Waterloo researchers strive to move quantum radar into the field
The $2.7 million, DND-funded project looks to create system that can accurately spot stealth aircraft.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a quantum radar system that could potentially spot stealth aircraft even through heavy background noise. To date, the system has only been tested in the lab but the team hopes new funding will help them move technology toward a successful field test.
Unlike traditional radar, which uses radio waves, quantum radar employs quantum entangled pairs of photons. Using a process called quantum illumination, the system casts one of the entangled photons toward a distant object while retaining the other photon. The photons reflected back to the system are then checked for entanglement signatures, thereby allowing the system to ignore photons from background noise.
“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,” said Jonathan Baugh, a faculty member at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and a professor in the Department of Chemistry who is leading the project with three other researchers at IQC and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. “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.”
While stealth aircraft are able to thwart traditional radio-wave radar, via body shape, signal absorbing paint and electronic jamming, quantum illumination could theoretically spot such aircraft accurately and without alerting to the pilot that they have been detected.
Although the system has been explored in the lab, researchers haven’t yet created an “at the push of a button” source of entangled photons. However, the Department of National Defence has awarded IQC a $2.7 million contract, under its All Domain Situational Awareness (ADSA) Science & Technology program, to help move quantum radar into the field.
The effort comes at an appropriate time since NORAD’s 54 North Warning System (NWS) radar stations, based in Arctic, are nearing the end of their life spans and could need to be replaced as early as 2025.
“This project will allow us to develop the technology to help move quantum radar from the lab to the field,” said Baugh. “It could change the way we think about national security.”