DIU launches new emerging tech portfolio, solicits industry for quantum sensing capabilities

The "Emerging Technology" portfolio will focus on transitioning "deep-tech" capabilities from the commercial sector to the Pentagon's business ecosystem.
(Getty Images)

The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit has created a new portfolio to integrate nascent technology into military operations, and it’s kicking off those efforts with a solicitation to industry for quantum sensors that can provide alternative position, navigation and timing (PNT) capabilities.

According to a commercial solutions opening posted to DIU’s website Thursday, the organization is seeking prototypes that can be demonstrated for military applications under its Transition of Quantum Sensors (TQS) program. The multiyear, multiphase effort aims to mature quantum sensing technologies and demonstrate them for “end-to-end DOD operational utility.”

The TQS program is part of the unit’s new “Emerging Technology” portfolio, also announced by DIU Thursday. Air Force Lt. Col. Nicholas Estep has been tapped to lead the portfolio, which will focus on commercial and non-traditional “deep-tech” capabilities that do not have established or defined transition pathways to the Defense Department’s business ecosystem, according to a press release.

DIU’s other portfolios include artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber and telecom, energy, human systems and space.


Quantum sensors are designed to detect changes in movement and electric and magnetic fields at the atomic level, offering “the promise of significant improvements in precision, accuracy, and sensitivity compared to classical sensors,” the TQS solicitation noted. 

The technology has reached the point of maturity where the Pentagon is ready to conduct operational demonstrations for military applications, according to the listing. The TQS program will have three lines of effort: inertial sensing, magnetometers and technology insertions for spiral enhancements to quantum sensing.

The initiative will mainly explore how both inertial and magnetic sensor systems can provide enhancements and security to the Pentagon’s PNT-dependent missions, such as dynamic space operations.

When compared to conventional systems, inertial sensors have demonstrated a reduced drift rate — or the gradual, subtle changes in the sensor that can cause discrepancies between the actual data being measured and what is output by a system.

“The result of reduced drift from quantum inertial systems is extended navigation solution holdover times, increasing mission effectiveness during absence of precision position updates from systems like GPS,” the solicitation noted.


On the other hand, magnetic navigation (MagNav) systems are highly immune to interference from either adversary attacks or environment conditions. As a result, these sensors could operate where others could not, “such as over water, when weather may obstruct celestial and terrain visibility, or during long missions when drift dominates the inertial nav solution,” according to the post.

DIU is also interested in how magnetometers can enhance geomagnetic surveying and magnetic anomaly detection missions for submarines and explosive hazardous materials. The organization is looking for commercial solutions that can be integrated onto drones and maintain the necessary sensitivity to accurately track anomalous magnetic signatures in the Earth.

Proposals are due by May 29. Industry can submit their solutions for either one or both use cases, but DIU intends to prioritize technologies with modular, iterative designs that can address both mission areas.

“The intent is to have mid-course functional demonstrations of end-to-end solutions, followed by operational demonstrations within the next five years for relevant military applications and mission sets to conclude the prototyping program,” the post noted. “The opportunity for design spirals, to include technical enhancement insertions, is expected during the program.”

Another early focus for DIU’s new emerging tech portfolio will be on existing and upcoming hypersonics efforts. It will take over the organization’s High-cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities (HyCAT) program, which aims to prototype hypersonic testing systems for the Defense Department. 


In the future, the portfolio will launch prototyping efforts for “advanced materials and propulsion, nanotechnology, photonics, microelectronics, additive manufacturing and quantum information science,” according to a release.

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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