The French defence procurement agency (DGA) has awarded a multi-year contract to Thales and radiocommunications developer Syrlinks to develop a new generation of atomic clocks.

The small, high performance quantum clocks, named CHRONOS, will cater to both civil and military applications.

Given the high stability, with an error of less than one second in tens of thousands of years, the quantum clocks will enable defence-related electronics equipment to operate even when a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signal such as GPS or Galileo, is unavailable, especially in cases of hostile jamming.

For defence applications, the two companies will work in coordination with the defence procurement agency to protect the country’s technological sovereignty with regard to GNSS-denied positioning, navigation, guidance, and ECCM-protected, encrypted military communications.

Regarding civil applications such as 5G network synchronisation, transport, and energy, the quantum clocks will provide price/performance to French and international customers, claimed the companies.

Most aspects of the modern economy depend on satellite synchronisation. GNSS technology provides precise time references for key infrastructure such as 4G/5G networks, internet, energy networks, and global banking transactions.

If signals are unavailable, the critical infrastructure would be impacted.

Due to the high levels of dependency, back-up systems are required to enable civil and military infrastructure to operate, even if the GNSS timing signal is not available.

Thales’s industrial facility at Vélizy-Villacoublay and the Research and Technology centre in Palaiseau, near Paris, have industrial capabilities to manufacture the atomic and optical core of the quantum clocks.

Syrlinks will develop the electronic brain of the clock and ensure its precision timing function.

The CNRS will offer important scientific support for this project via its SYRTE (Observatoire de Paris) and Femto-ST (Université de Franche-Comté) joint research units.

Last month, Thales and GEOS announced that they had been selected to to deploy Nato Common Operational Picture (NCOP 2) software at 30 sites.