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AUTODIN: The Air Force’s first high speed data communications network

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jennifer M. Sibit
  • Air Force Network Integration Center

In the mid ‘50s, the Department of the Air Force had a manual data communications system for punched card traffic and a separate system for teletype communications. These manual data systems had inherent limitations in speed and capacity as well as being susceptible to human error.

These limitations, combined with the success of the automatic teletype communication system, motivated planning for the purpose of automating the data network. The proposed automated data communication system, known as the "Combat Logistics Network" (COMLOGNET), would provide computer controlled data switching centers and automatic data terminals on a nationwide basis. Initially, this network was planned as a data-oriented system to replace the manual data relay centers that were in existence. However, very early in the design phase, it was proposed that the system concept be modified so that both narrative and data traffic could be processed in the network.

Combat Logistics Network was replaced and renamed to a system known as the Automatic Digital Network (AUTODIN) in 1962. The AUTODIN system, originally designed by Western Union and then leased to the Air Force for use, was installed, operated and maintained by the Air Force Communication Service, the agency today known as the Air Force Network Integration Center. AUTODIN was the Air Force’s first automatic, fully electronic, transistorized, high speed data communications network. This network was a common system that linked more than 300 Air Force, Department of Defense and defense industry users for the purpose of rapidly exchanging information. 

The need for such an increased data network originally was the solution to the logistics challenges of the time. In 1963, the Air Force was handing over 19 million supply requisitions annually and required a system that could help in expediting those requests to meet the needs of the Air Force’s global mission. While born from a need to meet the service’s growing logistics requirements, when AUTODIN was completed and fully implemented, its communications capabilities would see significant growth.

The basic function of AUTODIN was to accept, process, store and deliver digital message traffic to and from subscribers located around the world. Between November 1962 and February 1963, AUTODIN was fielded in five locations across the country and was declared fully operational on Feb. 27, 1963. The first five sites that fielded the AUTODIN Switching Centers (ASC) were Norton AFB, California; McClellan AFB, California; Tinker AFB, Oklahoma; Gentile AFB, Ohio; and Andrews AFB, Maryland.

But the growth did not end there. In fact, this was just the beginning for AUTODIN.

Beginning in October 1967, ASCs were fielded overseas and the first of eleven locations became operational at Clark AB, Philippines. In the months following, more ASCs would be added and accepted. Centers in counties like Thailand and Germany added to the operational capability of this now global network. Each ASC was designed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The centers were maintained at a high state of readiness and no single points of failure could affect the operational capability of the centers. This design ensured the highest degree of reliability, message security and integrity.  

While the ‘50s and ‘60s saw the achievement of rapid, reliable and efficient narrative and data communications through AUTODIN, the future decades would present an even bigger need for other modes of communications for which AUTODIN was not designed handle. In 2001, the Defense Message System (DMS) was fielded in an effort to enable any user within the Department of Defense to exchange both classified and unclassified messages with anyone else in the DoD all while reducing the costs and manpower demands of AUTODIN. Today’s rapid global military communications were not born in a vacuum and AUTODIN rightly takes its place in history as one of the first stepping stones in our current Defense Messaging System.