WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Chinas bold claim of creating the worlds first Quantum Radar system, if true, will render US, and all stealth systems, obsolete
This week Beijing’s state media arm, the Global Times, made the bold claim that a Chinese defense contractor successfully developed the world’s first Quantum Radar System and that the radar can allegedly detect objects at range of up to 62 miles (100km).
If the claim is true, and we have no corroborating evidence to suggest that it is, then this would render almost all of the US’s stealth fleet, and stealth capabilities, obsolete.
Quantum radar is based on the theory of quantum entanglement and the idea that two different particles can share a relationship with one another to the point that, by studying one particle, you can learn things about the other particle, which could be miles away. These two particles are said to be entangled.
In quantum radars, a photon is split by a crystal into two entangled photons, a process known as “Parametric down-conversion.” The radar splits multiple photons into entangled pairs – an A and a B, so to speak. The radar systems sends one half of the pairs – the A’s – via microwave beam into the air. The other half, the B’s, remain back at the radar base.
By studying the photons that stay at the radar base radar operators can tell what is happening to the A’s – wherever they happen to be and if the A’s come into contact with an object then the way they interact with it can tell the operator how large it is, what its configuration is, how fast it’s travelling, where it’s headed and a lot more besides. And as you can see from the trace below, from a US miniaturized experiment back in 2012 despite all its stealth technology the B-2 looks like a B-2 – on a traditional radar scope it would be invisible.
A Quantum Radar trace of a B-2
Quantum radars defeat stealth by using subatomic particles, not radio waves and that is the main – and most significant difference between them and the traditional radar systems we rely on today. Subatomic particles don’t care if an object’s shape was designed to reduce a traditional, radio wave-based radar signature and furthermore quantum radar would also be immune to traditional radar jamming and spoofing methods such as radiowave radar jammers and chaff.
According to Global Times, the 14th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) developed the radar system last month. China isn’t alone in its ambitions to build a quantum radar – in 2008 Lockheed Martin was granted a patent on a theoretical design but Lockheed’s plans were grander – including the ability to “visualize useful target details through background and, or camouflaging clutter, through plasma shrouds around hypersonic air vehicles, through the layers of concealment hiding underground facilities, IEDs, mines, and other threats.”
Since the 2008 patent, Lockheed’s been silent on the subject of quantum radars. Given what a technological leap such a system would be, it’s quite possible the research has gone “black” and been absorbed into their secretive Skunk Works division.
As for whether or not the Chinese have managed to pull of the titanic feat of creating a quantum radar system well, until there’s additional proof it’s hard not to be cynical but when it comes to Quantum technology China has already posted a couple of firsts and, of course, if it true then the Pentagon is going to have to re-think its stealth strategy.