According to earlier NATO findings, Russia wants to „threaten American and allied capabilities in space“. The states of the alliance now react. At the end of 2019, Russia launched the Cosmos-2542 satellite. The Americans quickly realized that something was wrong with the system. It not only synchronized with the orbit of one of their reconnaissance satellites and came up to 150 kilometers close to it. After two weeks it released a subsystem (Cosmos-2453). That in turn ejected an object on July 15th. It did not cause any damage, but the American space command was convinced: Moscow had tested a new type of weapon against satellites. This corresponds to the official Kremlin military doctrine of „threatening American and Allied capabilities in space,“ said General John Raymond. Such incidents are closely followed by NATO. China and India have also tested weapons aimed at satellites.
December 2019, the alliance therefore declared space to be an independent operational area, alongside land, water, air and cyberspace. Now comes the next step: the defense ministers want to decide to build a NATO space center. It will be built at the NATO air force base in Ramstein, as part of the strategic command for the air force. „This will be a contact point to support NATO operations with communication and satellite images,“ said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in October 2020. In addition, it should exchange information about possible threats to satellites and coordinate the activities of the alliance. The alliance is not pursuing the goal of militarizing space, but must be prepared for new challenges. The new center will start small with a few employees who already work for the air force command. In addition, NATO wants to set up a think tank like the one that exists on other topics. Here a German and a French location compete with each other. Kalkar in North Rhine-Westphalia already houses the competence center for the NATO air forces, while the French national space command is being set up in Toulouse in the south of France. The states that take part in the Center of Excellence must agree this among themselves. In addition, the alliance is restructuring its agency for technology, there too, the expertise for space is to be strengthened.
Because of the pandemic, the NATO defense ministers held virtual conferences in October 2020. On their agenda were further resolutions with which the alliance is to be aligned to new challenges. For example, the ministers will instruct the military chief in command to transfer the concept for nuclear deterrence and defense adopted in June into strategic planning. The alliance is reacting to new Russian nuclear weapons systems and to a deployment doctrine that provides for a gradual escalation from conventional to nuclear warfare. However, it is still only about the strategic framework, not about adapting the operational defense plans. NATO diplomats also admit that the alliance has by no means found an answer to all new challenges. This applies, for example, to the threat from hypersonic missiles that could reach Europe within four minutes. For the meeting of defense ministers, the alliance prepared a discussion paper on better protection of submarine cables in the Atlantic. The paper is secret, the problem is not: 97 percent of communication between Europe and America is handled via these cables, which can be bugged or cut. Here, too, NATO has a suspicious eye on Russia. In contrast to the Cold War, it only has a few frigates designed for submarine hunting
After the decision to have a NATO space center in October 2020, France held a space maneuver for the first time in March 2021. In the future, the government in Paris wants to equip French satellites with laser weapons to protect against enemy attacks. President Macron commanded a laser attack in space – on the computer. The attack was part of a large-scale training maneuver by the new French space command in Toulouse. Under the code name „Aster X“, crisis situations have been simulated, such as the threat to a satellite from an enemy force or the surveillance of a dangerous space object. It is the first time France has held a space maneuver. The American Space Force and the German space agencies took part in the exercise. The name Aster X alludes to the first French satellite Asterix from 1965. The role of satellites in everyday life as well as in military reconnaissance has grown steadily since then. They are needed for banking and logistics as well as for cell phones or weather forecasts. So far there has been a lack of protective measures for the satellites. That is why Macron decided in 2019 to found the space command based on the model of the American „United States Space Command“. The President attributes France to a pioneering role in the EU to raise awareness of the new threats in space.
