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When Computers Went to Sea: The Digitization of the United States Navy



When Computers Went to Sea: The Digitization of the United States Navy

David L. Boslaugh

ISBN: 978-0-471-47220-9 April 2003 Wiley-IEEE Computer Society Pr 492 Pages


When Computers Went to Sea explores the history of the United States Navy's secret development of code-breaking computers and their adaptation to solve a critical fleet radar data handling problem in the Navy's first seaborne digital computer system - that went to sea in 1962. This is the only book written on the United States Navy's initial application of shipboard digital computers to naval warfare.

Considered one of the most successful projects ever undertaken by the US Navy, the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) was the subject of numerous studies attempting to pinpoint the reason for the systems inordinate success in the face of seemingly impossible technical challenges and stiff resistance from some in the military. The system's success precipitated a digital revolution in naval warfare systems.

Dave Boslaugh details the innovations developed by the NTDS project managers including: project management techniques, modular digital hardware for ship systems, top-down modular computer programming techniques, innovative computer program documentation, and other novel real-time computer system concepts.

Automated military systems users and developers, real-time process control systems designers, automated system project managers, and digital technology history students will find this account of a United States military organization's initial foray into computerization interesting and thought provoking.

Preface xxiii

Introduction 1

1 Radar—New Eyes for the Fleet 5

Beginnings of Radar 5

May Day—24 October 1944 5

Creation of Radar in the U.S. Navy 11

Start of the Naval Research Laboratory Radio Location P r o j e c t . . . 11

Tracking Projectiles in Flight—The Battleship New York Tests . . . 13

The Plan Position Indicator 14

The Baby Gets a Name 15

Mass Production 16

London—An Easy Target 16

Chain Home 16

Learning to Use Radar at Sea 19

The Most Valuable Cargo 21

Radar at War in the Pacific 26

McNally's Day of Infamy 26

Aboard Lexington 32

Aboard the Flying Boats 33

The Fighter Director Officers 34

CXAM in Action 37

Rest in Peace CXAM 39

The CXAM Lives On 41

Turning Point for McNally 42

Evolution of the Combat Information Center 44

The Kamikazes 49

Divine Wind 49

Floating Chrysanthemum 51

2 A Lingering Problem 53

Legacy of the Kamikazes 53

Legacy of Radar . 54

Problems 55

Quest for Solutions 57

TheThreeTs 57

The Guided Missile Frigates 60

Too Much Data and Not Enough Information 61

Three Digital Attempts 62

The Canadian Navy's Digital Automated Tracking and Resolving System 62

Early Digital Experiments at the Navy Electronics Laboratory 62

The Semi-Automatic Air Intercept Control System 65

Trouble with Analogs 66

The Royal Navy Comprehensive Display System 66

NRL's Electronic Data System 67

The Intercept Tracking and Control Console 68

Project COSMOS 68

Project CORNFIELD 69

3 The Codebreaking Computers—A Digital Solution 71

The Navy Codebreakers 71

A Place Named Seesaw 71

From Steam to Electrons 73

A Machine Named Ice Cream 73

The Naval Computing Machine Laboratory 76

A Computer Named von Neumann 77



The Navy Computers 81

From Gliders to Codebreaking Machines 81

The Moore School Lectures 90


Atlas is Built 92

A Hint of Scandal 98

UNIVAC Persists 99


WHIRLWIND Saved by the Soviets 100

Chain Home a Thousand Times Over 102

Magnetic Donuts for WHIRLWIND 103

SAGE Goes into Production 105

SAGE in Operation 106

From Tubes to Transistors 107

Magnetic Donuts for Atlas II 107

The Undercapitalization Syndrome at ERA 108

We Can Do it With Transistors 109


Enter the Transistor 110

SOLO, The All-Transistorized Computer 112



4 Conception of a New System 117

Project Lamplight—Conception of a New System 117

Continental Air Defense Coordination? 117

McNally's Mission 118

One of Us is Wrong, Mac 118

A Good Man to Have on Your Side 121

From Concept to Technology—The NTDS Technical and Operational Requirements

Document 121

I Have Just the Man You Need 121

Building Blocks for Growth 123

A Digital Frankenstein Monster? 124

General-Purpose or Special-Purpose Computers? 124

Built to Go in Harm's Way 125

Marrying the Digital to the Analog 126

Drums or Magnetic Cores? 127

Automatic Communications 128

OPNAVBuysIt 128

5 Building a New System 131

Who Should Build the System? 131

Project Organization 134

The NTDS Project Office 134

Support from the BUSHIPS Technical Organization 136

The Special Applications Branch 137

The Radar Branch 139

Staffing the Project Office 140

An Evolving Modus Operandi 146

The Chief of Naval Operations Project Office 148

Navy Electronics Laboratory Role 155

