Latest quantum radar tech could make stealth aircraft obsolete

25 Apr 2018

A B-2 stealth bomber in flight. Image: Thomas D Dittmer/Shutterstock

The world’s biggest military aircraft developers are constantly improving stealth technology, but they may have met their match.

For the past few decades, true stealth aircraft such as the F-117 and the B-2 have been considered the leading designs, capable of shrouding themselves from almost all radar recognition.

Since then, not only has the technology in the aircraft improved, but so has the technology used to detect them, particularly one recent development.

A team from the University of Waterloo in Canada has revealed what it calls a ‘quantum radar system’, which can detect stealth aircraft as well as missiles with unparalleled accuracy.

Current stealth aircraft rely on special paint and body design to absorb and deflect the radio waves emitted by the radar tower, in addition to electronic jammers that swamp the tower with artificial noise.

Quantum radar, however, uses a sensing technique called quantum illumination to detect and receive information about an object capable of exposing the aircraft but also, crucially, not alert the pilot that it has been detected.

At its core, the technology leverages the quantum principle of entanglement whereby two photons form a connected or entangled pair. As one of the photons reaches a distant object, the other actually stays behind.

Demand for new radar

Photons in the return signal are checked for noticeable signatures of entanglement, allowing photons from the noisy environmental background to be discarded, improving the radar signal-to-noise in certain situations.

All that is needed now, the team said, is to realise a fast, on-demand source of entangled photons.

“The goal for our project is to create a robust source of entangled photons that can be generated at the press of a button,” said Jonathan Baugh of the research team.

So far, quantum illumination has only been experimented on in the lab but, as tensions with Russia escalate, both Canada and the US are eager to have new systems in place for national security.

This is especially true seeing as radar stations in the Arctic operated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command are nearing the end of their lifespans and could need to be replaced as early as 2025.

A B-2 stealth bomber in flight. Image: Thomas D Dittmer/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic