Israel joins the race to become a quantum superpower

China and the US have made substantial investments and advancements in some area of quantum research.

Prof. Nadav Katz with a low temperature setup for testing superconducting detectors at the Hebrew University's Quantum Information Science Center (photo credit: YITZ WOOLF FOR HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
Prof. Nadav Katz with a low temperature setup for testing superconducting detectors at the Hebrew University's Quantum Information Science Center
Israel is aiming to ensure its military superiority with an investment in quantum technology.
The Defense Ministry announced a NIS 100 million investment in an innovative research fund focused on quantum computing. 
The money is being provided equally from the ministry and the Council for Higher Education.
First announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May, the project is a collaboration between the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT), the Higher Education Committee and the Israel Science Foundation, and will help enhance Israel’s intelligence gathering capacity.
“I welcome the establishment of the innovative research fund, which will continue to place Israel at the top of global technology and research,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. “From the cyber power to the quantum superpower, we will continue to lead significant breakthroughs for the State of Israel.”
A quantum computer works with particles that can be in superposition – two or more quantum states added together to become another one. Rather than representing bits, such particles would represent qubits, which can take on the value 0, or 1, or both simultaneously. This allows these computers to solve problems that current computers cannot, and could have important defense applications, such as allowing the military to break complex encryption and cryptographic codes used to protect military secrets.
“If you have a quantum computer, you could decipher encrypted messages,” Dr. Liat Maoz, a strategic consultant working with Israel’s Council for Higher Education, told The Jerusalem Post. “Most encryptions are very, very hard to decipher, but quantum computers would be able to decipher them much quicker.”
She said quantum communications would also allow for a completely secure communications line.
Anyone who tries to eavesdrop on a call that is on a quantum communication line would be immediately discovered,” Maoz said.
Israel is not the first country to enter the quantum technology race.
“The global race is already underway and various countries are investing huge sums in developing the field – and if we do not run forward, the State of Israel will be left behind,” said Prof. Yaffa Zilbershatz, chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee.
China and the US have made substantial investments and advancements in some area of quantum research.
Last year, China announced that it would be building the world’s largest quantum research facility in the Hefei province. Costing over $10 billion, the 370,000 sq.m. laboratory is expected to be completed by 2020 and will see Chinese scientists work toward major advances in quantum technology in areas including computers, sensors and cryptography.
In the United States, the National Quantum Initiative Act proposes spending some $1.275 billion over five years to support research and development in the field, a substantial increase from the $200 million that the US has been spending on the topic until now.
Tamir Libel, a former research fellow at Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, told the Post that the quantum race is one of “status or prestige between the major powers.
If China invests a lot in exotic and emerging technology, that may have major implications for security – and the US, Europe and Israel cannot stay behind.”
He compared the quantum technology race to the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, which was considered important because it showed the world which country had the best science, technology and economic systems.
“If China is moving forward, then none of the military leaders in the world can stay behind when it comes to military research and development,” Libel said.
He added that if one considers the investment made by the National Security Agency in collecting and encrypting certain types of technologies over the last 20 years, quantum computing would be a major benefit.
Furthermore, it could significantly contribute to challenges of highly secure encryption for communication satellites. He explained that when operating in regions protected by GPS jammers, Scud missiles, for example, cannot receive GPS signals, precluding accurate timing for these missiles.
“Quantum computing could be used as an alternative method for synchronizing between systems,” said Libel. “Instead of relying on GPS signals for Scud or atomic missiles, you could use quantum computing to find accurate timing for the navigation system.”
According to a release by the Defense Ministry, Israel’s NIS 100 million has been allocated to the fund over five years.
“The aim of the program is to support outstanding research groups at Israeli universities that will engage in research and development in the field of science and quantum technology,” the statement read.
Some NIS 75 million will be used to award significant grants to researchers to finance research and purchase or upgrade equipment required for the research. The remainder of the amount will be directed to the development of the field according to the considerations of the Ministry’s Research and Development department.
MAFAT head Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Danny Gold said on Sunday that “Israel knows how to provide creative solutions to the complex challenges facing the defense establishment.
“Israel, which has become a superpower in cyberspace, is looking at quantum as a strategic goal to become a major player in the global market,” he said.