The UK has successfully tested an ‘un-jammable’ quantum navigation technology in commercial fight tests, a first-of-its kind achievement, with the project looking to reduce the rare but significant vulnerabilities currently inherent in existing reliance on GPS systems.

“While GPS [Global Positioning System] jamming is currently relatively rare and does not directly impact an aircraft’s flight path, new quantum-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) systems could, over time, offer one part of a larger solution to providing highly accurate and resilient navigation that complements current satellite systems,” explains the UK government.

Earlier this year, thousands of flights in and out of Britain were subject to incidents of suspected malicious GPS jamming, with foreign secretary Lord David Cameron condemning reports of Russian interference as “extremely irresponsible”. Both military and civil flights around the Baltic region have also reported elevated incidences of suspected GPS jamming, further evidence of the need to develop alternative systems such as quantum-based PNT solutions.

In a world first, airborne trials were conducted from the Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site, led by quantum technology firm Infleqtion. Aerospace companies BAE Systems and QinetiQ were also involved with the project, which has received nearly £8 million of government funding to date. The airborne test on board QinetiQ’s modified RJ100 Airborne Technology Demonstrator is also part of a project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), focusing on creating quantum sensors to address the UK’s heavy dependence on GPS for location and navigation.

“Modern infrastructure is increasingly dependent on highly accurate timing and navigation derived from satellite signals,” explained Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director of Quantum Technologies at Innovate UK, part of UKRI. “These flight tests mark the culmination of two excellent projects, funded through UKRI, which Infleqtion has had the vision to create and the deftness in leadership to execute with an outstanding team of collaborators”.

By 2030, Mission 4 of the UK’s National Quantum Strategy aims to deploy quantum systems on aircraft, providing “next-generation accuracy and resilience independent of satellite signals”.
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