Joe Buff is the son of a Seabee and the nephew of a WWII Merchant Mariner; how naval history informs modern defense has been his lifelong hobby. After receiving a Masters of Science from MIT in 1977, Joe worked for 20 years as a qualified actua1y, with a focus on the use of financial what-if scenarios to help steer life insurance companies through turbulent times. He began to write professionally about near-future undersea warefare in 1977, and this quickly became his full-time vocation. He has written six continuing-character novels and over 100 non-fiction articles, essays, and op-eds about the importance of the U.S. Submarine Force and Navy Special Warfare to national security and world peace. Most recently, he is an executive producer at Sub Pen Productions, LLC, helping tum his novels into a possible series of semi-independent blockbuster movies.
This article overviews a historicist-futurist argument for increasing rather than decreasing funding to the U.S. Submarine Force in a time of national budgetary constraints, scientific breakthroughs, and global upheavals. The argument hinges on combining three facts:
1. Nuclear submarines with their adjuvant vehicles are ideal platforms for persistent and stealthy access into denied areas. The parent sub’s on-board electrical generation and cooling utilities let them be powerful forward deployed data centers in close proximity to high-value adversary in-formation warfare objectives.
2. Quantum computing is an emerging field with impressive potential cyber warfare capabilities. These could apply against other quantum computer networks, and also particularly against more conventional digital computer net-works. For technical reasons, physical proximity between hostile target and friendly data center is particularly essential and valuable in quantum computing and communications.
3. On the fundraising and recruiting fronts, the Sub Force is analogous to NASA in the twinned needs to attract young people, and excite and inspire taxpayers and Members of Congress, regarding technical development for manned exploration and exploitation in hyper-extreme environments at the very cutting edge of science and technology.
At least in theory, perfected quantum computers would render tractable the extremely difficult mathematical problem of decomposing an arbitrarily large integer into its prime factors, and the computationally intensive task of guessing the very long password sequence to any cyber system. They would revolutionize encryption/decryption, and cybersecurity in general.
Nuclear Subs Are Undersea Data Centers
At a luncheon of the Nautilus (Groton) Chapter of the Naval Submarine League (NSL) on 13 July 2012, Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, COMSUBGRU 2, gave an unclassified talk about future prospects for the U.S. Submarine Force in the highly competitive international arena of exploiting high technology under the seas for peace and freedom vice intimidation and domination. One point he established was that, even in the age of the global Internet, on-scene proximity to adversary targets by friendly eavesdropping and hacking platforms is vital to the optimum success of cyber warfare offense and defense.
The open literature and general reasoning help explain why this is so:
1. To tap an undersea telephone cable or fiber optic line, someone (SEALs and/or a submarine crew) and/or some-thing (SEAL delivery vehicle, manually operated equipment, or an uninhabited undersea vehicle) must be right there to do the tapping.
2. To exploit the weak side lobes and surface ducts that leak from many electronic emitters such as radio and radar antennas, the detector needs to be as physically close as human ingenuity can allow. The numerous signal amplifier nodes needed by any long-distance fiber optic system of-fer chinks in the armor of that technology as well. SEALs infiltrating with covert miniaturized data repeaters can extend signals intelligence reach from the adversary’s coast-line to many miles inland.
3. The time frame of blows and counter-blows in an active cyber warfare battle might be measured in milliseconds or even nanoseconds. Friendly information processing up-and down-links (to remote super-computers) that need to rely on more-distant satellites, or airborne or seaborne repeaters, are subject to what can be relatively protracted signal transit times to and fro. The links might be too slow to map, analyze, and penetrate adversary security firewalls and patches adapting at supercomputer speed. Such links are also more subject to detection-ruining stealth-or to jamming or spoofing, and to direct-action kinetic attack via anti-satellite, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship weapons.
4. Certain peculiar, non-intuitive, yet amazingly powerful and absolutely real phenomena of quantum physics, needed for successful quantum computing and communications, are particularly subject to degradation with m-creasing range.
Sub Force leadership and civilian pundits alike have amply documented that nuclear submarines provide uniquely self-contained, on-scene, covert access into denied areas. This access is persistent, and also very capable as to:
1. available displacement of advanced computing hardware, and rapidly updatable software,
2. ample and dedicated supporting utilities such as electrical power and cooling, and
3. superbly trained and disciplined on-board staff expertise to operate and maintain all these facilities.
