Special Operations Command trying to prepare for quantum computing threat

Adversaries could have new quantum computing and decryption capabilities by the end of this decade, SOCOM's chief data officer is warning.
(Getty Images)

U.S. Special Operations Command is worried about the future threat from adversaries’ quantum technologies, and officials are trying to get out ahead of the problem.

Improving intelligence fusion through real-time data integration is a key pillar of SOCOM’s plans for digital transformation. That data must not only be gathered, fused and transferred to the appropriate end users; it also has to be secured — a challenge that will grow with the development of quantum computing capabilities.

“How do we get after the way those bits and bytes interact with each other and create the intelligence that we need, while at the same time protecting that data, you know, ensuring that the data is trustworthy?” Thomas Kenney, chief data officer at Special Operations Command, said Thursday at the SOFIC conference.

“Here’s a really interesting aspect of this that we’re looking at today because we know in a few years this is going to become really important — by some accounts, we’re less than eight years away from quantum cryptography being able to break the non-quantum cryptography that we have today … We need an answer for that,” he said.


When the technology is ready for prime time, officials say it could be a game changer.

Data “may very easily be decrypted by a capability that has a quantum decrypt capability,” Kenney warned.

The time is now to be thinking about that problem before adversaries have already acquired that capability, he added.

Technology developers are putting a lot of effort into quantum computing, he noted, highlighting the implications of quantum processing.

“One of the really interesting tenants of quantum computing is that you can compute multiple outcomes simultaneously. And when you think about the speed of battle and where we’re going to, that ability will be absolutely essential,” Kenney said.


“Quantum computing is being played with right now. And we look at where we’re going for quantum cryptography, we need about a factor of 1,000 qubits to be able to get to that next level,” he said.

A qubit is a computing unit that leverages the principle of superposition — the ability of quantum systems to exist in two or more states simultaneously — to encode information, the Congressional Research Service explained in a recent report on the technology.

Whereas a classical computer encodes information in bits that can represent binary states of either 0 or 1, a quantum computer encodes information in qubits, each of which can represent 0, 1, or a combination of both at the same time. As a result, the power of a quantum computer increases exponentially with the addition of each qubit, according to CRS.

“Being able to have multiple outcomes calculated at the same time on a battlefield that’s happening extremely fast is going to be mission essential to us. Are the technologies there today? Maybe not. But they certainly need to be there in the future, so it’s something that we’re taking a look at,” Kenney said.

Earlier this month, President Biden signed two new policy directives aimed at advancing U.S. quantum technologies and the ability to defend U.S. infrastructure against the threat posed by quantum computers.

Jon Harper

Written by Jon Harper

Jon Harper is Managing Editor of DefenseScoop, the Scoop News Group’s newest online publication focused on the Pentagon and its pursuit of new capabilities. He leads an award-winning team of journalists in providing breaking news and in-depth analysis on military technology and the ways in which it is shaping how the Defense Department operates and modernizes. You can also follow him on Twitter @Jon_Harper_

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