First-Hand:Project Lamplight narrative corrections


Submitted by Richard Hunter

This article is a response to the First-Hand History "McNally's Challenge, Conceptualizing the Naval Tactical Data System - Chapter 3 of the Story of the Naval Tactical Data System" by David L. Boslaugh, Capt. USN

I take issue with Captain Boslaugh’s narrative of Project Lamplight. While he may have been writing of the period prior to May 1954, the momentum for Lamplight began in April 1954 when the Secretary of the Navy issued a directive to the Chief of Naval Research to initiate a study group to examine the integration of a Navy system with the Air Force’s SAGE continental air defense system.

I am in possession of the entire declassified four-volume final report of Project Lamplight dated 15 March 1955, and in that report all the dates and participants in the study are cited.

There are a number of mystifying inconsistencies in Captain Boslaugh’s report. Some of these may be due to timing of changes in station assignments, but the overlap does not seem to explain the omission of prominent names in the Lamplight personnel list. The official Lamplight Final Report lists the Chief of Naval Research as RADM F.R. Furth. In all probability Admiral Furth relieved Admiral Bennett, but the date of that change is unknown. It certainly had to have occurred prior to 12 May 1954 when Admiral Furth wrote a letter to Dr. J.R. Killian, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology requesting participation of MIT and Lincoln Laboratory in a study of …the engineering problems associated with the compatibility of the Lincoln transition system with the naval forces extending it seaward and the related mechanization of data handling, and the adequacy of the research and development program to determine whether new elements in technology can be brought to bear on these very difficult problems.

There is no mention of Admiral Bennett in any of the Lamplight documents.

From here things get even more mysterious. In the third paragraph of Capt. Boslaugh’s report, he claimed that “…in mid 1954 he requested NEL to temporarily reassign McNally to the Office of Naval Research to serve as the Navy Lamplight project officer.” This request was either rejected or never occurred. The Lamplight project officer was a senior commander, Gould Hunter, who by the end of the project was promoted to the rank of captain. McNally’s promotion to full commander would have made him the most junior commander in the navy at the time. The choice of a junior commander over a widely-respected senior with extensive knowledge of naval radars would have made no sense.

Much is made in Capt. Boslaugh’s report of Commander McNally’s contribution to the Lamplight project. The truth is that he was a member of only one of seven study groups, his being that of data processing. Other groups studied such massive topics as radar, communications, navigation, counter-countermeasures, aircraft and weapons. Although a very important aspect of the overall project, data processing was only one segment. It may well be that Commander McNally made a significant contribution to the data processing discipline as part of the Lamplight project, it was only a part. Lamplight’s mission was to integrate the Air Force’s SAGE system with a new Navy system to extend the defense of North America seaward, and all the study groups were focused on achieving that goal.