In short, a state-of-the-art SSN or SSGN comprises a covert yet highly connected, minimally radiating, heavily armed and shock hardened, extremely portable, and immediately responsive data center. It is a militarized undersea version of the many fixed, land-based, very utilities-dependent data centers that support the Internet, national defense, private research, and world cyber commerce.
The Sub Force and NASA Both Need to Inspire
In times of budget austerity, the Sub Force faces tight limits on how many submarines it can keep in commission and deployed, and on what systems it can develop and purchase to install within those hulls, for operation by the crew and exploitation by fleet commanders, the Joint Chiefs, national command authorities, and our Allies.
Given its continuing dependence on high technology systems and highly trained engineers and submariners to design, build, and work them, the Sub Force-and the Submarine Industrial Base as well-thus face some of the same educational, public relations, and allocations/appropriations challenges as does another federal entity, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
NASA strives to meet its various program goals by inspiring the imagination of both citizens and Members of Congress regarding space scientific exploration and space practical exploitation, manned and unmanned. NASA in this way tries to gain support for its very large, multiyear fiscal needs. As discussed over time for instance in the monthly astronomy magazine Sky and Telescope, NASA dovetails these efforts with appealing to young minds as potential new entrants to aeronautical engineering, earth and planetary sciences, astrophysics, and the U.S. Astronaut Corps.
Other NSL speakers, such as the late Vice Admiral J. Guy Reynolds, have drawn the apt comparison between a submarine and a space ship: The engineering challenges, and mortal threats to crews posed by the differences in fluid pressure between the environments inside and outside the craft, are in both cases self evident. But nowadays, given general public concerns about current and future funding availability in the Navy and in NASA-and thus also concerns re sustainable employment levels and career-track prospects in both fields-it can also be as challenging to gain new submariner recruits as new astronaut recruits.
Beyond its ongoing robotic, unmanned space telescope and interplanetary probe activities, NASA has identified two signature endeavors for its 21st-century raison d’etre: Putting humans back on the Moon, and sending people to Mars. These goals are controversial for being expensive and risky, but they are inherently peaceful, even noble.
The Submarine Force, by analogy, has an opportunity to serve the country and humanity beyond its traditional, ongoing missions of strategic nuclear deterrence, land attack, Special Warfare support, sea denial and control, and conventional C31/ISR/ELINT. This additional raison d’etre arises from a new peacekeeping and peace-restoration mission at the confluence of two different dimensions of i1111er space. One dimension is the so-called inner space of the world’s deep oceans and littorals. The other is the inner space of subatomic physics dictated by quantum theory.
Quantum Computing as a “Final Frontier” of Cyber deterrence
The U.S. Submarine Force might borrow from NASA’s (and Gene Roddenberry’s) “to boldly go” marketing/fundraising theme in a rapidly burgeoning arena of scientific and engineering R&D. The quantum computing cyber warfare arena is one where nuclear submarines would be indispensable platforms for national defense exploitation. Close proximity between adversary target and friendly eavesdropping/hacking data center is particularly important to preserve the quantum e111a11glement between specially matched pairs of photons or electrons, an essential ingredient of this exotic capability.
Quantum computing represents the next epoch, maybe even the final frontier in miniaturization, computational speed, and cybersecurity intrusion (attack) and exclusion (defense) power. It promises to open a breathtaking-and perhaps frightening-vista of new techniques and abilities in hacking (more properly, cracking) and eavesdropping, including encryption and decryption, by exploiting the proven phenomenon of quantum teleportation, which Albert Einstein in the I 930s called “spooky action at a distance.” What better to excite imaginations in the defense spending sphere than something like this, which is at once very futuristic and yet very real, hi-tech, and both abstract/theoretical and practical/pragmatic at once?
As the present writer dramatized in his future undersea war-fare novel Straits of Power (Morrow, 2004), the first nation or bloc to master militarized quantum computing could hold the potential to nonviolently render useless, or clandestinely rewrite, all of an adversary’s conventional data processing operating systems, software, and files. Speculating further now, this might even become a true Internet doomsday device, a deterrent against outright cyber warfare, enforcing (one hopes) worldwide cyber-peace through a virtual Mutually Assured Destruction. The capability-in-being could act analogously to how nuclear weapons helped keep the Cold War cold. Or perhaps, as Einstein urged regarding nuclear weapons, the consequences of perfected quantum computing equipment falling into the wrong hands might be so awful as to argue against allowing any proliferation of the technology at all. For better or for worse, however, the pure science of this Pandora’ s Box has been opened; progress is active for instance at government, academic, and commercial laboratories in the U.S., Europe, China, and Israel.
