Whether they are working as a Combat Air Controller, Warfare Operator, Navigation and Plotting Specialist, Electronic Systems Operator, or Operations Administrator, Sailors in in the Operations Specialist (OS) rating carry out their duties in the Combat Information Center (CIC), rightfully considered the “nerve center” of tactical operations aboard U.S. Navy combat vessels. (It’s known as the Combat Direction Center on aircraft carriers.) The CIC is the heart of Command-and-Control operations, with a vast array of high-tech surveillance, detection, navigation, weapons control, and communications displays that, to the uninitiated, look like something out of a science-fiction movie.

That impression might not be coincidental.

While the use of radar on U.S. Navy ships beginning in World War II had obvious and immediate benefits, its arrival raised questions of how it might best be incorporated into a ship’s command-and-control system—or how the command-and-control system should be altered to leverage the capabilities of the new technology. The Navy was spurred on in this pursuit by analysis of combat losses in early Pacific-theater campaigns such as Guadalcanal; their research revealed a sizable number of losses could have been avoided by streamlining messaging and command procedures. For instance, radar on a destroyer could be employed not only for detection of enemy surface vessels, but also enemy aircraft—and in its role as a screening vessel for a task force, the destroyer could relay that information to aircraft carriers or ground-based airfields.

Coordinating this type of operational data required centralization, and thus the concept of the Combat Information Center was born. One of the prime movers in the development of the Navy’s nascent CIC efforts was Rear Admiral Caleb Laning, whose actions as commander of the destroyer USS Hutchins during the Battle of Suriago Strait in 1944 earned him a Navy Cross. In addition to “skillfully maneuvering in the congested seaway while directing the firing of his gun and torpedo batteries,” he also provided information that “[implemented] the fire of our battleships and cruisers” that “resulted in the enemy’s eventual destruction.”

These actions were a direct result of Laning’s involvement in the development of the Combat Information Center. The Hutchins had been refitted with CIC equipment the year before Suriago Strait, and Laning had actively reorganized and integrated the system. What very few know, however, is that the concepts Laning employed in developing CIC doctrine were actually inspired by years of reading science-fiction. In addition to saying that the CIC concept was taken “directly” from the design of a spaceship featured in a series of novels by E. E. Smith, Laning also pointed to the long “bull sessions” he’d had with famed science-fiction author Robert Heinlein during their days together at the United States Naval Academy as a source of inspiration for the CIC.

Given the incredible power and complexity of the equipment Sailors in the Operations Specialists rating utilize in today’s Navy, it’s actually quite fitting that, to a large degree, their “office space” sprang from the mind of one of the most fertile and innovative science-fiction writers of the 20th century.


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