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Un-jammable quantum technology takes flight to boost UK’s resilience

The UK has successfully completed commercial flight trials of an advanced quantum-based navigation system that cannot be jammed or spoofed by hostile actors.

It is hoped the commercial world-first  in new quantum-based positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems could help flights from being hit by GPS jamming, which is a rare occurrence, while also providing accurate and resilient navigation that complements current satellite systems.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) said that Infleqtion, a quantum technology firm, has been working with aerospace companies BAE Systems and QinetiQ on the project.

Trials were completed at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire this week.

Quantum technology
It is hoped the technology may form part of a quantum inertial navigation system (QinetiQ/PA)

These tests are the first time that this sort of ground-breaking technology has been trialled in the UK on an aircraft in flight, the DSIT said.

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They are also the first such flights worldwide that have been publicly acknowledged, the DSTI added.

Science minister Andrew Griffith, who was aboard the final test flight on Thursday, said: “From passenger flights to shipping, we all depend on navigation systems that are accurate, safe and secure.

“The scientific research we are supporting here on quantum technology could well provide the resilience to protect our interests.

“The fact that this technology has flown for the first time in British skies is further proof of the UK as one of the world leaders on quantum.”

A compact Tiqker optical atomic clock and a tightly confined ultra-cold-atom-based quantum system were among the technologies that were demonstrated in a series of  test flights.

It is hoped the technology may form part of a quantum inertial navigation system (Q-INS), which has the potential to revolutionise PNT.

It could offer a  system with  exceptional accuracy and resilience, independent of traditional satellite navigation using GPS.

The project is backed by nearly £8 million from the Government.

This funding, with the £2.5 billion National Quantum Strategy and the National Quantum Technologies Programme, aims to improve the UK’s position as a leading quantum-enabled economy.

Precision clocks are key to modern PNT technology, which helps with location, navigation and keeping track of time.

The test is part of a project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to try to create quantum sensors to address the UK’s heavy reliance on systems such as GPS for location, navigation and timing data.

It is thought that this dependence could create a vulnerability, in which a failure such as jamming or spoofing GPS signals could disrupt critical economic, defence, and strategic activities.

Infleqtion UK president Dr Timothy Ballance,  and Henry White, of BAE Systems, described the trials as “a significant step forward” in the development of quantum PNT solutions.

Dr Balance said: “The work we have done directly addresses the critical need to reduce our reliance on satellite navigation systems, which are vulnerable to various risks.

“The successful flight trials demonstrate the potential of quantum technology in overcoming navigation system challenges, which is an exciting development for future applications in the aerospace industry and beyond.”

Mr White believes the trials could help in developing quantum technology that could “ultimately offer a significant military advantage”.

He added: “Knowing reliably and precisely when and where any asset and sensor system are, feeds into additional options for platform design and capability.

“This will play a big role in supporting the development of next generation combat air systems.

“Working closely with wider industry and experts now, at the early stages of the technology development, helps us to shape the solution in a way that ensures the technology can be integrated for military applications.”

The consortium working alongside Infleqtion includes Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics, Alter Technology UK, Caledonian Photonics, Redwave Labs, PA Consulting, BAE Systems, and QinetiQ.