Dstl: The science inside UK defence and security

PA Consulting outlines their work with the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), designing new quantum technology to keep the nation safer

Radio communications underpin many aspects of our defence and security infrastructure. But the basic principles behind the technology design haven’t changed in over a century. Now quantum technology is changing that. We designed the blueprint for a radically new type of radio receiver, with the potential to transform the UK’s most critical communication capabilities including defence, security and emergency communications.

Capitalising on our expertise in quantum physics and applied engineering, we developed a ground-breaking design that is one of the first of its kind in Europe. It will play a key role in positioning the UK at the forefront of quantum development and application. Crucially, it will also help to make the communications infrastructure on which our way of life depends more resilient and more secure than ever.

Key Successes: 

  • applied advanced quantum principles to the practical challenge of making radio communications more agile and flexible
  • unravelled complex scientific advances to pinpoint the opportunity for the UK to become a leader in a disruptive technology
  • supercharged our own expertise in quantum science through seamless collaboration with researchers at the University of Durham
  • designed a quantum radio sensor incorporating twin lasers, one of the first of its kind in Europe, in just two months

Creating a new space and greater security for vital communication 

Radio waves and the antennas that receive them are woven into the fabric of our modern lives. Built into mobile phones, sat nav systems and wireless networks, these tiny components play a vital role in keeping modern life moving. Their presence in the UK’s defence infrastructure means they are also crucial to keeping the nation safe.

The range of frequencies within which traditional antennas work is getting more congested and more contested. Emergency services, for example, might struggle to get the clear bandwidth they need to coordinate their response to a terrorist incident. Or hostile states might contest for control of the airwaves in an attempt to divert the management of vital infrastructure or increase the complexity for defence forces responding to a situation.

Alert to these challenges, the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) called for ideas on how disruptive technologies could provide a solution. The agency’s role is to help the UK government apply science and technology innovation to strengthen the nation’s defence and security. We have worked with Dstl for over a decade, developing a deep understanding of their needs. We were unique in identifying the possibilities from a radical new source – quantum technology.

Applying disruptive technology to real-world challenges 

Quantum technology is a fast-emerging field of physics and engineering. The UK government has invested over £1 billion into quantum technologies since 2014. Quantum technology uses the principles of quantum physics to develop new communications networks, computers and sensors for imaging and measuring objects. In the context of radio, we can use light to sense radio waves, deploying lasers to pick up the infinitesimally small changes in atomic vibrations that radio waves can cause.

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