Senior naval officers were aghast when they heard in 1959 that they would be taking orders from a newfangled digital computer when the Navy deployed its new fleet anti-air battle management system, the Naval Tactical Data System. Their sentiment was, No damned computer is going to tell me what to do.
But, there was a compelling need for the project. Fleet commanders had found their WW II style radar plotting teams and fighter directors were coping poorly with new jet attack aircraft. Some officials worried about the future of the surface fleet, but most worried more about the intrusion of digital computers into their command prerogatives. Many hoped the project would fail because it depended on two immature technologies: digital computers and transistors. They didnt know the Navy had been secretly building powerful codebreaking computers for years, and by 1955 was transistorizing one.
The project team pulled the new battle management system off in a spectacularly successful, but little publicized, technical coup, and digitized weapons systems proliferated in the Navy. My compulsion to write the story of NTDS began in the mid 1970s when I noticed that people in the Navy seemed to assume that weapons automation was just a natural fallout of the great strides being made in industrial digital technology, when, in reality the Navy had been a pioneer in digital technology. Finally, in the late 70s, the security wraps were lifted on how the Navy had developed its early codebreaking computers and adapted them to shipboard use to solve the pressing fleet anti-air battle management problem. We were free to tell the story. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.