Congressional Keynote Address by The Honorable Jim Langevin
From our Applied Quantum Computing event on 28 April 2021:
Quantum applications are one of many emerging technologies that will dramatically transform the battlespace. I have also said this about artificial intelligence, cyber, and 5G. At this point, I’m pretty sure that I’m sounding like a broken record! Sadly, however, the story remains the same. Science fiction is becoming fact, and our military must do more to field new technology to keep up.
One of my roles as chair of the innovative technology subcommittee is to paint a picture of what the future of warfare looks like. Many of you in the audience already know it. Analysts will easily access an array of data from thousands of sensors, autonomous vehicles, and soldiers’ headsets. Commanders will make more sophisticated decisions, faster. We will transmit voice, mission, and video data to deployed troops in dense urban or forested environments. Aircraft, ships, and unmanned systems will talk to one another the way that appliances in your household talk to your Amazon shopping list. Competitive edge and credible deterrence won’t just mean the most powerful weapon systems. They will require all systems to interact and coordinate across all domains quickly and effectively.
Quantum makes or breaks this future. Quantum encryption algorithms will secure those communication lines, and its computing potential will let us encrypt at scale. Quantum capabilities will also help us detect our adversaries’ stealth platforms and decode their sensitive communications. We could operate in GPS-contested environments with greater precision, extending the line of sight and finally seeing around corners. Our networks will manage traffic from all these autonomous systems and the signals they emit. Quantum science will be a foundational technology for a hyperconnected world and integrated battlespace.
The question is, will it be our weapons and communications systems, or those of our adversaries? As more systems connect to a network, we assume greater risk that something will be jammed or compromised, putting additional systems and servicemembers at-risk. If other militaries invest successfully in quantum codebreaking, our lines of communication, databases, and networks will no longer be secure. If you thought the SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange Server, or OPM hacks were devastating — and they were — imagine what next-generation codebreaking can do. If other militaries have an extended line of sight and we do not, our forward-deployed troops are in harm’s way. If other militaries develop quantum sensors and can detect easily submarines, how survivable and credible is the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad?
While this technology is far from mature, we do not want to sit back and let it become tomorrow’s problem. Indeed, I believe we have all learned from the coronavirus pandemic that we absolutely must confront challenges before they become crises. Our adversaries are looking ahead, and so must we.
So, what can we do? I see four areas where we can focus our efforts.
The first is to fund defense research, particularly early-stage basic research. The U.S. government has led the way in many emerging technologies, achieving breakthroughs that maintain our competitive edge and improve civilians’ lives. A great recent example I can point to is the messenger RNA COVID vaccine that grew out of defense research investments five to ten years ago — long before the pandemic in which we find ourselves.
Our basic defense research dollars should do the same for quantum computing, sensing, and communications to enhance our understanding of this powerful science. There is so much about quantum physics that we do not know; it is truly mind-bending. Upfront investment will pay dividends down the road.
We should also encourage the Department to buy what quantum companies are producing. We must remember that Silicon Valley got its name from government investments in research and development and partnerships with academic institutions, which in turn grew new technology and encouraged technical talent to spin out innovative companies rather than stay as academic researchers. Then the Department bought the products of those new companies, which kept them alive to continue their work. Today, to support the transition of mostly academic research into a sustainable technical area and over the “valley of death,” the Department must figure out how to be a buyer of quantum computing market products, even if just for use by the academic research community at the moment.
The third area to focus on is active engagement in standards setting related to quantum computing, sensing, and communications. The National Institute for Standards and Technology, or NIST, has made a lot of progress in validating algorithms that can withstand quantum computer attacks, setting the standards for using those algorithms in existing cryptographic applications, and laying multiple pathways for encryption that companies can follow. They will release standardized quantum-resistant cryptography sometime next year. Now comes the part of requiring these standards be used in critical infrastructure, communications systems, and weapons systems so that we are ready before quantum-enabled decryption becomes a reality. And we must actively engage with international standards bodies so that global standards suit the interests of the U.S. and our allies.
Which brings me to my fourth focus area, which is a quantum-literate workforce, within a broader digitally literate workforce. We need more civil servants who understand the science and national security imperative so that they can engage in international forums. Our commanders, flag officers, and civilian defense leaders must also understand the potential and risk that quantum brings. And we absolutely need more physicists, scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to develop and deploy new methods of encryption, decryption, and computing power.
I have said this for all fields of emerging technology, but quantum is truly an area where we must develop home-grown STEAM talent as early as elementary and middle school. We must also train our current DoD workforce in statistics, coding, and computer science. And we must attract the smartest talent from abroad. Our universities cultivate researchers from all over the world. We must make it easy for them to stay. We must also offer expedited citizenship to the future Nobel laureates of the world in mathematics, physics, and critical technologies. I plan on introducing legislation to address expedited citizenship later in the spring because great power competition is also a global race for talent.
Once we have hired these bright minds, we must quickly put them to work and not sideline them until they get a clearance. Last year, I led legislation in the NDAA to create unclassified working spaces so that new hires can quickly get to work while waiting for their security clearances. Going forward, employees will not have to forego a paycheck for several months while waiting to serve their country.
To that end, the past three National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) implemented and updated the Defense Quantum Information Science and Technology Research and Development Program, which directed the Secretary of Defense to implement a program that will ensure global superiority of the United States in quantum information science, coordinate within the Department and across the interagency on science and technology research, develop and manage defense quantum research, accelerate transition and deployment into the Armed Forces, and support the Department’s workforce and infrastructure needs related to quantum information science and technology.
Most recently, the NDAA directed the Secretary to produce an annual list of technical problems and research challenges that quantum computers could address within the next few years. The Department must now work with medium and small quantum computing businesses and help them provide those private sector capabilities to government, industry, and academic researchers. Importantly, the law directs the Secretary to coordinate with the National Quantum Coordination Office and the subcommittee on Quantum Information Science of the National Science and Technology Council. The subcommittee includes representatives from the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to tie these efforts together and build momentum. Given the national security imperative, we must turn our attention to this area.
On that note, I look forward to supporting the subcommittee’s assessments and recommendations of federal infrastructure requirements, workforce, and opportunities for international cooperation with strategic allies on R&D efforts in quantum information science and technology. We hope this subcommittee can provide actionable recommendations like those submitted from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission and the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. Thanks to these commissions, we are profoundly updating existing law related to cyberspace and AI to address the national security challenges and take advantage of novel technological capabilities as they come online. We also vastly raised awareness and common understanding of these issue areas. At minimum, we need to do the same with quantum science and comprehensively address my earlier calls to action to invest in defense research, engage in standards setting, and cultivate a quantum-ready workforce. If we can do that, then we will be ready for the battlefield of the future.
 15 U.S.C. 8813, “Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science,” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6227/text