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

by Ward Carroll on October 3, 2012

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.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

nwatt October 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I hope they really mean 15 cubic millimeters…


tmb2 October 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

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


Abranches October 5, 2012 at 2:14 am

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


Lance October 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

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


JJ6000 October 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

so what happens if I fall on my vest?


blight_ October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

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 October 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

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_ October 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm

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 October 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm

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 October 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm

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 October 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm

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


John Moore October 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

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


TrustButVerify October 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

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 October 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

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


Curt October 5, 2012 at 9:30 am

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 October 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm

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


NathanS October 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Military encryption requires very high precision timing as well since the keys rotate rapidly (and at irregular timings) to thwart hacking attempts. Even if you do strike it lucky and guess the key, it's only going to be good for a few seconds.

And if someone does break military encryption you have far bigger worries.

To be honest, the enemy could easily determine a soldiers rough position by triangulation of the signal strength of their radio. This would mean that the enemy has control of the surrounding infrastructure, and so its no surprise that so this kind of infrastructure is usually bombed early on.


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