Somebody was doing a study on termination of wars. How the hell do wars stop? Interesting problem, but Congress got all pissed at the idea. They even passed a law forbidding government-funded defense researchers from studying surrender. They were afraid that somebody would think our study of surrender would indicate that we were exhibiting weakness. So the study of surrender continued, but you didn't call it that. We didn't emphasize that communications was important in cooling things off; we did emphasize getting the word around to go fire your missiles.
Sometimes certain terms take on a meaning of their own and become real. One was "minimum essential communications." The military said all they wanted was "minimum essential communications," and I believed them. So I thought data rate would take care of everything - get the word out, calm things down if necessary. You don't need a hell of a lot of communication for that.
So then I picked up on an idea from Frank Collbohm that the problem is the military depends heavily on high-frequency communications. A high-altitude nuclear burst takes out the ionosphere11 for many hours. So the only thing that was left was the ground wave12 - that's what you get from broadcast stations during the day in the short range. Collbohm's idea was for the radio stations to relay the message from one to the other. But there are a lot of them in the US. So I said, "Let's automate it." That would make it practical.
The first crack that I took at it in 1960, I got an old Johniac computer and a plotting board, and I plotted the locations of all the AM13 radio stations in the US. Yeah, there's plenty of paths; I said look at the range.
That went off in two directions.
One, I went out with a briefing chart, saying, "OK, here's the solution to your problem." I got push-back from the military: "That takes care of the president getting word to the missile, but what about me? I've got to speak to the troops. I've got to do this and that. I need more communication."
Meanwhile, the Air Force took the idea and gave it to Rome Air Development Center. They built it as a teletypewriter system and tested it. It worked just fine. And they did something cute: They used the AM radio stations, but slightly wobulated their frequency - around 20 Hz. You couldn't hear it on your radio, but it let us send a frequency-modulated14 teletype signal.
Was that implemented?
Yeah. It was implemented, tested with a dozen stations, and it all worked fine. That may have been the first packet-switching system.
Let's put this in the Cold War context: The idea was to have basically retaliatory capabilities, so you wouldn't have to use them. But that only works if the other guy knows about it. What was going on in terms of visibility? Were you sending your papers to the Soviet Union?
We kept everything open that we could.
And trailed it in front of known spies?
We published it! I gave a course on it at the University of Michigan in '65. We were a hell of a lot better off if the Soviets had a better command and control system. Their command and control system was even worse than ours.
That sounds pretty enlightened. This was the Air Force saying, "We want the enemy to have the same second-strike capability as we do."
There's certain things you don't say. But yes.
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