Friday, April 1, 2011

Risks and responsibilities

Enormous technological progress was made during the war. The English developed radar which would be the forerunner of television. Progress in electronics and computers, made during the war,  provided a foundation for further development which fundamentally transformed the postwar world.
    The development of the atomic bomb by European and American scientists during the war, not only transformed the nature of potential future wars, it  marked the beginning of the nuclear power industry.

For all the role of science, mathematics, and new inventions in earlier wars, no war had as profound an effect on the technologies of our current lives than World War II (1939-45). And no war was as profoundly affected by science, math, and technology than WWII.
We can point to numerous new inventions and scientific principles that emerged during the war. These include advances in rocketry, pioneered by Nazi Germany. The V-1 or “buzz bomb” was an automatic aircraft (today known as a “cruise missile”) and the V-2 was a “ballistic missile” that flew into space before falling down on its target (both were rained on London during 1944-45, killing thousands of civilians). The “rocket team” that developed these weapons for Germany were brought to the United States after World War II, settled in Huntsville, Alabama, under their leader Wernher von Braun, and then helped to build the rockets that sent American astronauts into space and to the moon. Electronic computers were developed by the British for breaking the Nazi “Enigma” codes, and by the Americans for calculating ballistics and other battlefield equations. Numerous small “computers”—from hand-held calculating tables made out of cardboard, to mechanical trajectory calculators, to some of the earliest electronic digital computers, could be found in everything from soldiers’ pockets to large command and control centers. Early control centers aboard ships and aircraft pioneered the networked, interactive computing that is so central to our lives today.
    Wernher von Braun, with
    the F-1 engines of the
    Saturn V first stage at
    the U.S. Space and Rocket
The entire technology of radar, which is the ability to use radio waves to detect objects at a distance, was barely invented at the start of the war but became highly developed in just a few years at sites like the “Radiation Laboratory” at MIT. By allowing people to “see” remotely, at very long distances, radar made the idea of “surprise attack” virtually obsolete and vastly enlarged the arena of modern warfare (today’s radars can see potential attackers from thousands of miles away). Radar allowed nations to track incoming air attacks, guided bombers to their targets, and directed anti-aircraft guns toward airplanes flying high above. Researchers not only constructed the radars, but also devised countermeasures: during their bombing raids, Allied bombers dropped thousands of tiny strips of tinfoil, code-named “window” and “chaff” to jam enemy radar.

Benefits of the New Systems
Now, I want to explain why these new systems, especially the new intelligence systems,
gave the allied military forces such an overwhelming advantage. The key to their success, I
believe, was the unprecedented battle awareness enjoyed by the allied commanders in their
platoons. Battlefield awareness has been achieved for centuries by sensors that locate and
identify units in the battle area, and through communication nets that report these locations to
the commanders. And for centuries, the primary means of battlefield awareness was cavalry,
using eyeballs as the sensors, and horses to carry the information back. Occasionally carrier
pigeons would be used instead of horses. The first great advances in battlefield awareness
were not made until World War II. There, aircraft were equipped were high-resolution cameras
that gave rather detailed information on enemy positions. In fact, if you look today at the aerial
reconnaissance pictures taken in World War II, you will be amazed at their quality. But
remember, the battlefield commanders saw those pictures typically one to two days after they
were taken, not at the time they were taken. So, the photographs gave them an accurate picture
of where the enemy forces were a day or two earlier, not where they were at the time they were
viewed. And of course, the photos were weather-dependent.


Akash Mondal

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