Engineering and Computer Science Department
Science 39 K: Information Technology Goes to War
Research Theme, Due 9 May (Last Class Day!)
Your last assignment for this semester is to perform
independent research into the topic of this class, and to write a paper
describing your findings. You may choose any topic related to information
technology, past/present/future warfare or national security, or governmental
approaches for fostering research and development for national needs.
Your paper may be as long or as short as you want
and need it to be, to make your point (no more than 10 pages please!). It is
the instructor’s earnest desire that you choose a topic you find both
personally interesting and highly motivating, and that you use the
justification of this class assignment to unleash your energy in its pursuit.
Your paper should be an authoritative essay, first
stating a hypothesis (e.g., “Ship-to-ship radio would have revolutionized naval
warfare in the First World War”), and backing up your thesis with arguments
based on your analysis backed up be research citations from the literature
(e.g., how naval tactics might have changed, based on being able to operate
more effectively at night). While it is fine to use the World Wide Web as a
research source (your instructor certainly does!), be forewarned that you can’t
believe everything that you find there, and books and journals in the library provide
more trustworthy (although not infallible) sources.
Some Ideas for CS39K Research Papers
It may be a little difficult for you to identify a
suitable topic. Please do not hesitate to speak with the instructor about
possible ideas for your paper. I would like to know your proposed topic by 25
April (one week to think about it, two weeks to research and write it up). You
can send me an email briefly describing your proposal before the next class
To give you some ideas of the scope and range of
topics, I provide a suggested list below. This is only for guidance! A topic
that you find personally interesting is more important than any of the ones
- Describe how the use of radio could have, but did not,
revolutionize World War I naval battles.
- Could the Allies still have won the Battle of the Atlantic without
Ultra? Take a stand yes or no and support your position.
- The “Battle of the Beams” in WW II was an epic electronic warfare
arms race of measures, counter measures, and unexpected technological
capabilities of adversaries. Describe the elements of this race. Is it
really the case that “radar won the war?” If so, what did Germany do wrong
to lose this crucial race for technical superiority?
- Research the concept of a Public Key Cryptosystem and explain how
and why it works. Does it actually achieve an unbreakable code?
- Research the concept of Operations Research and describe how it
was used to formulate a strategy for organizing World War II Atlantic
convoys. Was OR a useful tool?
- Describe stealth technology and how it makes aircraft “invisible”
to radar. Given that every “measure” has some “countermeasure,” what are
the radar countermeasures to stealth technology? Do they render stealth
technology obsolete? Will stealth render radar obsolete?
- Describe how the Global Positioning System (GPS) works. What is
its implication for precision weaponry? What are GPS’s vulnerabilities? As
GPS becomes more essential for civilian uses, such as aircraft navigation
and landing as well as surveying applications, can the military really
disable its accuracy during times of national emergency?
- What is “Identify Friend or Foe” (IFF) and describe how it works.
How could it be fooled, to masquerade as a friend when actually a foe, and
could it be used to target foes?
- Describe the technology of Unpiloted Air Vehicles (UAVs) and how
they are used to provide remote surveillance of the modern battlefield.
What are their vulnerabilities?
- Describe how satellite communications works and how it is used in
the field by the military.
- Identify plausible roles for information technology in
activities. You should concentrate quite carefully on what is
feasible, rather than what is desirable. Which solutions are likely to be
practical and useful? What are the political consequences of deploying
- The air defense process we described in class was
relatively leisurely: radar operators phone fighter controllers and
chat. By the end of the WWII, bombers were faster and bombs more dangerous. Investigate
how air defense strategies changed as a result, and discuss the impact on
how we think about computing today.
- Was the strategic bombing of Germany
effective? Why? What were the IT demands posed by the
campaign? Can you find examples of modern technologies that were
developed during this campaign?
- In class, we found choosing bombing targets by committee
discussion to be quite difficult. Investigate possible better
solutions. Can you determine how this is done today?
- Most popular writing suggests that modern terrorist organizations
depend quite extensively on the fact that it is easy to move quite large
sums of money around anonymously. Investigate technologies and strategies
that could be used to track and/or disrupt large flows of money. What
is practical? What are the political or economic consequences of deploying