Research physicist looks to quantum cryptography to solve electronic warfare problems

By Katie Davis Skelley, DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center Public AffairsJuly 27, 2022

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (July 27, 2022) – It sounds like something out of a Marvel movie, but for one U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center research physicist, quantum cryptography is very real.

Dr. Jonathan Blakely is studying the spoofing of radar signals, authoring a paper that was recently accepted by Physical Review Research. His research has garnered quite a bit of attention in the aviation and missile technology world for its implications in electronic warfare.

But first off, what is spoofing? Spoofing is the transmission of fake signals to fool a radar sensor. Along with colleague Dr. Shawn Pethel, who co-authored the paper, and Dr. Kurt Jacobs from Army Research Lab, the team modeled a scenario where an airborne target attempts to avoid being tracked by a ground-based radar by emitting pulses indicating a false range or velocity, showing that a sensor can exploit quantum mechanics to detect spoofing at the single-photon level.

How does this happen? Quantum cryptography.

“Quantum cryptography is the idea of using quantum physics to allow the distribution of encryption keys in a way that it would be physically impossible to eavesdrop on without notifying the users that they were being eavesdropped on,” Blakely said.

Say an airborne target has been launched, an air and missile defense radar should be tracking it and will then dispatch a missile to hit that target.

“If your target can spoof your radar, the missile will go to the wrong place,” Blakely said. “That is a current problem and this research does not give us an immediate solution. But it does suggest that looking at radar pulses in terms of quantum physics and accessing the quantum information could be a completely new resource for dealing with spoofing.”

For Blakely, this type of innovative thinking is why he came to DEVCOM AvMC in 2003 as a National Research Council post-doctoral fellow. Blakely said that had always had enjoyed physics growing up, but what really piqued his interest in the field was an inspiring high school physics teacher and Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History in Time.”

He obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a PhD from Duke University. While a graduate student at Duke, Blakely presented some of his research at a conference and was approached by a research physicist and recruiter for the Center. After 18 months as a postdoctoral associate, Blakely accepted a full time position.

“I enjoy learning about cutting edge science and being a part of that,” he said. “AvMC has given me a surprising degree of freedom to follow curiosity in pursuing these problems. Doing basic research for the Army can be a little different than a university in that you always have this relevance to missile technology in how you view the world of science. One might view that as being less free than an academic researcher. But on the other hand, it gives me a clear motivation. I don’t feel like I am pursuing ideas without any real sense of why I am doing it.

“There is an ocean of science out there. There are so many papers published every single day. AvMC gives me a framework of where I want to spend my time.”


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for Public Release.