Radar is a powerful military tool because it makes it possible to spot enemy aircraft beyond the line of sight. It does this by sending out a burst of radio energy, which bounces back when it encounters another object. So-called “stealth” aircraft try to get around this by becoming invisible to radar — either by using flat, angular shapes to reflect radar signals away from radar equipment or by using materials which absorb radar signals.
So far, so old news, right? Perhaps so, but things could be about to change if a new report coming out of China proves to be correct. At a recent air show in the city of Zhuhai, state-owned Chinese defense giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation displayed what it claims to be a quantum radar that’s able to detect even the stealthiest of stealth aircraft. The company claims to have been working on the technology for years, and to have tested it for the first time in 2015.
In principle, a quantum radar functions like a regular radar — only that instead of sending out a single beam of electromagnetic energy, it uses two split streams of entangled photons. Only one of these beams is sent out, but due to a quirk of quantum physics both streams will display the same changes, despite being potentially miles apart. As a result, by looking at the stream which remains back home it’s possible to work out what has happened to the other beam.
According to a brochure from the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, the new quantum radar could “solve the traditional bottleneck [of] detection of low observable target detection, survival under electronic warfare conditions, [and] platform load limitations.”
What’s less clear is whether this is real functioning technology or an example of the Chinese government bragging about some technology which does not yet exist. “Without being able to take the lid off what has been shown here, we can’t be sure if this is an elaborate hoax,” Alan Woodward, a professor of physics at the U.K.’s University of Surrey, told New Scientist.
The demonstration was only available to Chinese media, and foreign press — including a reporter for the publication Aviation Week — were asked to leave. Still, if this does turn out to be legit, it will represent a game changer in the world of stealth aircraft.