University of Waterloo researchers are developing a quantum radar system that pierces through heavy background noise to precisely pinpoint stealth missiles and aircraft.
“In the Arctic, space weather such as geomagnetic storms and solar flares interfere with radar operation and make the effective identification of objects more challenging,” says Jonathan Baugh, University of Waterloo associate professor, and leader of the project. “By moving from traditional radar to quantum radar, we hope to not only cut through this noise, but also to identify objects that have been specifically designed to avoid detection.”
Stealth aircraft are built to evade detection through a variety of technologies. According to the University of Waterloo, a layer of customized paint can absorb and deflect radio waves, which hides their presence from conventional radar.
The covert designs are also known for using electronic jamming. This form of electronic warfare sends out interfering signals toward an enemy’s radar system, which blocks the receiver by flooding the system with artificial noise.
Quantum radar not only has the potential to spot these aircraft, but does so without the planes knowing they’ve been identified. The technique centers on quantum illumination, which uses the principle of entanglement—when a pair particles, in this case photons, create an entangled connection. The quantum state of each particle cannot be individually described. Thus, when one undergoes a change, even if separated by a great distance, it will affect the other.
The radar system sends one photon to a far off object, while the other stays behind. According to the University of Waterloo, “Photons in the return signal are checked for telltale signatures of entanglement, allowing photons from the noisy environmental background to be discarded. This can greatly improve the radar signal-to-noise in certain situations.”
However, in order to feasibly use quantum radars in the field, researchers must create a quick, robust source of entangled photons.
“This project will allow us to develop the technology to help move quantum radar from the lab to the field,” says Baugh. “It could change the way we think about national security.”
Currently, quantum illumination has only been tested in laboratory experiments. A $2.7M project aims to realize the technology, funded by the Government of Canada’s Department of National Defense’s All Domain Situational Awareness (ADSA) Science & Technology program.