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May 18, 2022

DARPA announces programme to develop GPS-independent clocks

The programme aims to develop ultra-small, low-power, fieldable GPS-independent clocks.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in the US, has announced the H6 programme to develop GPS-independent clocks that can maintain accurate timing to improve mission success.

Certain military systems depend on global positioning system (GPS) timing updates.

GPS capabilities can deteriorate underground or underwater and may also become unavailable due to jamming by adversaries. In turn, this may jeopardise the success of the mission.

The H6 programme seeks to address this issue and aims to support the development of ultra-small, low-power, fieldable clocks that can maintain precise microsecond timing precision for a week without GPS fixes.

Such clocks will be designed to operate in a temperature range of -40°C to 85°C.

DARPA Microsystems Technology Office H6 programme manager Jonathan Hoffman said: “When clockmaker John Harrison developed his H1 through H5 marine chronometers to compete for British Parliament’s 1714 Longitude Act prize, determining longitude was the tactical mission challenge of the era.

“Today, GPS denial is the most significant PNT [positioning, navigation and timing] challenge. H6 is the spiritual successor to Harrison’s H5, and with it we aim to remove GPS-timing dependency while maintaining signal assurance, pervasive security, and high-bandwidth communications. H6 is the clock Harrison would build to solve today’s tactical mission challenge of GPS denial.”

The H6 programme includes three phases.

In the first phase, the performers will address clock dependence on temperature and size, weight, and power (SWaP) reduction constraints.

The second phase will involve clock ageing and the demonstration of operation throughout the tactical temperature range.

In the final phase, the performers will demonstrate a fully integrated tactical-grade clock, as well as fabricate and deliver five clocks.

The proposals are due on 8 August 2022 and the work is scheduled to start in January next year.

The DARPA recently selected six teams for the Morphogenic Interfaces (MINT) programme.

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