Top defense official tells ‘Post’ how Israel confronts quantum age

Quantum computers are built differently, using different materials, operate differently and, once at full speed, will achieve results that put today’s computers to shame.

A handout picture from October 2019 shows a component of Google's Quantum Computer in the Santa Barbara lab, California, US. (photo credit: GOOGLE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A handout picture from October 2019 shows a component of Google's Quantum Computer in the Santa Barbara lab, California, US.
(photo credit: GOOGLE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
It may have started slow, but Israel is now barreling ahead at full speed to confront the challenges and opportunities of the quantum computing age which is just over the horizon.
Head of quantum research in the Defense Ministry Directorate for Defense Research and Development Tal David told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview that NIS 1.25 billion was approved this summer and that a huge volume of quantum technology projects are moving forward despite the government budget standoff.
Head of quantum research in the Defense Ministry Defense Research and Development Tal David. (Photo credit: Ofir Rachbuch)Head of quantum research in the Defense Ministry Defense Research and Development Tal David. (Photo credit: Ofir Rachbuch)
This is a huge jump from the NIS 100 million which was announced in December 2018, which was itself a leap forward after Israel spent years watching the US, China and others speed ahead in this race which will redefine most areas of life in the coming decades.
Quantum computers are built differently, using different materials, operate differently and, once at full speed, will achieve results that put today’s computers to shame.
A major area which will be transformed is the military arena.
Major US defense reports in 2018 and 2019 cited implications not only for cracking enemy communications and better protecting internal communications, but also for everything from tracking the F-35 stealth aircraft to nuclear-powered submarines.
Without addressing specifics, David said, “it is clear also why it [quantum technology] is relevant in the military arena” and why it would be important, “to get capabilities which the enemy doesn’t have.”
David said that a large piece of quantum’s defense applications would be with classified censors.
He discussed, for the sake of a theoretical example, how it could impact new developing laser technologies, including the ability to “teach” a laser’s systems “to be more exact. It is also clear why our enemy would want to be more exact,” hinting at the implications for a variety of detection and targeting issues.
More broadly he made it clear that quantum technology was superior at nearly every level to existing computer technologies in terms of its characteristics, components, systems and potential.
Also, he noted that the US has “invested in quantum for navigation, detection, precise timing and cryptography – it is clear why this matters in the military arena.”
Regarding China, he said that it has the largest land quantum communications network in the world and the most advanced satellite applications of quantum technology to date.
Though currently, he said that China’s satellite quantum technology was academic, David also made it clear that even within only a few years quantum satellite technology would be able to have significant real-world impacts in a variety of sectors.
Because of that, the senior defense ministry official said that 10 countries are trying to send up their own quantum satellites for more practical uses.
This includes, “the US, Canada, European countries, South Korea, Japan and Singapore. Lots of encryption which exists today is vulnerable,” he said, noting that in a short time there would be improved algorithms and methods of encryption which will be much harder to crack.
Moving on to the general quantum technology race, he called it a big challenge, noting that, “our group and human capital is very good. It is young, but has stellar talent and we have a plan to push to grow this group for future years.”
“There are research funds for science generally and directly for 10 research projects... Half of the projects are in quantum computing and the other five are for materials, sensors and communications,” he said.
There was just recently a call for aspiring quantum experts to propose new projects leading into January 2021. It is posted on the Israel Science Foundation website, with an offering of around NIS 300,000-400,000 grant money per project for the first year.
Also, David said, “we are funding eight people this year and every year we will fund eight more in their doctoral and postdoctoral work. We will work with them to update their research plan [so it stays connected to practical applications] and increase interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary uses. Now there is also a field of quantum engineering. This didn’t even exist before.”
Next, the country is building physical facilities, investing in academics and developing international networking relating to quantum technology.
Some joint funds and projects which David mentioned include Israel with India, with the US, Singapore “and two months ago was a first cooperative meeting with Denmark which could become significant next year.”
THOUGH ISRAEL continues a general trend of a strong business relationship with China, it has reduced some business in the technological arena due to US-China rivalries and national security concerns.
David treaded carefully staying away from that general issue and merely saying that he was not familiar with any current government quantum projects with Beijing. At the same time, he said that the Technion was working with China in certain quantum areas.
He said that Israel had around 25 groups in industry working on quantum technology.
Even as most of the industry groups are working on quantum sensor technology, he said there was also investment in quantum encryption and communications and an influx of new interest in actual quantum computing in recent years.
David said Israel could eventually get on the map even with quantum computing itself (traditionally dominated by the US and China) with new projects working on controlling the “qubits” themselves, one of many new technologies at the heart of the new age in computing.
He said that, “it is not a foregone conclusion that during the current economic crisis, the government would still understand the importance” of advancing quantum technology and approve most of the new budget.
Part of the hope is that the quantum sector “will help the Israeli economy and create jobs.”
It is very important, David said, that “Israel’s heritage is to be a leader in information and communications, then cyber and artificial intelligence, so quantum is a natural progression and Israel needs to guard its leadership.”
He hopes Israel can jump on new areas like quantum engineering as “the world is moving fast.”
David gave credit for the jump in quantum developments to Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairperson of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council of Higher Education, Brig.-Gen. (res) Dr. Daniel Gold, Defense Ministry director of the Directorate for defense R&D, Dr. Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority and chief scientist in the Economics Ministry, Shai-Lee Spigelman, the general manager of the Science and Technology Ministry and Finance Ministry Deputy Director of the Budgets Directorate Asaf Waserzog.