Either way, on the front of quantum computing cyber warfare advances, U.S. Navy nuclear submarines promise to remain as or even more important to offense and defense in the foreseeable future than they are today for conventional analog and digital electronic intelligence gathering and computer eavesdropping, manipulation, and intervention. Furthermore, quantum-computer-on-quantum-computer cyber warfare, while in its earliest theoretical infancy now, appears to hold terrific promise for the further-off future. The strategic advantages of maintaining a technical edge herein should be apparent.
What is Quantum Teleportation?
The concept of quantum computing was first introduced in 1982 by the late Nobel-prize winning nuclear physicist Richard Feynman. Numerous scientific experiments and engineering demonstrations since then have shown the opportunities are quite genuine: As reported in Forbes magazine’s news website www.forbes.com on 6 September 2012, in an article by staff writer Alex Knapp, European scientists in May of this year succeeded in teleporting an entangled photon-a massless fundamental particle of electromagnetic energy – over a record breaking distance of 143 kilometers. The previous record, set by researchers in China and also published this year in the peer reviewed scientific journal Nature, had been 97 kilometers. These distances are great in comparison to the very short lab bench distances achieved earlier in the past decade or two, indicating the current rapid pace of advances in the field.
This is important because the spin of a photon is manipulable and readable information, called a qubit in quantum computing and often conceptualized as a probabilistic superposition of up and down. A qubit plays a role like the O’s and 1’s of the bits involved in conventional computing. But because of the uncertainties and ambiguities inherent in quantum mechanics (think of Schrodinger’s Cat and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), a qubitvia quantum superposition-is able to take on more than one spin state at the same time. It can convey information as versatile as an arbitrary solid angle on a sphere, compared to a classical bit that can merely convey north pole or south pole. For these reasons, a quantum computer can perform calculations and store data using exponentially Jess processing speed and exponentially less memory space than an ordinary analog or digital computer would require. This is true whether the ordinary computer, in which each bit is deterministically either 0 or 1, is powered via electronics, optics, fluidics, biological tissue, or some other medium.
Because of properties of our universe at the very smallest scales, two photons can be made, for instance by human action with lasers, polarizers, and partially mirrored prisms, to become entangled. This means their quantum spins get locked together and share a common destiny no matter how far apart the two might then move. If a quantum computer-and-communications user retains one entangled photon and sends the other on a long journey-such as into enemy cyber-territory-and then puts the retained photon into a specific state of spin, the other entangled photon will also immediately become perfectly correlated to that assigned state of spin. The spin state of the home photon is said to have been teleported to the spin state of the entangled away photon. (No individual unit of matter or energy is physically transported at the moment of achieving this teleportation.) However, due to Einstein’s limit of light speed on the transmittal of information, that distant photon’s spin state will not be actionably useful at the receiving end (to friend or foe alike) without an additional packet of so-called instructions subsequently sent by conventional means. Conceivably, once technical details are worked out, this actionable usefulness applies even if no adversary human at the receiving end reads and acts on, or even detects said instructions; the real import of this step is a data processing delay long enough to obey the light speed limit.
In the ideal (theoretical) case, these instructions packets consist of just two bits of classical, deterministic 0 or I data for each entangled qubit teleported. The application of the classical bit-pair instructions packet to activate the entangled away qubit-reducing its probability distribution to a single, determinate 0 or I value comprising the answer to something-is analogous to matrix multiplication. The present writer proposes that a variation appears possible to the standard formulation of quantum teleportation in which a previously-informed, overtly cooperating observer at the receiving end performs that activation. In the variation, the activation would be executed by a human sleeper agent, or software worm or hardware back door embedded within the adversary data center, possibly lying dormant for years until needed, if ever. The instructions packet might even be transmitted via conventional (non-quantum) hacking/malware methodologies; this ancillary attack could be relatively simple to implement and likely to succeed because, on the adversary receiving end, the bit string would seem like a short sequence of random noise.
