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The world’s first atomic clock of its kind has been fitted to Britain’s biggest warship, HMS Prince of Wales, to help ensure pinpoint accuracy wherever she goes. The carrier received the state-of-the-art piece of quantum technology before sailing for Norway in March to take part in a large military exercise in the Arctic.

The technology – about the size of a typical laptop – provides a highly-accurate time signal which will allow the ship’s complex combat systems to synchronize should the more traditional GPS signal fail.

Time signals are crucial for warships and having precise information helps the ship’s company stay safe while at sea on operations. But relying on one system such as GPS can cause problems should it break or be unavailable so the introduction of the quantum technology gives a reliable backup. Until recently, atomic clock systems were large and cumbersome. The quantum technology in a size that can be installed on a vessel was adapted to use by the Royal Navy working alongside BP and Teledyne e2v, a Teledyne UK company.

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Wallace RM, of the Royal Navy Office of the Chief Technology Officer, said: “Putting leading-edge quantum equipment into the front line is a game-changer for the UK.”

According to royalnavy.mod.uk, accelerating the use of an atomic clock comes as the Royal Navy looks to become less reliant on GPS and is the first time this technology has been used on a surface ship. 

The exact details of this new device haven’t been released, but it could be similar to a system being developed by DARPA that uses light instead of microwaves for much greater accuracy, according to newatlas.com.

Achieving a huge reduction in size, the UK system has the potential to be used by other ships in the Fleet as well as in day sacks carried by the Royal Marines Commando Force.