Mapping a Virtual Country

Robert Lee Chartrand

     In a career spanning more than 40 years, there have been many "special moments" to recall and savor. Perhaps paramount in its singular scope and substance was the opportunity to fulfill a significant role in the development of "Subsystem I" (for Intelligence) of Air Force project 117L. The purpose of our endeavor was to create a pilot Data Systems Laboratory (DSL) in Littleton, Colorado which would serve as the testing site for processing the "take" from the first, and as yet unlaunched, spy-in -the sky satellite.
     The move into private industry in 1959 from an earlier series of assignments in Naval intelligence, and at the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), proved to be momentous. As a Member of the Technical Staff at Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge, the subcontractor of Lockheed, it was felt that my contribution could be threefold. I had, experience as a multisensor analyst (including postings at the USN Photo Interpretation Center and OP922Y1 at the National Security Agency), knowledge of Soviet Bloc demography and politics, and familiarity with a range of mapping and photographic resources.
     Because existing coverage of Communist countries was highly classified, it was believed that simulating these geographic areas could provide useful lessons in the future processing of such photo and ELINT data. Therefore, a country called "Slavia" was to be created as a fictional counterpart to the Soviet Union, featuring a geography, armed forces, economy, etc.
 The hardware support system to be built--revealing a willingness on the part of T-R-W to break new ground--by a group of vendors (including Itek and Houston- Fearless) was to include PI and ELINT consoles, a twin-screen Display Analysis Console, a Central Store to house and manipulate 70 x 100 mm film chips, a group display unit, a family of photographic and format conversion device, and a new "polymorphic" computer (the RW-400).
     In utilizing Slavia as a realistic, if fictional, database, certain key components were to be developed:

A basic description of this country, including the details of military resources, geographic components, economy, and its people.
A "satellite camera" for taking pictures of large photo mosaic boards representing "ground truth" in Slavia.
Generation of these mosaic boards, of requisite quality and scale, featuring "target inserts" --airfields, missile sites, manufacturing plants--which could be updated.
Preparation of in-series Slavian maps, similar to realworld products from U.S. mapping agencies.
Devising various useful scenarios to "exercise" this elaborate database.
     Working closely with assigned Air Force intelligence specialists who served as the "test bed" cadre, our project team-computer and microform systems' specialists, language experts, human scientists, and photographic personnel--both monitored and evaluated the DSL "Electronic Center" operations, and developed demonstrations of these sophisticated devices and systems.
     Here, then, were found combined the components of multi-source acquisition, the melding of advanced data processing capabilities with the thinking power of human beings, the unflagging requirement to equate these exploratory processes with those in the real world, and the requirement to transcend known analytical processes with projected advancements that could enrich the ensuing products and performance by responsible practitioners.
     In urging and approving my acceptance of this opportunity, my leader and friend at NPIC, Arthur Lundahl, had viewed this as an "absolutely unique and crucial" project. In retrospect, it simply reinforced our shared belief that "where there is no vision, the people perish."

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Project coordinator: Dr. Robert Williams     Site design: Eric Chamberlin   Comments may be sent to:  bobwill@sc.edu