Ship part

HMS Prince of Wales becomes the first surface ship to carry an atomic clock

Britain’s supercarrier HMS Prince of Wales has become the first surface ship to be fitted with a state-of-the-art atomic clock as it departs for joint NATO exercises Cold Response 2022 off the north coast from Norway.

With 35,000 soldiers from 28 countries on land, sea or air, Exercise Cold Response 2022 is a prime example of the complexity of modern military missions. It is not just about assembling armies, air wings and warships, but also the long and complex logistics train that supports them and their increasingly complex and sophisticated command and control systems.

One of the keys to keeping it all from collapsing into utter chaos is the use of precise timing. This does not mean having synchronized watches accurate to the second, but complex digital systems that can stay synchronized in nanoseconds or better, for the control of cyber systems and long-range military assets that must be able to reach their targets with a precision well below the nearest meter.

The new atomic clock can be carried aboard a surface ship

Royal Navy

This accuracy is achieved through the use of time signals through GPS and similar systems, but GPS is far from invulnerable or universally reliable. Under certain conditions, GPS signals can fail and hostile or even malicious actors can spoof or jam them.

For this reason, the Royal Navy is keen to find a way to place its own atomic clocks on board ships as a backup. Unfortunately, modern atomic clocks that rely on quantum or optical principles are extremely large and delicate devices that fill entire rooms.

Or at least they were.

The new clock is about the size of a laptop
The new clock is about the size of a laptop

Royal Navy

A combined effort by the Navy, BP and Teledyne e2v has produced a new type of atomic clock that is accurate enough for military applications, but only the size of a laptop computer. Exact details of this new device have not been released, but it could be similar to a system developed by DARPA that uses light instead of microwaves for much greater accuracy.

To test the new clock, HMS Prince of Wales will use it during Exercise Cold Response, which is tasked with practicing the defense of Norway and NATO’s northern flank. This will not only involve land and air units, but also naval forces led by the Prince of Wales which will include a full carrier group.

If the technology proves successful in the Arctic, the next step will be to adapt it so that it can be carried by other ships and in the Royal Marines Commando Force kit.

“Putting state-of-the-art quantum equipment on the front line is a game-changer for the UK,” said Lt Col Scott Wallace RM.

Source: Royal Navy