor of experimental physics at Chalmers who leads the quantum computer project at WACQT.
“We are now starting to get the tools to be able to control quantum systems and thereby exploit inherent quantum physical phenomena,” Delsing said. “The time is ripe to start using these commercially and in society. A national strategy and funding plan is needed in Sweden to coordinate all aspects of the development.”
Broadening investor interest in quantum computer technology was among the primary reasons management at CUT decided to produce a copy for selective release. The university-run project requires a deep funding pool, Delsing noted, and the school is seeking capital investments for related education and innovation specifically to build a 25-qubit computer. The organization hopes to finish building the system by the end of the year. The goal is to scale it up to 40 qubits, and then 100 qubits.
“In order to be able to do things that a classical computer cannot, such as super-fast optimization of complicated logistics problems, you need to reach more than 50 to 60 quantum bits,” Delsing said.
The CUT and WACQT quantum computer effort is currently working off a $132 million grant that covers a project development period of 2018-2029. The grant includes contributions from Swedish industry, universities and the private Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
A proposed route
Five organizations released a report in March, titled “A Swedish Quantum Agenda,” calling for a Swedish national strategy for quantum technology.
The document maps out how to deliver long-term financial support for related research, said Darja Isaksson, director general at the innovation funding agency Vinnova, one of the organizations that authored the report. The others are RISE, a research and innovation institute; Swelife, a life science-focused funding agency; the Swedish Research Council, the country’s largest governmental research funding body; and WACQT.
“Quantum technology has enormous potential in areas such as energy efficiency, defense and security, and health. Sweden is at an advanced stage in research. In order for Sweden to maintain its long-term competitiveness in quantum technology, we need to build a national ecosystem for innovation and commercialization of the technology,” Isaksson said.
The report identifies logistics planning, organizational realignment, product development and the creation of solutions for airspace security issues as ideal problem-solving areas for quantum computing to tackle.
The report concludes that Sweden’s defense and national security sectors could harvest real value from four subfields — quantum computers, quantum simulators, quantum communication and quantum sensors — by using spinoff disruptive technologies to both create new and improve existing applications.
On cybersecurity, the report notes that encryption algorithms currently “rely on the inefficiency of classical computers to solve the functions required to decrypt the secure data. While they are astronomically hard to solve in classical implementations, a quantum computer equipped with the right algorithm can break the encryption with relative ease.”
The advance of quantum computers, the report states, has motivated multiple European initiatives to quickly assemble quantum cryptographic communication channels where fiber-optic networks can be used to securely communicate sensitive information between and inside of national borders.
“Additionally, satellite networks can be put in place to connect local fiber networks to the global web — something that requires considerable national effort to initiate,” the report notes.
“Sweden should actively develop international collaboration in the quantum technology field while also developing cooperation with ambitions on Nordic, European, as well as global levels. The Nordic countries, in particular Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have a strong research tradition in quantum technology,” the report recommends in its conclusion. “Together the Nordic countries become a strong international player.”