First-Hand:No Damned Computer is Going to Tell Me What to DO - The Story of the Naval Tactical Data System, NTDS

=NO DAMNED COMPUTER is Going to Tell Me What to Do - The Story of the Naval Tactical Data System

INTRODUCTION

      It was 1962. Some of the prospective commanding officers of the new guided missile frigates, now on the building ways, had found out that the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) was going to be built into their new ship, and it did not set well with them. Some of them came in to our project office to let us know first hand that no damned computer was going to tell them what to do. For sure, no damned computer was going to fire their nuclear tipped guided missiles. They would take their new ship to sea, but they would not turn on our damned system with its new fangled electronic brain.

      We would try to explain to them that the new digital system, the first digitized weapon system in the US Navy, was designed to be an aid to their judgment in the management of task force anti-air battle management, and would never, on its own, fire their weapons. We didn’t mention to them that if they refused to use the system, they would probably be instantly removed from their commands and maybe court martialed because the highest levels of Navy management wanted the new digital computer-driven system in the fleet as soon as possible, and for good reason.

      Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally, a former World War II task force fighter director officer, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh A. Burke were solidly behind the new system, and were pushing the small NTDS project office in the Bureau of Ships to accomplish in five years what would normally take fourteen years. The reason behind their push was Top Secret, and thus not known even by many naval officers and senior civil servants in the top hierarchy of the navy. Senior navy management did not want the Soviet Union to know that task force air defense exercises of the early 1950s had revealed that the US surface fleet could not cope with expected Soviet style massed air attacks using new high speed jet airplanes and high speed standoff missiles.

      As of 1954 the US Navy, as well as every other navy, tied their task force air defense together with a team wherein most of the moving parts were human beings. Radar blips of attacking aircraft, as well as friendly airplanes, were manually picked from radar scopes and manually plotted on backlit plotting tables, Course and speed of target aircraft was manually calculated from the plots of successive radar blips of a target aircraft, and then written in by hand near the target’s plotted track. If air target altitude had been measured by height finding radar, or estimated by “fade zone” techniques, the altitude was also penciled in near the track line. If the target was known hostile, known friendly, or unknown, that information was also penciled in. And, an assigned track number was also penciled in.

      No plotting team on any one ship in the task force could possibly measure and plot radar data on every raid in a massed air attack which might involve a few hundred raids coming at the task force from all points of the compass and at altitudes from sea level to 35,000 feet. Rather, as had been worked out in the great Pacific air battles of World War II, each ship in the task force measured and plotted the air targets in an assigned pie shaped wedge on their radar scopes, and their fighter director officers and gunnery coordinators controlled the fighter-interceptors and ship’s AA guns within that assigned piece of pie.

      The plotting team on each ship also reported the position of each air target they were tracking over a voice radio network to all other ships in the task force so that each ship could maintain a summary plot of all air targets so that an air target passing from one pie wedge to another could be instantly identified and it’s track maintained by a new reporting ship. This manual plot was done with grease pencil on a large transparent plexiglass screen in each ship’s combat Information center (CIC). The plexiglass was edge lighted so that the yellow grease penciled track plots glowed softly in the darkened CICs. Wearing radio headsets, the sailors doing the plotting, wrote the target information in a reverse, mirror image style, so that fighter directors and battle managers sitting on the other side of the vertical summary plot could read the annotated grease pencil markings.

      The fleet air defense management system had worked reasonably well during even the greatest ocean air battles of WW II. Secretary Connally did remember one massed Kamikaze air attack where the plotting teams were almost overwhelmed, and he had to forego his job as task force Fighter Director Officer and take control of a specific pair of interceptors to guide them to intercept a group of incoming Kamikazes.1(Tillman, Barrett, “Coaching the Fighters,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 106/1/923, pp 39-45, Jan 1980). The difference in the decade from 1944 to 1954 was new jet propelled aircraft that could travel almost twice as fast as their World War II counterparts. Manual plotting teams in post WW II shipboard combat information centers (CIC) just could not handle a massed attack of the new high speed jet aircraft, and in the minds of some senior Navy officials the future of the US surface fleet was in doubt. The radar plotting teams, the fighter directors, and the gunnery and missile coordinators needed some kind of automated help.

      The first attempts to solve the fleet air defense management problem used massive electromechanical analog computing devices, and they didn’t work very well; primarily because their high count of moving parts made them unreliable. Next, the Navy tried electronic vacuum tube-based analog computers which did not work much better because they needed so many tubes. The final solution came from the Navy’s codebreakers who had, in great secrecy, been using digital computers to decrypt encoded messages. A fortuitous combination of two young naval engineering duty officer commanders, one of whom was an expert in radar technology, and the other of whom was not only highly experienced in wartime operational use of radar, but also had been in charge of designing and building the Navy’s codebreaking computers, resulted in their conception of the digital computer based Naval Tactical Data System in 1955.

