“Pardon Me, Soldier, but Would You Happen to Have the Atomic Time?”

Military.com is running an an item that reports that the U.S. Army has begun the final phase for manufacturing a microchip-sized prototype that will support efforts to provide highly accurate location and battlefield situational awareness for the dismounted soldier, even in the temporary absence of GPS capability.

The goal is to provide complete atomic clock capabilities for weapons, weapon systems and the dismounted Soldier, and to do this with low power and drastically reduced cost, noted John Del Colliano, chief for the Positioning, Navigation and Timing branch of CERDEC’s Command, Power & Integration directorate.

“An atomic clock, which is recognized for its accuracy, is used by the military in larger systems; however, the typical atomic clock is large, heavy and requires lots of power. Large systems/platforms like bombers have the advantage of having more power and space to accommodate a full-scale atomic clock, but that’s not true for a Soldier on the battlefield or for munitions being fired,” Del Colliano said.

The chip-scale atomic clock or “CSAC,” which is approximately 15 cubic centimeters, could be integrated into a platform, weapon or a device worn by a soldier and will be completely transparent to the user, said Paul M. Olson, acting associate director, Systems Engineering, for CERDEC CP&I.

“The CSAC is a critical tool for systems that require very accurate time synchronization, such as communication, navigation, radar and weapon systems. When used in conjunction with other sensors, the CSAC can help these systems provide highly accurate location and battlefield SA to units and commanders,” Olson said.  “If GPS is disrupted or jammed, a CSAC could provide precise time to the GPS receiver to enable rapid recovery or to protect receivers from GPS spoofing, a condition where false GPS signals are broadcast to fool GPS receivers with erroneous information. The hope is that the Soldier wouldn’t even know that his GPS is being jammed.”

Read the full story here.

  • nwatt

    I hope they really mean 15 cubic millimeters…

    • tmb2

      15 cubic centimeters is roughly the size of a C battery. Seems pretty big considering the photo is a pair of tweezers.

      • Abranches

        15 cm3 is the volume of a cube 2.5 cm each side (0.8 inches). Pretty small.

  • Lance

    Hope they plan to have it in the vest in the helmet falling over could destroy your chip and ruin the mission.

    • JJ6000

      so what happens if I fall on my vest?

  • blight_

    The GPS system depends on atomic clock synchro. I imagine accurate timekeeping might be useful for INS systems, and for tanks driving through an empty desert you could compensate for GPS time-lag with atomic clock data, or use it with an INS for accurate positioning.

    Are we anticipating an environment where GPS-in-the-sky may no longer be guaranteed?

    • Curt

      Look at urban or mountanous environments. It is very possible that GPS could be lost or disrupted, even without the enemy doing anything. Throw in someone actively trying to jam GPS signals and you risk losing a critical advantage of accurately knowing where you are.

      But if you have a very accurate clock, by using known locations of nodes in a network and measuring time delays from normal radio transmissions, you would be able to continue to update your position, just as cellphones get navigational updates from cell towers (although they use an external timing function just like GPS).

      Any known location that broadcasts a signal can then becomes a navigational reference just like any position marked on a chart can become a navigational reference. If nothing else, it would make GPS spoofing incredibly difficult because you would be able to compare your GPS signal to potentially hundreds of sources of information.

      • blight_

        At the moment, it seems like atomic clocks that aren’t broadcasting a signal. I’m not sure if we are going to make that leap to effectively setting up GPS ground stations…but it might not be a bad idea.

        • Curt

          true, it doesn’t work that way yet, but what the really small atomic clock allows is the potential for every unit, down to the individual, to have a very precise knowledge of time. With that and an equally small INS (which already exists), each station in the network (basically everyone) can now send a signal on top of the network signal saying where it is and at what time. With an accurate clock synchronized to the same time, you potentially get a line of position from every signal you can receive! GPS (or Galileo or or even a known surveyed point) can then update the INS. So even if GPS is denied, you can maintain a very accurate, and equally important, precise position that is virtually immune to spoofing. But everything hinges on the ability to very accurately measure time independently.

    • screecwe

      With China flexing its anti-satellite missile systems and lasers used to blind satellites, I think this is an expected progression of technology to try and combat some of the effects of losing some of our GPS capabilities.

  • Jayson

    Wow think this’ll be an impetus to convert to metric too?

  • John Moore

    Too much relies on GPS, like they say a chain always breaks at it’s weakest point.

    • TrustButVerify

      It’s a good thing we have compasses, maps, INS backups in the JDAMs and aircraft nav systems, and unguided munitions. As well as muntions that can deal with jammers (GPS or otherwise) in a direct fashion.

  • USA

    ats possible but its better to have something like this han withought it. now we arnt totaly ependant on our satilites any more

  • Curt

    And this is somehow worse than Link 11 or Link 16 or GCCS or blue force tracker or a radio or, well its not worth going on.

    However, by having an accurate clock, you make it far more difficult for the bad guy to feed you false position information or jam your navigation information. Additionally, false transmissions can be potentally more easily detected and rejected because there content/false information and position don’t match.

  • A. Nonymous

    I’m completely out of atomic time right now. Would you like some Grey Poupon instead?