Although the final exams were interrupted by flying bombs Benjamin got a first and, in 1944, joined the Royal Navy Science Service as a temporary Experimental Officer in the Admiralty Signals Establishment (ASE) at Witley in Surrey. His first works were on ship borne radars to detect enemy submarines, and then on periscope radars for our own submarines. As part of an Anglo-American team to develop an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, he designed and built a simulator of a mass air attacks on a naval task forces, developing appropriate new techniques and components.
Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment (ASWE)At the end of World War II in 1945, Benjamin chose to stay with the Royal Navy as a Scientific Officer. He became a British Citizen and has given loyal service in his professional life to the defence of his adopted country and indeed to the Western Alliance. Radar development and communications merged with gunnery, guided weapons and a range of other technical matters to become the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment, ASWE, at Portsmouth.
Radar (Radio distance and rangefinder), which was still secret, works by emitting radio pulses from a rotating antenna. When a pulse hits a target, some of the radiation is reflected as an echo. The bearing of the antenna when a reflected signal is received is the bearing of the target, and the time delay of the echo indicates the distance to the target. The results were usually displayed on a circular screen, with a rotating radial line synchronised to the rotating antenna, and with a bright spot indicating the target. Detection required direct line of sight from the antenna to the target, and the range was limited. Capital ships like aircraft carriers had therefore to be protected by stationing smaller more expendable ships (e.g. destroyers), known as radar pickets, around them. Transmission of the pickets- radar was ruled out, partly because alignment of the directional antennas for microwave links between moving ships would have been difficult, but primarily because the line of sight range for the link would have been much too restrictive. Hence pickets could only give crude verbal warning that a raid was on the way.
Benjamin realised that the essential information required by the capital ship was the location of targets defined by their X,Y grid coordinates, which could be transmitted from the pickets over long distances by radio, and that the X and Y co-ordinates could be extracted by a "roller ball" controller, now known as the "computer mouse". Indeed, the cursor spot, controlled by the mouse, could provide a more general two-way interface between the visual display and the corresponding digital data system.
There followed an intensely creative period, which led to the birth of Force-Wide Integrated Command and Control Systems, now used world-wide on land, sea and air, for both military Tactical Control and civil traffic control. To implement this Benjamin developed two main systems,
Comprehensive Display System., CDS. On the capital ship's and pickets' radar screens, a marker was placed over the target echoes using a joystick or mouse. The grid coordinates of the target could then be derived from the marker position. Successive plots of a target's position could be used to predict the target's speed and direction, and the operator only needed to establish new markers occasionally to check that the predictions were correct. The marker of each target was further associated with digital information indicating its height, identity, status etc., so that they could be displayed with identifying symbols, and/or selectively as desired by the user. A friendly weapon system (fighter, gun or missile) could be assigned to each foe target and guided to it. A further refinement was to evaluate the threat posed by each foe, and prioritise the nearest and most appropriate weapon to destroy each foe. The markers also provided a link to a subsidiary display giving other relevant information, or from a digitally selected track number to its plan-position display. Even in the early days jamming radars had been developed which obscured real targets and/or set up false (or ghost) targets. CDS was also used to identify the bearings of the jammers and, with bearings from a number of pickets, the jammers could become foe targets themselves.
Digital Plot Transmission, DPT. The resultant locations of all the targets, seen by any of the ships in the force, were made available to all via DPT, the world's first digital data net. This involved offsets for the different (and changing) relative locations of the radar ships, and provision for sharing reporting responsibilities between ships, whilst avoiding gaps or duplicate reporting of the same target.
Benjamin made these systems very reliable by introducing high redundancy, and reduced downtime by separating the electronics into modules, with pre-planned diagnostics facilitating fault location and rapid replacement of modules. He also developed simulators so that operator training could be carried out in parallel with system development.
There were frequent exchanges of information with the US Navy, generally to the benefit of both parties. On his first visit to the USA in 1946 Benjamin revealed his Digital Plot Transmission and Comprehensive Display which aroused great interest because it was well in advance of anything the Americans were doing at the time. The Royal Navy was perhaps a little naive in not patenting many of Benjamin's inventions, whereas the US Navy was sometimes reluctant to reveal information it regarded as commercially sensitive. Despite many invitations Benjamin never accepted a permanent post in North America. However in 1956 he was the only non American invited to join a short term project, involving all of the US forces, to devise the air defence of the North American continent.
In addition to working hard in his professional life, Benjamin played hard in his private life. There was skiing (learned in Switzerland), and boxing (at Imperial College), rugby, and judo, where he became a black belt and represented first Dorset and later Gloucestershire, and he had developed an interest in climbing and led a number of Alpine Expeditions, including one first ascent. It was on one trip to the Austrian Tyrol that he met Kathleen Bull who became his wife in 1951, but their happy partnership had to overcome many misfortunes. Each of their two sons John and Michael, was born only after three miscarriages, and there were serious illnesses for Benjamin and the children. Sadly, as a young adult, John was killed in a skiing accident and the other party involved was convicted of manslaughter.