      In spite of the dependence upon three new immature technologies: digital computers, transistors, and large scale computer programming; and in spite of determined resistance by many senior naval officers, the NTDS project would later be acclaimed as one of the most successful projects ever undertaken by the US Navy. It would be the new science/art of computer programming that would almost bring the project to its knees, and it would be the reliability of the new digital equipment combined with a new breed of expert sailors, called Data System Technicians, that would save the project, and give the US Navy a powerful new capability it never had before .

FROM KAMIKAZES TO CODEBREAKERS, ORIGIN OF THE NAVAL TACTICAL DATA SYSTEM

Visions of Disaster at Sea

Legacy of the Divine Wind

The Postwar Fleet Air Defense Exercises

Towards a Dual Solution

The Guided Missile Systems

TALOS
TERRIER
TARTAR
Early Guided Missile Ships
The Guided Missile Frigates

Automated Air-Battle Management Aids

An Elusive Goal
Digital Technology to the Rescue?
Way Ahead of its Time, The Canadian DATAR System - 1949
A Digital Try at the Navy Electronics Lab - 1949
Digital Disappointment, The Semi-Automatic Air Intercept Control System - 1951
We Can Do it With Analog Computers
The Royal Navy’s Comprehensive Display System - 1951
The Naval Research Laboratory and Its Electronic Data System - 1953
INTACC, The Electronic Interceptor Control Maneuvering Board - 1953

THE NAVY CODEBREAKERS AND THEIR DIGITAL COMPUTERS

ENIAC

EDVAC

WHIRLWIND

Early Navy Codebreaking Machines; not Quite Computers

The Navy ATLAS Codebreaking Computer

Commander Edward C. Svendsen

Building ATLAS

ATLAS Gets Transistorized

McNALLY’S CHALLENGE

Project Lamplight

OPNAV Says “Do It!”

Conceptualizing a New Anti-Air Battle Management System

No Special Purpose Computers

How can Digital Computers Talk to the Real World?

How can Human Beings Talk to the Computers?

How will the Computers Talk to Other Computers in the Task Force?

The Inter-Computer Data Link
The Interceptor Control Data Link
The Teletype Data Link

HOW TO BUILD A NEW SYSTEM THAT IS DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING EVER BUILT BEFORE?

A Radical Idea; a Dedicated Project Office

Staffing the Project Office

Evolution of the Project Office

A Parallel Project Office

No Prime Contractor?

A Predictable Disaster

THE MAIN INDUSTRY PLAYERS

Univac Division of Sperry Rand Corporation

Mr. Seymour R. Cray, a Genius With Transistors

A New Animal. the Seagoing Operational Computer Program

Hughes Aircraft Company

Collins Radio Company

THE SAN DIEGO LAND BASED TEST SITE AND THE SYSTEM THAT NEVER SAILED

San Diego is a Fleet Town

A New Breed of Sailor

Iron Sailors and Wooden Consoles

SERVICE TEST, THE ACID TEST FOR NEW NAVY SYSTEMS

You Want an Attack Carrier?; Who the Hell do You Think You are Kidding?

Suddenly, Two More “Service Test” Ships

The Service Test Equipment

How do You Install Exotic New Digital Equipment in an Analog Shipyard World?

The Operational Test and Evaluation Force

Nightmare at Sea

Survival of the Fittest

NTDS IN PRODUCTION

The Last of the Warriors

New Construction

The Surface Missile Systems Get Their Act Together

How to Save a Few Seconds in Battle; and Eliminate a Few Tons of Equipment

Where the Hell is Myer’s Island?

USS Wainwright, a Step Towards the All-Digital Ship

NTDS IN ACTION

Vietnam, the Real Service Test

PIRAZ, or Glorified Air Traffic Control?

In Anger

Missile Operations

Don’t Fool With TALOS
Sterrett and the MiGs
Don’t Fiddle With the Biddle

Interceptor Control Operations

A Pressing Need for More Memory

LEGACY OF THE NAVAL TACTICAL DATA SYSTEM

Propelling the Navy into the Information Age

Digitizing the Weapons Control Computers

Navy Standard Computers

AEGIS

SUCCESS AGAINST ALL ODDS, HOW COULD IT HAVE HAPPENED?