Attack and disruption scenarios in space are not just pure fiction. As the French Ministry of Defense has confirmed, in October 2017 a Russian spy satellite (Luch-Olymp) came conspicuously close to a Franco-Italian satellite for military communications (Athena-Fidus). Defense Minister Florence Parly commented on the incident with the words: „It was not only unfriendly, it was an act of espionage.“ Overall, provocations such as the hacking and jamming of satellites have increased in recent years. China, Russia and, more recently, India have already tested ways to destroy satellites. During his visit to Toulouse, Macron followed an exercise in which the Republic of Siva was attacked by the Piros Confederation. The battle took place in space, and around 60 space fighters had to analyze the situation in front of their computers and develop solutions. Macron had previously had a model of the Nasa rover Perseverance explained to him. He was given the first recordings of the Supercam from Mars as a present. General Michel Friedling, who heads the French Commandement de l’Espace (CDE), explained the exercises to the President. „There are a number of events that create crisis situations or threats to our space infrastructure,“ said Friedling. The aim is to show that France’s space strategy does not consist only of declarations of intent, but that the establishment of the command is proceeding swiftly. All civil and military units are to be relocated to the new CDE center in Toulouse by 2025. These include the military observation center for space objects near Lyon and the satellite monitoring center in Creil. The civil research centers Office national d’études et de recherches aérospatiales and the Center national d’études spatiales are also involved.
Macron chaired a secret meeting in Toulouse to discuss future space strategy. Last year, a 70-page policy paper (“Stratégie spatiale de défense”) was published, which is to be completed by a confidential section. France emphazises it is pursuing a defensive strategy in space. It is not about militarizing space, but about protecting our own and the satellites of friendly states. France will therefore equip satellites with laser weapons in the future in order to be able to defend itself against enemy attacks in space. In addition, so-called nanosatellites, satellites with a weight of up to ten kilograms, are to be sent into space from 2023, which can detect “unfriendly movements or dangerous debris”. The anti-satellite laser weapons should be used „only for self-defense“. Macron has approved additional funding of 700 million euros for the space program through 2025. The military budget for 2019 to 2025 has already earmarked 3.6 billion euros for this. Compared to the American budget for the military space program of more than 50 billion dollars a year, this seems modest.
While the great powers are preparing for space war, other areas of hitech-revolution are also important.
“US needs a hi-tech revolution to combat China,” says General Mark Milley.
- Military must adapt to ‘fundamental change’ under way in the character of war
- Joint Chiefs of Staff head wants smaller, more capable forces which fully embrace robotics and artificial intelligence
The US military will need to fully embracerobotics and artificial intelligence if it is to maintain superiority over China, according to the Pentagon’s top general.
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley also said smaller, more capable forces armed with long-range missiles would need to be posted more widely around Asia to hem in the top US adversary.
“We are in the middle of a fundamental change in the character of war,” he told the Defence Forum Washington online symposium at the US Naval Institute on Thursday .“
And while the USA is still talking about a technological revolution, China reports another success in quantum computing and AI:
“China claims quantum computing lead with Jiuzhang photon test, creating machine ‘one trillion times faster’ than next best supercomputer”
- Researchers said their prototype took a little over three minutes to complete a task that would take the world’s fastest conventional machine 600 million years.
- Results put the country firmly at the forefront of the field, lead scientist says
Chinese physicists say they have built aquantum computer one trillion times faster than the most powerful supercomputer, with potential for some real-life applications.”
While Europe and Germany were pretty slow to develop quantum computers on their own and China and the USA, especially IBM and Google became the forerunners, the German government has initiated now a 2 billion Euro program for the development of a German quantum computer while Bavaria founded the Munich Quantum Valley and Macron and Söder decided to have a Bavarian-Frech cooperation and program for AI and quantum technology. The aim of the Munich Quantum Valley project, for which the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Society, the two large Munich universities LMU and TUM as well as numerous companies located in the Munich area have come together, is to build at least two powerful quantum computers „Made in Germany“ . In five years, according to the plan, they want to present at least one internationally competitive quantum computer that can compete with systems from Google or IBM and that is superior to any classic computer.
