practical applications of digital computers in the Navy. Describe the initial steps needed to use a microcomputer. Explain storage media handling, backups, and the threats to storage media. "> Operational concepts

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Learning objectives are stated at the beginning of each chapter. These learning objectives serve as a preview of the information you are expected to learn in the chapter. The comprehensive check questions placed throughout the chapters are based on the objectives. By successfully completing the Nonresident

Training Course (NRTC), you indicate that you have met the objectives and have learned the information. The learning objectives for this chapter are listed below.

Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe the history of computers.
  • Describe how computers are classified.
  • Explain how digital computers have changed during each generation.
  • Describe the practical applications of digital computers in the Navy.
  • Describe the initial steps needed to use a microcomputer.
  • Explain storage media handling, backups, and the threats to storage media.


Digital computers are used in many facets of today's Navy. It would be impossible for one NEETS module to cover all the ways they are used in any depth. A few of these ways are covered later in this chapter.

The purpose of this module is to acquaint you, the trainee, with the basic principles, techniques, and procedures associated with digital computers. We will use a desktop (personal) computer for most of the examples. Personal computers should be more familiar to you than the large mainframes, and the operating principles of personal computers relate directly to the operating principles of mainframe computers. You will learn the basic terminology used in the digital-computer world. When you have completed these chapters satisfactorily, you will have a better understanding of how computers are able to perform the demanding tasks assigned to them.

If we were to define the word computer, we would say a computer is an instrument for performing mathematical operations, such as addition, multiplication, division, subtraction, integration, vector resolution, coordinate conversion, and special function generation at very high speeds. But the usage of computers goes well beyond the mathematical-operations level.

Computers have made possible military, scientific, and commercial advances that before were considered impossible. The mathematics involved in orbiting a satellite around the earth, for example, would require several teams of mathematicians for a lifetime. Now, with the aid of electronic digital computers, the conquest of space has become reality.

Computers are employed when repetitious calculations or the processing of large amounts of data are necessary. The most frequent applications are found in the military, scientific, and commercial fields. They are used in many varied projects, ranging from mail sorting, through engineering design, to the identification and destruction of enemy targets. The advantages of digital computers include speed, accuracy, reliability, and man-power savings. Frequently computers are able to take over routine jobs, releasing people for more important work; work that cannot be handled by a computer.


The ever increasing need for faster and more efficient computers has created technological advances that can be considered amazing. Ever since humans discovered that it was necessary to count objects, we have been looking for easier ways to do it. Contrary to popular belief, digital computers are not a new idea. The abacus is a manually operated digital computer used in ancient civilizations and used to this day in the Orient (see fig. 1-1). For those who consider the abacus outdated, in a contest between a person using a modern calculator and a person using an abacus, the person using the abacus won.

Figure 1-1. - Abacus.

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The first mechanical adding machine (calculator) was invented by Blaise Pascal (French) in 1642. Twenty years later, an Englishman, Sir Samuel Morland, developed a more compact device that could multiply, add, and subtract. In 1682, Wilhelm Liebnitz (German) perfected a machine that could perform all the basic operations (addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication), as well as extract the square root. Liebnitz's principles are still in use today in our modern electronic digital computers.

As early as 1919, electronics entered the scene. An article by W. H. Eccles and F. W. Jordan described an electronic "trigger circuit" that could be used for automatic counting. It was the ECCLES-JORDAN multivibrator which was a little ahead of its time because a trigger circuit is one of many components required to make an electronic digital computer. Modern digital computers use these circuits, known as flip-flops, to store information, perform arithmetic operations, and control the timing sequences within the computer.

Under the pressure of military needs in World War II, the science of electronic data processing made giant strides forward. In 1944, Harvard University developed a computing system known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. After the initial design and construction, several improved models were built.

Meanwhile, at the University of Pennsylvania, a second system was being developed. This system, completed in 1946, was named ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). ENIAC employed 18,000 vacuum tubes in its circuitry; and in spite of these bulky, hot tubes, it worked quite successfully. The first problem assigned to ENIAC was a calculation in nuclear physics that would have taken 100 human-years to solve by conventional methods. The ENIAC solved the problem in 2 weeks, only 2 hours of which were actually spent on the calculation. The remainder of the time was spent checking the results and operational details. All modern computers have their basics in these two early developments conducted at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania.

In 1950, the UNIVAC I was developed. This machine was usually regarded as the most successful electronic data processor of its day. An outstanding feature of the UNIVAC I was that it checked its own results in each step of a problem; thus eliminating the need to run the problems more than once to ensure accuracy.

During the first outbreak of publicity about computers (especially when the UNIVAC predicted the outcome of the 1952 presidential election), the term "giant brain" caused much confusion and uneasiness. Many people assumed that science had created a thinking device superior to the human mind. Currently most people know better. By human standards the giant brain is nothing more than a talented idiot that is wholly dependent upon human instructions to perform even the simplest job. A computer is only a machine and definitely cannot think for itself. The field of artificial intelligence, however, is developing computer systems that can "think"; that is, mimic human thought in a specific area and improve performance with experience and operation. The field of digital computers is still in the growing stages. New types of circuitry and new ways of accomplishing things are continuing to be developed at a rapid rate.

In the military field, the accomplishments of digital computers are many and varied. One outstanding example is in weapons systems. Most of the controlling is done by digital computers.


Computers can be classified in many different ways. They can be classified by the type of technology they use (mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic), the purpose for which they were designed (general purpose or special purpose), by the type of data they can handle (digital or analog), by the amount they cost (from $50 to $10 million and up), and even by their physical size (handheld to room size). We will briefly explain mechanical, electromechanical, and electronic computers; special-purpose and general-purpose computers; and analog and digital computers.


Mechanical or analog computers are devices used for the computation of mathematical problems. They are made up of components, such as integrators, sliding racks, cams, gears, springs, and driveshafts. Figure 1-2 shows a typical mechanical computer used by the Navy. These computers are analog in nature, and their physical size depends on the number of functions the computer has to perform. In an analog computer, a continuing input will give a constantly updated output. This being perfect for target information, the Navy uses these analog computers primarily for gun fire control. As systems for naval weapons became more and more complex, the need for a different computer was apparent. The functions that had to be performed had increased the size of the computer to an unreasonable scale.

Figure 1-2. - Bulkhead-type mechanical computer


Electromechanical computers came next and differ from mechanical computers in that they use electrical components to perform some of the calculations and to increase the accuracy. Because the electrical components are smaller than their mechanical counterparts, the size of the computer was reduced, even though it performs more functions. The components used to perform the calculations are devices such as synchros, servos, resolvers, amplifiers, servo amplifiers, summing networks, potentiometers, and linear potentiometers. Figure 1-3 shows one of the Navy's electromechanical computers. These computers are used in gun fire control and missile fire control. Even though they are better than the mechanical computer, they still have their drawbacks. Of prime importance is that they are special-purpose computers. This means they can only be used for one job, dependent on their design characteristics. By today's Navy standards they are still too large, and the maintenance time on them is excessive. The need for a more accurate, reliable, versatile, and smaller computer was recognized.

Figure 1-3. - Electromechanical computer.

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