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Secure positions – Defence careers in quantum technology

From secure positioning and navigation systems to magnetic camouflage for tanks, Australian Defence scientists are leading the quantum charge

Over the next decade, the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) will spend $1.2 billion to develop quantum technology in applications such as sensing, navigation and communications as a priority area of their Next Generation Technologies Fund, which will develop high-tech solutions for the “future Defence Force after next”.

The fund has already paid for some very cool projects. These include researching whether quantum radar can lock onto stealth aircraft, using lasers or tiny diamonds to sense metal objects through walls or track submarines, and a super-precise portable atomic clock that ticks three trillion times per second!

As well as helping keep our Defence Force safe and in top form, these technologies can also be applied to applications including geo-exploration, vehicle and smartphone navigation systems.

Secure positioning

GPS is more than a handy way to find your way from A to B. In Defence, the US-run satellite positioning system is the key to precise military manoeuvers, navigation and guided weapon targeting. If GPS is lost or jammed, there is no alternative system to keep our Defence Force on track.

The loss of GPS could be due to factors including cyber attacks by hostile forces
or poor satellite reception when operating underwater, underground, in the mountains or in dense cities. 

DSTG is working on a project to combine emerging quantum tech with conventional positioning to make sure Defence has access to accurate positioning and navigation data at all times.

Quantum stealth

The annual Army Quantum Next Generation Challenge gives university students, researchers and talented Army personnel the opportunity to devise and pitch innovative applications of quantum tech.

In 2021, the challenge was to protect soldiers and equipment from detection by a highly accurate drone-mounted quantum magnetometer. Solutions included using the Earth’s magnetic field as camouflage and decoy magnetic field generators. A team from QUT devised the winning concept – a magnetic field generator to keep an Army tank safe by reducing its magnetic signature on the fly.

The Army’s Quantum Technology Roadmap lays out future plans for quantum tech, including developing the top solutions discovered in the innovation challenges and supporting their implementation in the field

Quantum pathways

To become a quantum Defence researcher, you’ll need an Honours or Masters degree in science, electrical engineering or materials science. After uni, you can apply for the Research and Innovation Pathway of the Defence Graduate Program. Over 12 months it involves two rotations in DSTG, the ADF or Defence industry, in roles that could include a quantum project or lead to a project working in quantum technologies. You could also look out for opportunities to partner with Defence through PhD or postgraduate projects.

Career profile: NAVIGATE science advisor

A fascination with natural phenomena led Dr Alexander into science and he now uses quantum physics and his chemistry skills in Defence

After studying science at uni and working in academia, he wanted to apply his STEM
skills elsewhere.

Collaborate and listen

As NAVIGATE Science Advisor for DSTG, Alexander develops collaborative research projects between Defence, academia at the DualTech Ultrashort and Short Pulsed Laser (DualTech-USPL) facility at the University of Adelaide, which develops and builds laser tech.

Drawing on his laser spectroscopy skills, he studies how light interacts with matter. 

“This is a fancy way of saying that I blast molecules with lasers and watch what happens!” he explains. “Understanding observations from these experiments involves performing complex calculations that rely on quantum physics.”

Alexander’s advice? “Talk to as many STEM and/or Defence professionals as you can to learn about all of the exciting opportunities out there.” 

Alexander’s study and career path to becoming NAVIGATE science advisor at DSTG

  • Bachelor of Science (Honours) (Chemistry)
  • PhD in Checmical Sciences
  • Postdoctoral research associate
  • Research associate
  • NAVIGATE Science Advisor, DSTG

Start your career here

Defence + Quantum study

  • Bachelor of Science (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Materials Science) (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Computer Systems) (Honours)

Defence + Quantum jobs

  • Defence Graduate Researcher APS Level 4. Training salary starts at $65,133, on graduation $71,109


This article was first published in Careers with STEM: Defence 2023. For more on Defence careers, head to our STEM + Defence hub!

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