With 300 million euros, the Free State Bavaria will support the project, which provides for the close interlinking of research and industry and, with the construction of a quantum technology park, wants to create the technical infrastructure that is necessary for the development and construction of the components for quantum computers. Rainer Blatt from the University of Innsbruck was won over as coordinator of the ambitious project – a clever move. Blatt is considered one of the pioneers of experimental quantum computing. yesterday There was a lot of advertising going on. And when listing the many competencies that the Bavarian locations have to offer, the federal initiative, which wants to support the construction of a German quantum computer with two billion euros as part of the Corona economic stimulus package, almost faded into the background. The federal government only got the ball rolling last year by setting the political and financial course to ensure that Germany, and thus also Europe, which is still a leader in quantum science, does not completely lose touch with the world leaders in quantum technology. Something that quantum physicists in Germany have long wanted.
In mid-January 2021, the Federal Government’s Expert Council, which was set up at the end of last year, presented a roadmap that describes in detail how the development of a quantum computer could be promoted in cooperation with industry. It is strongly recommended that only the best projects be funded in this project. In a few weeks, so it was heard, the Federal Ministry of Research and the Ministry of Economic Affairs will present the tender, which anyone can apply if they have the appropriate skills and convincing concepts. An independent European advisory group should then select those projects from these that are to benefit from the federal funds. The whole procedure should be as transparent as possible and be completed before the end of the legislative period, so the hope.
It is still completely open who will be awarded the contract and how high the respective funding will be. In order to position themselves accordingly in advance and thus increase the chances of a positive decision, the large non-university research centers and universities located there have joined forces with interested companies in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg, as has happened in Bavaria presented their concepts for building quantum computers. And a new project and a new research network are added almost every week. In Bavaria, in addition to the roadmap of the Expert Council, the Munich Quantum Valley has perhaps the most sophisticated strategy on how to implement a quantum computer. Nevertheless, you will not be able to do without federal funds in Bavaria. Immanuel Bloch, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, admits that too. Because building a market-ready quantum computer is a Herculean task that requires a lot of money, new ideas and approaches – challenges that can only be mastered in a research network. A powerful quantum computer, like a classic PC, must be freely programmable and usable for all possible tasks. In addition, it must have as many quantum bits as possible, as the elementary quantum physical information units are called, which make the quantum computer so unbeatably fast.
The quantum bits, which serve as storage and computing units at the same time, must be perfectly controllable. Above all, a quantum computer must not make any errors in its calculations, which is currently still a major headache. Because qubits are sensitive to noise and other disturbances. „With the development of the quantum computer, we are roughly where the computer technology was when the first integrated silicon circuits were developed in the sixties,“ said Rudolf Gross from the Technical University of Munich. Even if it is fairly clear what a future quantum computer should do, it is far from clear which architecture a future universally usable quantum computer will actually be based on. Google and IBM and many other American and Chinese IT companies rely on superconducting microwave resonators as quantum bits in their systems. But stored atoms, ions or nanometer-sized semiconductor structures can also be used for the quantum physical counterparts of the classic bits. Platforms such as those being developed in Innsbruck Garching and other German research locations. Every platform has advantages and disadvantages and is far from mature. And nobody wants to commit to a certain architecture that the quantum computer “Made in Germany” should have. But for this vision to become a reality, everyone must act together.
And the military is also interested in this dual use technoogy.The University of the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) is currently expanding its quantum computer hub in Munich. The Fraunhofer Society plans to put the first universal quantum computers into operation this year. And the federal government has made two billion euros available as start-up funding as part of its Covid-19 economic aid, so that the quantum computer can find its way into everyday high-performance computing without friction losses. That would be a quantum leap in the computer world if we didn’t know that it is only a tiny step in purely physical terms.
The demand for quantum computing is growing. Experts at the financial services provider Morgan Stanley are forecasting annual sales of nine billion euros by 2025. From the outside, the situation on the quantum computer market looks confusing. Also because the developers of quantum computers operate their projects in strict secrecy. But they like to give out one message: The manufacturers of quantum computers have full order books. Just recently, D-Wave was able to deliver half a dozen quantum computers to the military and research institutions. IBM and Google have long been running a race to find out who can make more quantum bits (qubits) available in a shorter period of time. The Chinese Internet company is catching up with development. Its development engineers have set their sights on the limit of 127 quantum bits. Nobody knows at the moment whether it can be cracked this year. IBM has even announced a quantum computer with 433 qubits for 2022.