Quantum pursuits reveal emerging competition with PRC

Quantum pursuits reveal emerging competition with PRC

Felix Kim

Developers in Japan and South Korea are pursuing quantum computing technology for use in advanced defense applications.

These pursuits are accelerating as defense planners monitor Beijing, where quantum technology is a top priority of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) five-year research and development budget, which grew by 7% in 2021, Japan’s Nikkei Asia news magazine reported. With a 12% share of global quantum computing patents filed by the leading 100 companies in the field, the PRC lags Japan at 14% and the United States at 43%, statistics portal Statista reported October 19, 2021.

A group of Japanese scientists in December 2021 announced a significant step toward creating a quantum computer that uses photons, or light particles, which don’t require the ultracold environment needed to cool conventional high-powered computers, Nikkei Asia reported. The team, which includes scientists from Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and the RIKEN research institute, plan to build a photon-based quantum computer by 2030.

The Japanese government is committed to indigenous development of quantum computing technology, having pledged in 2019 to invest U.S. $270 million over 10 years, beginning in 2020.

A consortium involving the University of Tokyo and U.S.-based IBM, along with leading Japanese technology firms and financial institutions, has built Japan’s most powerful quantum computer. The machine became operational in late July 2021 and is the first commercially accessible device of its kind in Japan, according to an IBM news release. (Pictured: Interns at IBM inspect quantum computing hardware.)

The IBM Quantum System One uses quantum bits or “qubits” to process data, enabling it to solve problems many times faster than conventional computers.

South Korean defense firm LIG Nex1 has been collaborating since early 2021 with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology to secure defense capabilities based on quantum technology, reported Seoul’s Aju Business Daily newspaper. Quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum imaging are  part of the joint research.

The collaboration could have far-reaching security implications ranging from highly secure communications to improved detection of aircraft and submarines, the newspaper added, because quantum computing allows for the rapid processing of large-scale battlefield data and increases the accuracy and reliability of surveillance reconnaissance systems.

The Quantum Information Research Support Center of South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) is partnering with IonQ, a leading U.S. quantum computing firm, SKKU reported.

Through the partnership, signed in January 2021, South Korean researchers and students use IonQ’s quantum computers to solve complex problems “with the greatest accuracy,” according to an IonQ news release.

SKKU’s Q Center opened in August 2020 with a U.S. $41.5 million research grant from the South Korean government.

“Our mission is to cultivate and promote the advancement of quantum information research in South Korea,” SKKU professor Yonuk Chong said in the news release. “We believe IonQ has the most advanced quantum technology available, and through our partnership, we will be able to make tremendous strides in the advancement of the industry.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.