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

David L. Boslaugh
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 16 2003 Perspectives
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.

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Product Description

From the Author

This book is about the men who catapulted the US Navy into the information age decades ahead of time.

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 didn’t 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.

From the Back Cover

When Computers Went to Sea explores the history of the United States Navy's secret development of codebreaking computers and its adaptation to solve critical fleet radar data handling problems. This is the only book written on the US 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 first US Navy shipboard system to use digital computers. Numerous studies have attempted to pinpoint the reasons for the project's inordinate success in the face of seemingly impossible technical challenges and stiff resistance from some Navy officers. The project's success precipitated a digital revolution in naval warfare systems. 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Answers to Today's Questions July 12 2001
By Allan
Format:Hardcover
When Computers Went To Sea is an outstanding book because it takes us back almost 60 years (October, 1944) to define the problem to be solved and traces how this definition evolved to the threats our nation and our world face today. There's an important story here for all of us as we think about current questions like the 7/11/01, Page 1, Wall Street Journal article on Risk Assessment - Plans for a Small Ship Pose Big Questions for the U.S. Navy.
NTDS was a successful early (starting in the 1950s) large-scale digital computer hardware and software development project. How could NTDS be so successful in a hostile environment when so many comparable military and commercial development projects experienced major problems? This book also tells that story very well, with important lessons for all who manage large software and hardware developments.
Some readers unfamiliar with NTDS and the Navy ships and people involved may find the book a bit difficult to read because it is filled with well researched and documented names and facts. However, the important stories and lessons are written in a way we can all understand and appreciate as we learn more about the roles Alan Turing and Seymour Cray, and many other well-recognized people, played in this important part of our history.
I bought this book because I thought it might help our grown children understand what I did in the Navy. Now I will have to buy another copy for them because I'm sure not going to give them mine!
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Hardcover
Today's high bandwidth technologists have nothing over the NTDS architects who masterminded the solution to the very complex engineering problems presented by warfare: real time data acquisition and weapons assignment. (The penalty for error is death of comrades in battle.)
The story is told with all the warts and struggles, which ring true: inter-departments squabbles, jousting with Congress and contractors, resistance of the fleet commanders. It's all there.
The complexity of engineering project management with multiple contractors, tough cost and schedule constraints remain the same in the new millennium. A good addition to the reading list for any business school.
I confess to being biased. My father, Captain Joseph Stoutenburgh, USN Ret., is a principal in the book. When I was 6 years old I did not understand why Dad was gone for weeks at a time. Now I know he was altering forever the nature of tactical warfare and in turn the geopolitical reach of the United States.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars I lived it! Dec 7 1999
Format:Hardcover
As a sailor who served as a computer technician from 1967 to 1978, many of the issues that this book documents bring back a flood of memories. The historical background is well laid out in chronological order and contains many personal perspectives on what would normally be a dry and very technical subject. An extensive table of contents, a good glossary and index make this a prized reference book in my library alongside my Jane's publications. The sparseness of illustrations and photos are my only criticism of this fascinating historical compilation.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book! June 14 2002
Format:Hardcover
A well written book that managed to hold my attention. Good, understandable technical explanations and fascinating tales of organizational intrigue. Important lessons for anyone taking part in complex development projects. The acchievements described are quite mindboggling. As I have been personally involved in naval command and control development, and am a naval technology freak, I found this book extremely interesting.
A bit long for a casual read, but easily lends to skipping around.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Story of Technology Development & Deployment Well Told March 24 2000
By J. Stoutenburgh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Today's high bandwidth technologists have nothing over the NTDS architects who masterminded the solution to the very complex engineering problems presented by warfare: real time data acquisition and weapons assignment. (The penalty for error is death of comrades in battle.)

The story is told with all the warts and struggles, which ring true: inter-departments squabbles, jousting with Congress and contractors, resistance of the fleet commanders. It's all there.

The complexity of engineering project management with multiple contractors, tough cost and schedule constraints remain the same in the new millennium. A good addition to the reading list for any business school.

I confess to being biased. My father, Captain Joseph Stoutenburgh, USN Ret., is a principal in the book. When I was 6 years old I did not understand why Dad was gone for weeks at a time. Now I know he was altering forever the nature of tactical warfare and in turn the geopolitical reach of the United States.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I lived it! Dec 7 1999
By egmiller@home.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a sailor who served as a computer technician from 1967 to 1978, many of the issues that this book documents bring back a flood of memories. The historical background is well laid out in chronological order and contains many personal perspectives on what would normally be a dry and very technical subject. An extensive table of contents, a good glossary and index make this a prized reference book in my library alongside my Jane's publications. The sparseness of illustrations and photos are my only criticism of this fascinating historical compilation.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Answers to Today's Questions July 12 2001
By Allan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When Computers Went To Sea is an outstanding book because it takes us back almost 60 years (October, 1944) to define the problem to be solved and traces how this definition evolved to the threats our nation and our world face today. There's an important story here for all of us as we think about current questions like the 7/11/01, Page 1, Wall Street Journal article on Risk Assessment - Plans for a Small Ship Pose Big Questions for the U.S. Navy.
NTDS was a successful early (starting in the 1950s) large-scale digital computer hardware and software development project. How could NTDS be so successful in a hostile environment when so many comparable military and commercial development projects experienced major problems? This book also tells that story very well, with important lessons for all who manage large software and hardware developments.
Some readers unfamiliar with NTDS and the Navy ships and people involved may find the book a bit difficult to read because it is filled with well researched and documented names and facts. However, the important stories and lessons are written in a way we can all understand and appreciate as we learn more about the roles Alan Turing and Seymour Cray, and many other well-recognized people, played in this important part of our history.
I bought this book because I thought it might help our grown children understand what I did in the Navy. Now I will have to buy another copy for them because I'm sure not going to give them mine!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book! June 14 2002
By Opher Doron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A well written book that managed to hold my attention. Good, understandable technical explanations and fascinating tales of organizational intrigue. Important lessons for anyone taking part in complex development projects. The acchievements described are quite mindboggling. As I have been personally involved in naval command and control development, and am a naval technology freak, I found this book extremely interesting.
A bit long for a casual read, but easily lends to skipping around.
4.0 out of 5 stars From a former Navy Data Systems Tech April 5 2013
By Charles Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a guy that spent nine years as a Navy DS, this book took me back to the days of my service. Surprisingly enough, I even learned a few things that I should have known, or maybe I was taught but forgot them. The author does seem to jump around a bit with some of the systems, but if one has some prior knowledge it won't be too confusing. This is a "must buy and read" for anyone interested in computer science and/or Navy data systems, especially tactical systems.
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