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UNIVAC-NTDS - Vietnamfrom Jim Seaman December 2010
Well, I am not sure my stories would be pure "NTDS", but I can ramble on about the "old days" as well as anyone. Retirement is hell.
As an aside, a couple of years ago I managed to wangle a tour of the FAA’s Air Traffic Control Center at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The controller that showed me around and I had some common military experiences so he was prone to showing me some things that were not on the normal tour. There was a door marked "Restricted Area – No Entry". He did not allow me to enter, but he did open the door and let me look in. There were several "really old" computers, which looked to me like CP-642s with the "refrigerator" look and the control panel at the top. His comment at the time was that the FAA was still using fifty-year old computer technology for air traffic control and what a pain it was to find people who were familiar with the programming. My question to you is – Are you aware of the Federal Government (the FAA) using CP-642s in this role? There would have been a lot of them around the country at any large city with an airport and the application is very similar to NTDS. Actually, that is exactly what PIRAZ in the Gulf of Tonkin was all about – air traffic control. I find it interesting that my exposure to these units’ spans from 1963 to 2008 – forty-five years. Also makes me feel a bit ancient.
Back to NTDS – a bit of background. Back in the 1960s Navy ships had two separate departments associated with command and weapons control – Operations department and Weapons department. Operations department equipment was supplied/controlled by the Bureau of Ships (BUSHIPS) and Weapons by the Bureau of Weapons (BUWEPS). Coordination between the two areas was almost entirely manual and very cumbersome (read "slow"). On the USS Long Beach, the Weapons computers were mostly analog whereas Command and Control was digital (NTDS). There were several large pieces of equipment that tried to convert back and forth between the two systems. As far as I remember, this was a first. For instance, in 1971, we managed to fire a Talos missile test shot using weapons tracking radars for intercept information EXCEPT for range information that was supplied by the SCANFAR radar system (AN/SPS-32/33). This was the forerunner to the AEGIS system on newer ships. With the newer system the radar system multitasks, managing the search and tracking functions simultaneously. We, of necessity, had formed a Combat Systems Test Team, mostly senior enlisted technicians from the two departments, to establish procedures, run tests and work out bugs. All new stuff and really fascinating for a new Warrant Officer. As one of the Ship’s Weapons Coordinator (SWC) watch-standers I ran a great number of these system level tests.
Later in the 1970s BUSHIPS and BUWEPS were combined into the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the departments on ships were reorganized. Most technicians from Operations Department were moved to Weapons Department and that Department was renamed the "Combat Systems" Department. Thus the "Computer Room" on the USS Texas in 1976, contained most of the computing hardware for both Command and Control plus Weapons (including SONAR). The Virginia Class Cruisers, which included the Texas, were a bit strange as they had the Combat Systems (AEGIS) approach, but did not have the AEGIS radar system, a major deficiency. I think this was a budget consideration as these were the last of the nuclear- powered cruisers. I believe that all of these cruisers are now decommissioned.
The 1972 and 1973 deployments to the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) by the USS Long Beach (and others) were unique. Basically there were a string of US warships running down the coastline of both North and South Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Starting way up North (fairly close to China) was the "North Search and Rescue" (North SAR) station, then the "Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone" (PIRAZ) ship, call sign "Red Crown", then the South SAR and finally a large group of other ships, including several aircraft carriers and, at times, battleships. All of these ships NTDS systems were interconnected by "Link Eleven", a secure date transmission system. There was also an Air Force EC-121 reconnaissance plane on station most of the time. The Long Beach was always the PIRAZ Ship. So, as we stood our watches in the Combat Information Center (CIC), we were "plugged in" to exactly what was going on over all of Vietnam. It was uncanny to see, in real time, what was going on over a war zone several hundred miles long. You could even see the tracks of the 16" shells that the Battleships were lobbing over Vietnam.
The most demanding (and critical) times were during the "air strikes" over North Vietnam that were mounted sometimes three a day. Hundreds of planes would be involved, about evenly split from the Air Force coming in from Thailand over Laos and from Navy Carriers off the coast of South Vietnam. The PIRAZ ship had to sort it all out, identifying friendly from foe (MIGS), vectoring strike aircraft to their targets and mounting search and rescue efforts for downed aircraft. The ability to vector rescue aircraft (Helicopters) to a downed aircraft using sensors from another ship or aircraft was invaluable. This also applied to vectoring fighters to engage enemy aircraft. Having the NTDS system down would have taken our ship out of the action completely, however I do not ever remember this happening during two nine month deployments. It was a reliable and effective system. Would you believe it, ferrite cores and discrete components worked!
I don’t specifically remember any "rouge" programs (games) being run in the Long Beach computers, but I suppose it was possible as most of the DSs could do machine language programming. The Long Beach tour (70-73) was very demanding and serious. I do remember having one of my DS’s write a machine language program for use on the USS Texas in 1977 (UYK-7) to track job progress during our post shake down availability at Newport News Shipbuilding. The Commanding Officer and I really felt we had a handle on things as a result. (Garbage in- garbage out?)
I will always regret not being able to serve on a newer AEGIS equipped ship, with both the fully integrated Weapons and Command and Control systems and the fixed panel radar system. These exist now, but are not nuclear powered. Only a "Nuc" could make it across the Pacific Ocean at thirty plus knots and give the North Vietnamese a big surprise with long-range Talos missiles. Oh well, it was a great twenty years. Where else could a high school dropout wind up at a Lieutenant Commander selectee with a graduate degree.
Other than my short exposure to the CP-642 at Dam Neck, Virginia, in 1963 (as an E5), all of this experience is from the perspective of a Naval Officer, not a technician. Hopefully you will find it interesting, however, I did notice that most of the other "blog" entries were from the technician viewpoint.