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Since COVID-19 restrictions have eliminated most international travel, readers probably didn’t pay much attention to reports last week that the rollout of 5G telecommunications systems in the United States upset airlines worried about interference with their planes’ altimeters.

Only gluttons for punishment or connoisseurs of the obscure noticed the U.S. Department of Defense announcement also last week that it was launching an optical clock network that promises significant improvement on the timing and accuracy of existing navigation devices. Both highlight the centrality of precision, timing and navigation (PNT) systems to just about every facet of life, from figuring out a lunch destination to bank transfers; as important but hopefully not as central to your daily life are their role in military systems. Missile targeting, for example, is completely reliant on them.

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