An important limitation is that the state of entanglement can deteriorate and be lost (become useless) due to environmental noise and transmission signal loss. It is indicative of this decoherence problem that the European and Chinese demonstrations used laser beams over bodies of water rather than, say, (solid, bent and kinked, interrupted by amplifier nodes) fiber optic cables, to help preserve coherence over a range comparable to that of low Earth orbit satellites above the ground.
Individual electrons can also become entangled, although the decoherence problem appears technically harder to solve. Consequently, the same basic idea of quantum hacking a conventional (classical 0 or I) network can apply to wire-based communications and conceivably also to radio and radar, as much as to laser beam and other optical transmittal and computation methods.
Long-distance entanglement, producing photons (or electrons) far away that nevertheless can finely obey a local user’s most detailed bidding, thus forms the basis for both hyper-secure friendly quantum computing and communications, and hyper-capable infiltration of an adversary’s conventional (digital) computing and communication facilities. The infiltration succeeds because a string of individual photons (or electrons), though they comprise a vector of entangled cubits under friendly control, will appear to be perfectly ordinary to adversary observers and their firewalls. They will pass as random noise. But then they will be reset, by l) resetting the home particles and 2) transmitting and applying the instructions packets, to represent and propagate intricate malware code. In effect, the conventional firewall and other security provisions, which rely on comparatively lengthy particle impulses to render just one 0 or 1, would be transparent with respect to the arriving entangled qubits of the quantum cyber attack. Those entangled qubits would have intelligible significance to anyone only when activated by the separately transmitted instructions packet, which also on its own would have no intelligible significance. (This two-step meta-encryption is roughly analogous to the classical encryption system based on one-time-use pads.)
In general, the home component of each entangled pair needs to be retained and stored for future use so as to control the away component. Tools for the fine control of individual particles are necessary, and here again recent progress has been rapid. For instance, another benchmark lab achievement has been to slow an ordered string of eight photons (in essence an 8-qubit qubyte of data) from light speed to less than 40 miles per hour. See for instance the New York Times for 18 February 1999, “Researchers Slow Speed of Light to the Pace of a Sunday Driver,” which reported on an article in Nature.
These concepts are difficult to grasp and retain, even for physicists. However, mastery of the theory of quantum computing is not necessary to appreciate its value, nor to command staff who might some day use such quantum black boxes to successfully prosecute cyber warfare campaigns. (They might better be called quantum gray boxes, given a qubit’s exploitation of the quantum superposition of black and white.)
A good and complete technical discussion of the basic concepts, including many equations and diagrams and footnotes to primary sources, is available on-line by searching for quantum computer, quantum entanglement, and quantum teleportation on www.wikipedia.com.
Although complex and subject to considerable technology risk as basic techniques and hardware are developed further, quantum computing holds great promise as a tool for future offensive and defensive cyberwarfare. Entangled qubits offer a way to harness certain exotic properties of the basic fabric of our universe, to achieve hyper-secure encrypted friendly communication and computing, and also to enable hyper-capable eavesdropping and hacking of adversary communications and computer systems, both conventional and quantum mechanics based. Because of the problem of decoherence of quantum entanglement with increasing range, proximity between the opponent targeted facility and the friendly cyberwarfare data center is crucial. Nuclear submarines are ideally suited to provide this proximity, assuring them an additional, indispensible mission role for national defense and world peace in the decades to come. Undersea quantum cyberwarfare deterrence can be a force for good; perfecting and sustaining it are noble causes. Properly communicated to the U.S. Submarine Force’s various audiences and constituencies, this can help attract both adequate funding appropriations and highly qualified, eager recruits.
In October, 2012, the Nobel Prize Committee chose fu11da-mental experimental work in quantum computing, published in the mid I 990s, for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics. The winners are Serge Ha roe he, PhD, of the College de Paris and the E’cole Normal Supe ‘rieur, and David Wineland, PhD, of the U.S. Natio11al Institute for Standards and Technology. Their separate research teams each developed non-destructive methods for the precise observation of i11dividual particle quantum states. Wineland used lasers to slow a beryllium ion in an electrical field to near absolute zero and then excite it to an indeterminate, temporary energy level half-way between two stable states. Haroche confined microwave photons between two highly reflective surfaces and then used atoms to probe the quantum states of each photon.
Nobel Prize for Physics rewards ‘groundbreaking’ quantum experiments
Frenchman Serge Haroche and American David Wineland, who share the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics, worked independ-ently to develop a way to watch quantum behavior of particles.