Benjamin achieved rapid promotion and gradually had to assume management of engineering projects, and he developed clear ideas of best practice for successful results. A project leader must be a champion for the project and able technically to understand all aspects. 'Temporal' changes are inefficient, so it is better for the project team to see the project through applied research, manufacture, operation, and support with handbooks and spares lists. 'Parallel' development interfaces are also inefficient and a small team of top class people is best. The leader should take on day to day administration, but where this is not possible he should have a partner to take on this role.
There were many other projects in which Benjamin had a hand including,
Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE)
To support R&D on diving and diving in support of other R&D, he also qualified and practised as an RN Diving Officer.
Some essential features of torpedoes are
Mines moored to the sea bottom could no longer be cleared by a sweep wire because of a clever device in the mooring cable which allowed the sweep wire to pass through without detonating the mine, and in any case mines are increasingly laid on the sea bottom. Mine clearance came to depend on simulating the magnetic, acoustic and pressure 'signatures' of a passing ship to actuate the fuses of a mine. The ships that towed the simulating devices had many design features to reduce their own magnetic, acoustic and pressure 'signatures'. Mine design then advanced to evade these countermeasures by randomising the reaction of the fuses to the simulations. A nominally 'cleared' area could not be guaranteed to be clear of mines, and this led to the development of ultra high-resolution sonar for "mine hunting" ships.
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)In 1971 Benjamin was appointed Superintendent Director at GCHQ in Cheltenham. The primary function of the establishment is to gather Signals Intelligence which can be divided into,
And later, Management of all technical equipment development, procurement and operation, Computer programming Operation and development of GCHQ's own communications
Just as in his Navy days, he served on many Government committees and joint committees with US services, Commonwealth partners, and NATO allies at the highest level, often involving foreign travel. He also gave briefings to senior politicians including the Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher.
The acknowledgements of Benjamin's technical achievements from all sides when he retired from GCHQ make it clear that there were considerable technical innovations. However his work with GCHQ is covered by the Official Secrets Acts and has never been revealed. One insight is the development of a speech security system that was sufficiently robust for use on a wide variety of mixed quality commercial channels. This was adopted by Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan for communications between them and to others. Another achievement was a very much cheaper and lightweight encryption system for use during the troubles in Northern Ireland. This was later adopted by many of the United Kingdom Police Forces.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Benjamin retired from Government service in 1982 on reaching the age of 60, but he had so much energy and ability to give. Although there were plenty of well paid opportunities in British and Foreign industry his personal ethic, as an ex Government employee with a wealth of inside knowledge, stopped him taking that path. He accepted an appointment as Head of Communications Techniques at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Technical Centre. The job was in The Hague in The Netherlands, but he always intended to return to the UK and first established a home in Bristol.
The NATO communications system he found had obsolete exchanges, which did not match the new circuits. Commercial estimates of the time and cost of modifying the exchanges were very high with no guarantee of success. Benjamin designed and built, in house, microprocessor-based interface boxes which were installed between the circuits and exchanges at much lower cost in money and time.
The communications system was at the heart of NATO's Command and Control System in the event of war. To inspire the confidence of Military Commanders, he developed a computer based tool for emergency reconfiguring of the system if damaged in war. In addition he encouraged users to reduce their reliance on the system by more delegation, by orders to implement pre-prepared contingency plans and by only requiring reports to commanders about unexpected developments.
Benjamin advocated more efficient routing of communications. A satellite link could send a communication over a vast distance without it travelling through intermediate nodes. As terrestrial links (cables and fibre optics) are less vulnerable to interception - or mutual interference - than radio links, he advocated that radio links should preferably only be used to link mobile users to the nearest node of the static communications network.. He suggested that the hierarchy of exchanges could be reduced to just two layers, because of the falling relative costs of fibre optic links compared to exchanges. He also conceived the term 'virtual ether' to describe a system where any user could be connected to any other user with as much capacity and time as required.
Life in BristolIn 1987 at the age of 65 Benjamin 'retired' again and came back to the UK to his home in Bristol. Part of his philosophy for a fulfilling life is to make your life's work your principal hobby, without excluding other hobbies. Engineering, including the analysis of systems, has given him a creative and satisfying principal hobby. He derives particular pleasure by finding a solution to a problem, often by lateral thinking, when others have said it is impossible.
With this philosophy he is never going to retire. He has been a visiting professor at Imperial College, the Open University and the Military College of Science and played a very full role in the Defence Scientific Advisory Council. He is still is a very active as visiting professor and University College, London and, particularly, at Bristol University, and a consultant to Industry. With his technical expertise and long experience of managing engineering projects he has inspired some important new work. In his lecture to the Retired Professional Engineers' Club (Bristol) in 2006 he spoke about the following,
John Coneybeare (February 2011)
It has been my privilege to be acquainted with Ralph Benjamin and his charming wife Kathleen, through our common membership of the Retired Professional Engineers' Club (Bristol). I think the secret of his success has been his willingness to work hard and think hard. Ralph is a quiet man with a wonderfully robust sense of humour and is very patient with journeyman engineers like me. In addition to his occasional lectures to the club, he can always elicit an interesting discussion with a visiting speaker if the question session is flagging - a great comfort for the chairman of the meeting!