A Computer With a Dipstick 156

Selection of Univac 156

Conception of the Unit Computer 159

The AN/USQ-17 Prototype Computer 161

Turmoil in a Young Industry 164

Building the Unit Computers 165

Fuzzy Scopes and Elliptical Circles 168

Selection of Hughes Aircraft 168

Like No Cathode Ray Tubes Ever Seen Before 170

More Than Just Displays 171

Building Blocks 173

Trials and Tribulations of Transistors 173

Computers on the Airwaves 177

A Link—The Primary Long Range Tactical Data Link 177

Selection of Collins Radio 177

From Digits to Music 178

B Link—For Those Without 181

The Interceptor Control Link . 181

C Link—The UHF Short Range Tactical Data Link 182

Digits in an Analog World 182

Developing the Operational Computer Program 183

A New Thing Under the Sun 183

Who Should Build the Seagoing Operational Computer Programs? 184

Real-Programmers Write in Machine Language 185

Real-Programmers Do Not Need to Document Their Programs 187

Building the Prototype Computer Program 188

Programming a Real-Time Computer 188

First Steps 189

Force Tracking and Data Linking 190

TEWA 193

Interceptor Control 195

The Stores 197

A System that Never Sailed 197

The Fleet Comes In 207

6 No Damned Computer Is Going To Tell Me What To Do 211

Getting the Ships 211

The Guided Missile Frigates 211

Not on Our Ship!—How Oriskany Was Won 212

Ready or Not, I Want it on the Nuclear-Powered Ships 213

The Billboard Radars 213

Long Beach and Enterprise 215

Building for Service Test 216

The Q-17 Does Not Make It 216

The Purple Plague 221

The NTDS Interface Specification 228

Good Bye to the Cigarette Lighter 229

Service Test Communications Subsystems 232

Service Test Computer Programs 234

New Faces in the Project Office 234

Service Test Installation 238

No Damned Computer 241

Service Test 245

Getting Ready for Service Test 245

The Navy Meets the Software Monster 249

Where Did All Those Tracks Come From? 250

If You Don't Have a Sense of Humor, Don't Use Computers 252

Hell, It Don't Hardly Ever Fail Sir! 253

Saved by Equipment Reliability 255

Service Approval 258

So What Did They Get for the Money? 259

Money Spent 260

What Was the End Product? 263

7 In the Air, on Land, and Sea 267

On the Land as on the Sea—The Marine Tactical Data System 267

The Amphibious Force Flagships 272

Hawkeye and the Airborne Tactical Data System 274

Advent of USN Airborne Early Warning Radar 274

Hawkeye 276

The E-2A 'Hawkeye' Airborne Early Warning Aircraft 276

TheE-2B Hawkeye 281

TheE-2C Hawkeye 282

Digitizing the Antisubmarine Airplanes 283

Other Navies and NTDS 284

The Royal Navy and ADA 284

New Names for NTDS 291

8 New Horizons for Tactical Computers 297

First Production 297

First-Production Ships 297

First-Production NTDS Equipment 298

The Watch Changes 302

Maybe these Digital Computers are Good for Something After All 305

No Kid Named Joe Randolph 315

Troubles with the Three Ts 315

Seconds are Precious—Weapons Direction System Mark 11 and the AN/SPS-48 Radar 317

The Birth of Weapons Direction System Mark 11 317

Genesis of the AN/SPS-48 Radar 319

No Kid Named Joe Randolph is Going to Tell Me How to Run my Business 322

Mare Island, the Testing Ground 324

Shoehorning a New System into Wainwright 325

Life in Main Navy 327

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Ship Command and Control System 330

The Requirement 330

A Concept for Automating Anti-Submarine Warfare 333

New Link 11 Equipment 334

A New Display Subsystem 335

Analog Leaves Center Stage 337

ASWSC&CS Aftermath 338

Time to Go Competitive? 339

The System Evolves 340

Automatic Detection and Tracking 340

A Large Screen Display? 342

9 Twilight of the Analogs 347

In Combat 347

Early NTDS and ATDS Deployment in Vietnam 347


The Beacon Video Processor 350

The Marine Tactical Data System in Vietnam 352

Interceptor Control and Missile Operations 354

NTDS Vietnam Summary 355

Give Us More Memory! 356

The Fleet Goes Digital 357

The First Wave 357

The Second Wave 358

New Computers for New Purposes 358

Finally, 32 Bits—The AN/UYK-7 Computer 360

Moving on to Digital Weapons Control 361

Working Out the Fundamentals 361

Digital Talos 362

Digital Tartar 364

Digital Terrier 365

Closing the Loop 365

The Guns Go Digital 366

A Line of Standards 367

Last Decade of the Analogs 367

Too Many Computers! 368

A Standard Minicomputer 370

The Navy Embedded Computer Program 372

The Politics of Computers 377

Shield of the Fleet 378

The Advanced Surface Missile System 378

From ASMS to Aegis 384

More Boundary Line Adjustments 386

Problems of Success 388

A New Name 389

Do Old Computers Ever Die? 393

Summary 394

Legacy of NTDS 394

Recognition 395

How Could They Possibly Have Succeeded? 397

A Joint Electronics Equipment Designation System 401

B Table of Acronyms and Abbreviations 405

C Univac NTDS Organization, December 1,1959 415

Bibliography 421

Index 441