The Ministry of Defence is investing millions of pounds to look for the holy grail of navigation: a tamper and interference-proof device capable of pinpointing a location anywhere on the globe.
Scientists at Porton Down and the National Physical Laboratory believe they are three to five years away from developing a “quantum compass” that would be able to locate itself based on the subatomic effects of the earth’s magnetic field.
The technology, which would have no need for satellites or fixed points of reference such as radio masts, is of military interest around the world, because of the limitations of space-based navigation systems.
In February, the US pioneer of GPS, the most widely used satellite navigational array, warned that the system was under strain and was extremely vulnerable to deliberate disruption or attack.
The incredible leap that GPS technology provided will be hard to duplicate (for instance, GPS is as much a timing system as it is a navigation system). But a totally passive system would be immune to enemy attack.