US, Soviets already fought World War III -- by computer

To Dr. Ruth M. Davis, computers already have brought the world safely through World War III, and they remain the best deterrent to any future global nuclear war. Yet the United States is throwing away this proved defense by investing in computerized toys and microwave ovens rather than developing the next generation of "electronic logic" urgently needed for national security.

Dr. Davis, a former US deputy undersecretary of defense, argues that World War III already has been fought inside computerized war games rooms by Soviet and US military strategists.

"The outcome of these war games was chilling enough to persuade both sides of the futility of first strikes and of either side surviving any of many nuclear attack-deterrent options," she told an audience of students and faculty at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago recently.

Masses of computer-generated data supplied compelling evidence of a no-win outcome in any nuclear war, Dr. Davis says. She plans to continue stressing this point in her new role as a private consultant following 25 years of defense research work with various government agencies. She left in January with the switch to the Reagan administration.

Dr. Davis is convinced that computers have changed the nature of warfare. She credits the computer breakthroughs of the 1960s for the fact that "no war has occurred between two nations having roughly equivalent sophisticated computer resources available for military applications."

She sees computer processing of reconnaissance satellite information as a crucial stabilizing factor today. Smaller- scale conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq war, continue, she admits, yet even these "are much lessened as a result of the computer's ability to prevent real surprise."

The key to preventing both theater and "all-out" wars, Dr. Davis insists, is for the United States to preserve its "known edge in electronic logic. . . . This nation's military superiority pivots on its ability to maintain an unexcelled technological superiority in electronic logic."

Preserving the US lead, which Davis places at only 3-to-18 months in vital areas, is difficult but essential in her view.

One difficulty that she sees lies in the military's urgent need for ever-smaller computers to tackle ever-greater tasks -- so that, for instance, a missile can "read" masses of data in microseconds to identify a target precisely.

Yet, the greater the miniaturization, the easier it becomes for the Soviets to acquire the latest Western technology. Whereas 10 years ago, the Soviets diverted an entire train in Europe to obtain an IBM 360/40 computer, today "strategically important equipment can be carried away in a briefcase," according to Gordon Moore, chairman of Intel Corporation of California, which invented the computer memory chip and the microprocessor.

Dr. Davis helped establish a list of "military critical technologies" for the Defense Department to reduce this West-to-East drain of new technology vital to land, sea, and air warfare. But on the principle that a democracy necessarily is a "leaky bucket," she says it is essential for the United States to keep filling this bucket with new technology.

The stakes are becoming higher, she says, warning that "if we do not maintain our known lead in electronic logic, I suspect we will be faced with the dangerous possibility of space wars in the not too distant future." This risk calls for "a thousand times improvement in [electronic logic] memory access and memory size . . . by 1985." criticized the Reagan administration's new defense priorities recently in Chicago, Dr. Davis warns that essential military research is being neglected. She regrets seeing money poured into a new aircraft carrier and cruisers rather than into urgently needed electronic logic capabilities.

At the same time, Dr. Davis feels the vital US lead is being threatened by centering computer technology in "auto ignition systems, electronic games, and microwave ovens."

She and Illinois Institute of Technology computer sciences chairman, Prof. Anthony Wojcik, also are concerned by a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the demand for computer scientists is 40 percent greater than the current supply. "The weakest link in keeping the US lead is the academic link," says Dr. Davis, who feels that the already limited resources of US universities may be reduced further by Reagan administration budget cuts.

She calls for far more emphasis on computerized weapons, such as the Army's new M1 tank (which she has driven herself), and lists examples of current military needs that demand new electronic logic breakthroughs. Tracking all submarines in an ocean basin, for instance, would require computer signal-processing capability "beyond that for the largest computers existing today," she says.

Intel executives are convinced that private industry us developing new technology as rapidly as possible -- and would only be slowed down by any government or military interference or priority setting. Meanwhile, an internal US Air Force report and a General Accounting Office study both concluded recently that the latest electronic systems have often proved too complex and too unreliable for effective military use.

But Dr. Davis says she feels that the US lead in computer technology has narrowed to a point that poses a threat to national security. She would like a return to having military needs met first rather than continuing to have "a market- place dominated by consumer needs."

One sign of the shifting balance is that 70 percent of integrated circuits (ICs), first developed for the Minuteman missile program, were produced for the Defense Department in 1965. The Defense Department's share of the market dropped to 30 percent by 1970 and today is below 7 percent. The result, Dr. Davis says, is that the Defense Department has been "unable to carry out essential missions due to the nonavailability of ICs with t he required specifications."

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