5 Major Milestones in Military IT


May 29, 2017

Memorial Day is a time to reflect upon the sacrifice our veterans have made in our country’s history. Throughout the twentieth century, our military has been central to the development of important IT systems, and the need for IT in conflict situations has yielded further innovation at every step. These advances formed the building blocks of our current military IT landscape. In recognition of Memorial Day, we’ve assembled a brief walk through history to showcase some of the achievements in military IT history.

Compare this list of early computers and networks to the cutting-edge of data center technology.


5 Military IT Achievements


Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC): The ENIAC was dedicated in February 1946 and originally used to calculate artillery firing tables in the military. It had the ability to determine the trajectory of a rocket in 30 seconds. A human would require about 20 hours to complete the same equation.


IBM Defense Calculator: The IBM Defense Calculator, otherwise known as IBM 701, was IBM’s first commercial computer in 1952. Most of these models went to government agencies, the navy, and weather bureau. The 701 is notable, because it was the first computer to use electromagnetic tape. Famously, the chairman and CEO of IBM in 1953 is misquoted as saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” The quote comes from a stockholders meeting where he described how he had only expected to sell five IBM Defense Calculators after meeting with potential customers.


Whirlwind I: Completed in 1951, the Whirlwind I was originally developed by MIT for the Navy. It was the first computer to use magnetic core memory and was deployed to track aircraft. Signals from seventeen different radars was fed to the Whirlwind I for computation. Designs for the Whirlwind II were never completed, but it served as the basis for the SAGE air defense system (See below).


Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE): The SAGE itself was not a single computer, but rather a system of extremely large computers connected together in a network. It was in use as a defensive system from the late 50’s to the 80’s. The SAGE would coordinate with many radar sites, analyze the received information, and create an image of airspace. Sage would then automatically calculate, based on received data, which defensive weaponry was in range of incoming targets. The SAGE management team could then select targets onscreen, select a defense, and tell the defensive apparatus to attack.


Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPAnet): ARPAnet was the original internet and the first network to utilize TCP/IP and packet switching technology. It is named ARPAnet, because the network was originally funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The ARPAnet was designed to make use of new computer technologies to improve tactical and management decision making in the military.

This need for enhanced coordination and communication was made necessary by the cold war and nuclear weapons. However, some mistakenly claim that the ARPAnet was specifically designed to be a communication system than could withstand a nuclear strike. In truth, there were simply few powerful computers in operation around the country, and the ability to share packets of data opened up the availability of these computers.


Military IT and the Private Sector


Today, the military is not as essential to the technology market as it once was. Because businesses all have a desperate need for IT resources just to stay competitive in the market, the private sector has become the primary driver of new technologies. From Cisco to Pure Storage, HPE, and more, technology developers have made outstanding breakthroughs and advances at a rate we have never seen before.

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