Defense Taps Quantum for Detection

Military use cases include detecting infrared and locating enemy submarines
Berenice Baker

September 7, 2022

Quantum technology could detect enemy submarines.Getty

U.S. and U.K. defense research agencies have announced research projects using quantum technology to improve detection that could have military and commercial applications.

Quantum infrared detectors

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched research to develop compact room-temperature infrared detectors using quantum properties.

The five-year optomechanical thermal imaging program, or OpTIm, aims to create sensors for night vision, battlefield surveillance and terrestrial and space imaging.

“It would also enable a host of commercial applications including infrared spectroscopy for non-invasive cancer diagnosis, highly accurate and immediate pathogen detection from a person’s breath or in the air, and pre-disease detection of threats to agriculture and foliage health,” said DARPA defense sciences office OpTIm program manager Mukund Vengalattore.

The program will combine three sensor technologies: all-optical detectors that deliver quantum-level detection, optomechanical

resonators, and metamaterials with precise IR absorption to detect desired wavelengths.

“It would also enable a host of commercial applications including infrared spectroscopy for non-invasive cancer diagnosis, highly accurate and immediate pathogen detection from a person’s breath or in the air, and pre-disease detection of threats to agriculture and foliage health,” added Vengalattore.

DARPA has issued a request for research proposals for the first stage of the OpTIm program.

Detecting enemy submarines

Meanwhile, researchers at the U.K.’s Defense Science Technical Laboratory (Dstl) are experimenting with using quantum technology that measures distortions in the Earth’s gravitational field to detect enemy submarines.

The research uses atomic clocks, which measure the passage of time exceptionally accurately by measuring the vibration of atoms. They are so sensitive that they can measure the tiny variations in gravity caused by changes in altitude or by a large object, such as a submarine, passing under them.

The research is sponsored by the U.K. National Quantum Program, which was launched at

Quantum Summit London

in June.

Researchers at Dstl’s quantum lab are also investigating quantum accelerometers, which could replace GPS-based navigation technology or be used in GPS-denied locations.

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