Another quantum application: navigation resilience through quantum sensing

International defence community interest in quantum science and applications has increased in recent years as the technology has developed and military and national security communities have better understood how the technology can create advantages in several contexts.

In July, one of these areas of growing defence interest in quantum is seen in the July announcement that Sydney-based quantum tech startup Q-CTRL is partnering with the Australian Department of Defence to deliver quantum-assured navigation for military platforms through the use of quantum sensing.

Currently, military platforms and systems rely largely on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s GLONASS, China’s Beidou, and the European GALLILEO system. These systems have become increasingly vulnerable to jamming and spoofing as electronic warfare (EW) capabilities have improved, creating the potential for navigation failures that can be debilitating to military operations.

For example, analysis in July from the UK’s Royal United Services Institute’s Dr. Thomas Withington determined that Russian GPS jamming tactics are undermining the effectiveness of US-supplied Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). According to Withington, jamming is not necessarily “causing the JDAMs to stop working, but it is risking their accuracy.”

Moreover, in many domains, access to GNSS is not consistent or possible, such as underground, undersea, and in deep space.

While militaries have developed back-up systems, such as inertial navigation systems, these systems are less reliable when operating without GPS, causing concern over a lack of navigation resilience for future military operations in which GNSS will be among the first targets of cyber and EW attacks.

Quantum sensing and navigation can help address this problem. According to Q-CTRL, quantum sensing “uses the quantum physics of atoms to detect motion and small changes in the Earth’s gravitational field, leveraging these signals to enable navigation over extended periods. Quantum sensors provide very reliable outputs because their signals are derived from the fundamental laws of physics, unlike existing mechanical or electrical systems that degrade over time or under different operating conditions.”

Q-CTRL also stresses that quantum sensing technologies can be used to help detect difficult to detect threats and anomalies and to perform subsurface explorations, further increasing resilience and survivability of platforms and systems.

Q-CTRL quantum sensing products. Source: Q-CTRL

The contract constitutes what Q-CTRL is the first multi-year effort to field-deploy and validate miniaturized systems on defence platforms” and represents “one of the first international partnerships between government and the private sector to apply quantum technology in real defense settings.”