Israel's defense industries are looking to quantum technology to develop military capabilities and faster, more powerful, and more precise weapons. In the past few days, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has demonstrated new quantum capabilities developed over years of research in the field in cooperation with academic and other defense concerns. "We demonstrated a development based on a quantum sensor for national security," IAI chairman Harel Locker revealed, without disclosing further details about it. "For decades, IAI's products have been in the forefront of global technology, and we are ensuring that this situation will continue in the future. We are therefore investing in revolutionary quantum technologies."
IAI professional sources involved in the secret demonstration are keeping mum about possible applications of the capabilities achieved by the company in this sphere. At the same time, they emphasize that these capabilities can be "a significant step forward technologically for armies and security agencies."
Last week, the Israel Innovation Authority, headed by CEO Aharon Aharon, and the Ministry of Defense Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure launched the first consortium of its kind in Israel with companies and academic institutions as partners. The consortium is aimed at encouraging cooperation that will facilitate development of knowledge infrastructure leading to innovative technological capabilities.
"Quantum will reach all areas of life"
Partners in the consortium are Weitzman Institute, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Ariel University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, IAI, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and AccuBeat, Rafael's subsidiary for development of atomic clocks. "The entire future of technology is moving in the direction of quantum, a field in which every company has up until now acted independently. Now, with the founding of the new consortium, we will all have a guiding hand from the state. Every company and every concern will retain its own special quantum activity and developments, but the consortium will make it possible to overcome the enormous lack of generic knowledge in the subject, and will serve all of the concerns involved in it," Yaniv Leib, head of the innovation administration at RAMTA, IAI's land warfare enterprise, told "Globes."
Leib adds, "The Innovation Authority, with encouragement from the Ministry of Defense, has decided to lead the activity in this area systematically in order to help the quantum sector to become a key sector in the Israeli economy, with support from higher education institutions. The vision is for Israel to become a power in the field, as it has in the cybersecurity industry.
"In recent years, it has become clear that a worldwide quantum boom is take place, and technologies are starting to emerge, following years of laboratory testing and research and development. This field has enormous economic potential. Quantum will reach all areas of life, and do to them what electronics previously did in giving us new worlds and new devices. There is no doubt that this is becoming the new advanced electronics, in which conventional electronics will be merely an auxiliary tool for quantum-based technologies.
"Through the new consortium, we will reach a stage in which we will have technical demonstration models through which we will prove new capabilities in various spheres. I think this will happen within five years, thanks to the generic knowledge that we will accumulate. It will improve precision, stability, and power consumption capabilities, and lower the prices of quantum sensors, based on development of generic methods for applying them in commercial products."
The concerns involved in the consortium's activity decline to disclose details of the development plans of a quantum-based military character. They talk at length, however, about the added value of promoting research in the field for civilian markets, and how it is likely to provide future capabilities that were previously the stuff of dreams: early detection of signs indicating sinkholes, development of capabilities providing adequate warning of earthquakes, improvement of brain processes research based on quantum sensors, and transmission of huge quantities of data from one end of the world to the other in a very short time.
Intensive work with Ben Gurion University
"For a long time, we concentrated on developing capabilities in the field. People working on our behalf went to Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva and worked on it side by side with academic research teams," Leib says. "Those were periods of intensive work with Ben Gurion University. We even installed a time clock for IAI employees coming every morning to the university laboratory."
In recent months, IAI's RAMTA plant has undergone a revolution, in which its activity has been focused on land-based forces, together with reinforcement and expansion of its quantum R&D.
In the past, most of RAMTA's activity focused on development and building of warships. Due to the ongoing decline in demand, however, this activity became marginal for IAI. "In our innovation administration at RAMTA, there is a group of 20 staff, including topnotch software specialists, working ceaselessly to create the next big thing for the country, and we have a strong sense of mission to achieve a breakthrough in the field," Leib says.
Rafael, IAI's competitor, also regards the quantum sector as a possible growth engine that cannot be ignored. When the consortium was launched, Rafael EVP R&D Irit Idan said that a large proportion of its activity to date in this sphere was by AccuBeat, which develops atomic watches.
"Development of quantum technologies for advanced atomic watches and distribution of accurate timekeeping independent of GPS system is of supreme importance," said Accubeat president and CEO Dr. Avinoam Stern. "It is a critical element in all modern electronic, communications, computer, and navigation systems, and in essential infrastructure, such as transportation, electricity, etc."
Israel wants to lead: Formulating a national plan for promoting the sector
The effort to make Israel a quantum power began to gather steam last year with the founding of two agencies for promoting the matter. The main agency in which the quantum national project is being promoted is the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. This organization established a special committee headed by former chief scientist Orna Berry, with representatives from the Innovation Authority, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Finance, the Council for Higher Education Budget and Planning Committee, and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.
This committee is an extension of the academic initiative to promote quantum science through the inclusion of additional concerns for which promoting the sector is important. The committee's original mandate was "to examine the need to establish infrastructure for quantum science and technology, the worthwhileness of building it, and its feasibility." The actual results of its work were the devising of a national plan for promoting the quantum field. This committee completed its work and submitted its recommendations. Most of its recommendations are likely to be approved in the framework of the next state budget.
At the same time, the matter is also being pushed in the government committees for promoting artificial intelligence, headed by Prof. Maj. Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel. These committees are close to finishing their work, submitting their conclusions, and receiving a budget immediately following the formation of the next government. A quantum committee, again headed by Orna Berry, is also operating in the framework of these government committees. This committee is specifically responsible for infrastructure for intelligent systems, super computing and quantum computing, networking, cloud computing, and data science. This committee works with artificial intelligence committees, among other things because of the similarity in needs between the two fields. This committee has not yet completed its work.
A new joint research fund for quantum science and technologies of the Budget and Planning Committee and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, and the new consortium for quantum sensors in the Innovation Authority and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, which are now beginning to operate, are efforts reflecting the urgency with which the parties regard the matter. The consortium constitutes the executive arm that will make it possible to begin now to provide a framework for cooperation between business and industry and the other concerns involved, before the other committees have received approval and budgeting. The fund is expediting the scientific research in anticipating of the community's growth.
The founding of the consortium reflects the fact that the quantum sector is increasingly coming within the activity of commercial companies, in areas such as quantum sensors. By establishing the consortium, Berry told "Globes," "The Innovation Authority has in essence responded to demand for cooperation by industry and higher education institutions for the purpose of streamlining the transmission of information." According to Berry, this cooperation is designed to enable Israel "to be competitive with the world, both commercially and with other countries having national projects in the sector, such as Singapore, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, China, and the US.
"From time to time, scientific and technological revolutions occur that are a zero-sum game. If we decide that we want to be players, we need a strategic plan for consolidating capabilities in knowledge, performance, and budget. The quantum field is large and significant, and it has application in materials, medicine, computing, and commercial use in encryption and sensors. The consortium streamlines the connection between sectors and the expectation from each sector, and enables the various sectors to do their share," Berry explains.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 9, 2019
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