A Bit in the System

I was reflecting on my Air Force command and control past today. 

We’d begun moving into the small computer age back in the early 1980s. The Air Force — and the Defense Department — were being cautious. Locally, we realized that much of the repetitive, manual entries we did on logs, messages, and grease boards, along with the phone calls used to relay information, could be done via computers. We began visualizing and flow-charting the entire process. Military Airlift Command (MAC), which had operational control over us, said, no. Don’t. Stop.

At my next assignment, with Tactical Air Command (TAC), a young major had begun computerizing the mission flows. He was manually doing it himself. Watching him, I began asking questions about why he wasn’t doing this and that, which led to me taking over what he was doing. He and I had a lot of fun working on that. Five years and two assignments later, I was in Europe with a small flying unit. They had begun using computers to do some of the stuff I’d wanted to do. As soon as I saw it, I maneuvered to get involved.

They were happy as hell to let me. Controlled by the J-4 and J-5 Directorates of JCS, with input and oversight from the National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) and NSA, USAFE didn’t care what I did. Locally, several officers were being advised that small computers were the future and were starting to take computer programming classes, but most weren’t familiar with them, so the commander and DO told me, “Go for it.”

So I did. By the time that I left four years later, other offices in my unit had enlisted my help, as did other units on base, asking me to share all the stuff I’d done with my small computers to automate and correlate information. My trend to incorporate computers continued with my next assignments with Space Command.

This all came to mind via “60 Minutes” and Crucible last night. “60 Minutes” featured a segment on Artificial Intelligent (AI). Crucible, a James Rollins thriller that I’m reading, features Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as part of the plot. I ended up thinking back to the MAC days and how and what robots could do. With scenes from WarGames flashing through my head, I visualized all those messages, reports, and phone calls associated with mission profiles, aircraft configurations and repairs, and mission execution, and how computers and robots could augment or replace humans.

It’s intriguing to think about. After a twenty years-plus career, I’ve been out of the military for over twenty years. They may have come to grips with many of the ideas I considered and the inherent obstacles.

Somehow, I doubt it. The military has always lagged behind for much of that, preferring to spend their annual funds to modernize weapon systems, if possible. You never know, though; those in charge have now grown up with computers as part of the digital age. My thinking would probably amuse them because they’ve gone so far past that. Oh, to be a bit in the system and overhear what’s going on.

Well, actually, I guess that’s what I was: a bit in the system.

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