Friday, November 13, 2015

A short history of NTDS...

A short history of NTDS...  Some of my readers may remember that when I was in the U.S. Navy ('71-'77), I was responsible for repairing and maintaining the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) on the USS Long Beach.  Something I've never seen before is a history of NTDS, but this morning I stumbled across one on the Internet.

It's a short history, probably less than 20 pages if you were to print it.  The USS Long Beach gets several mentions, especially in Chapter 7, which describes some of my experiences on it.  In particular, it describes the PIRAZ role that the USS Long Beach performed off the coast of Vietnam.  That's what we did on the cruises I was part of.

This history takes on the biases of the author, as all histories do.  This particular writer is inclined to overstate the effectiveness and (especially!) the reliability of the NTDS system and its components.  One example: the author cites the Beacon Video Processor (BVP) as a critical component of NTDS.  On the three ships that I worked on (USS Long Beach, USS Enterprise, and USS Truxton), the BVP never worked and was nearly always turned off.  I made a valiant attempt to repair the BVP on the USS Long Beach, but I was stopped by the discovery that the schematics on board didn't match the machine on board – and it was far too complex a machine to attempt reverse engineering.  When we contacted a facility on base (in San Diego) to try to get schematics, we were told to shut the BVP off and forget about trying to make it work.  The author also cites the successes of the Talos missile system, which were real enough – but he left out the even more spectacular failures of Talos.  One of those I was a witness to: a Talos missile we launched turned around and flew between the forward and after superstructures on the USS Long Beach, scaring the hell out of all of us watching.

It all seems like ancient history now, but it made for fun reading for this ancient NTDS tech...


  1. There's an excellent book "When Computers went to Sea" that has several chapters on the NTDS development, including Seymour Cray's involvement in the early design. I also have a scanned file of the Data Systems Technician Manual if you want a copy on CDROM.

    Warren aka pueo1673

  2. Oh, I would love a copy of that manual! Write me at tom -at- and I'll send you my address. Thank you!

  3. Just found that book (When Computers Went to Sea) on Amazon ... those copies are going for $50 to over $200!