Major General Albert R. Shiely Jr. was the commander of the Air Force Electronic Systems Division of the Air Force Systems Command. Located at Laurence G. Hanscom Field, Bedford, Mass., the division's mission is to plan, program, design and manage the acquisition of electronic command, control and communications systems for the U.S. Air Force and other Department of Defense agencies.
Shiely was born in 1920, in St. Paul, Minn., where he graduated from St. Thomas Military Academy in 1937, and began his military career as an enlisted man in the 206th Infantry, Minnesota National Guard. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy in 1940 and graduated in 1943. He qualified as a military pilot while a cadet and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
During World War II, Shiely served as a B-24 aircraft commander, instructor pilot and operations officer with several heavy bombardment groups in the United States. He served overseas as a B-24 aircraft commander and flight commander with the 484th Bombardment Group of the 15th Air Force in Italy.
In the postwar period, he attended the University of Illinois, graduating in 1947 with a master's degree in electrical engineering and began a long period of service in Air Force research, development and engineering.
From 1947 to 1954 his assignments included planning and management of electronics research for the Electronics Subdivision, Air Materiel Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he was active in the early research and development of electronic general purpose digital computers. This was followed by duty with the Royal Air Force as a research and development exchange officer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, England, and then by service with Headquarters Air Research and Development Command, where General Shiely was charged with management of the development of electronic navigation, traffic control and identification systems.
In August 1954 General Shiely was assigned as the U.S. Air Force engineering manager for three major electronic air defense systems: the Semi-automatic Ground Environment System for control of all air defense weapons defending the United States; the Distant Early Warning Line deployed across Arctic North America for warning of air attack; and the White Alice Communications System to provide communication for defense of Alaska. These programs pioneered the application of many new technologies to military requirements including conversion of radar information to digital form, the first extensive use of the tropospheric scatter communication technique, and the first use of large-scale general purpose digital computers for real time control of weapon systems, The Weapon System Project Office management system was applied for the first time to electronic systems.
In September 1957 General Shiely was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force, where he served with the assistant chief of staff, Air Defense Systems, and the Air Defense Division, Directorate of Operations. He was concerned with the operational readiness of the worldwide U.S. Air Force Ground Control and Warning Systems for air defense and tactical air.
After graduation from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, in July 1962, General Shiely was assigned to the Electronic Systems Division of the Air Force Systems Command where he served as program director for three major electronic systems, including a major air defense system for U.S. Forces in West Germany; as deputy commander for Surveillance and Control Systems; and during 1965-1967 as vice commander of the division.
General Shiely assumed command of the European Communications Area, Air Force Communications Service, in July 1967, with responsibilities for providing communications, navigational aids and air traffic control services to the U.S. Air Force, the Defense Department, and other government agencies throughout Europe. He also served as deputy chief of staff for Communications-Electronics for the commander in chief, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. During this period, major improvements in communications were realized with the successful introduction of the automatic voice network and the automatic digital network throughout Europe.
General Shiely assumed duty as vice commander, Air Force Communications Service in August 1969. He became commander of the Air Force Electronic Systems Division in November 1971.
His military decorations include the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon.
General Shiely's hometown is St. Paul, Minn.
He was promoted to the temporary grade of major general effective April 1, 1970, with date of rank Aug. 10, 1965.
Artifacts: Vietnam era, MG Fatigue Shirt.
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A look back at a pivotal moment in MITRE's—and our nation's—history.
The Year: 1973
With its distinctive profile—a Boeing 707 with a rotating radome encasing radar developed by Westinghouse perched on the fuselage—the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) eventually became a symbol of American technological and military superiority.
But in 1973, skeptics both in the U.S. and at NATO didn’t see the value. As the AWACS chief engineer, MITRE took a risk and recommended demonstrations in Europe, including a prototype command and control data link called Seek Bus.
Traditional ground-based radar was limited to line of sight, and low flying aircraft could hide behind obstructions like mountains. Plus, radar of the day was often confused by background clutter. The MITRE team recognized that it was essential for the skeptics to see how well AWACS could track aircraft with an accuracy greater than any other radar. Moreover, we needed to demonstrate the power of information in and on the future battlefield.
The MITRE-engineered Seek Bus (later known as the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, or JTIDS) would do just that. It helped transform a sophisticated flying radar system into a major command, control, communication, and intelligence system.
Late in 1972, MITRE engineer Jack Shay, AWACS program director, persuaded Brigadier General Kendall Russell, the Air Force officer responsible for AWACS development, to use Seek Bus as the command and control data link for an upcoming demonstration in Europe.
Proving the value of the Seek Bus and AWACS technologies to General David C. Jones, Commander in Chief of U.S. Air Forces Europe, was also a top priority.
The challenge? Seek Bus was still under development—and would have to work its first time out of the box to convince Jones that it should be part of the European demonstration.
The MITRE team believed it was a risk worth taking. After demonstrating the new technology to Jones during a U.S.-based flight early in the new year, he became a champion. Jones invited Russell to bring the Seek Bus–enhanced AWACS to Europe in April 1973 to demonstrate its ability to work with NATO air, land, and sea forces.
Within three months, MITRE built Seek Bus transmitters and terminals and installed them at test locations in Europe. MITRE also integrated the new technology into the AWACS and interfaced the Seek Bus terminals with existing NATO technology, which was far from standardized.
The European demonstrations were a major success. For instance, observers in Ramstein, West Germany were able to see the air space of an AWACS on station above the Adriatic Sea. AWACS was the only radar in the world capable of separating each target from background clutter, including low-altitude aircraft. Simultaneously, AWACS relayed the tracking data to the command and control centers tied together by Seek Bus.
The commanders were convinced of AWACS’ value.
Even so, Congress was not—and MITRE once again played an essential role. In August 1974, at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (later chair of MITRE’s board of trustees) appointed a panel of independent experts to assess the ability of AWACS to perform its functions under battle conditions.
MITRE’s reports proved vital to the committee’s final recommendation that AWACS was a necessary and important part of the nation’s defense.
After that potentially rocky start, AWACS and AWACS-related aircraft became—and remain—a vital defensive resource.
In 1977, 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing received the first AWACS-supported aircraft, now called the Boeing E-3 Sentry.
There are currently 31 E-3 AWACS in active service with the U.S. Air Force.
NATO received 18 E-3As (with TF33 engines and AN/APY-1 radar) in 1982.
NATO intends to extend the operational status of its AWACS until 2035 by significantly upgrading 14 aircraft between 2019 and 2026.
AWACS-supported aircraft have been adopted by the U.S, U.K., NATO, France, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.
MITRE’s long-term impact on the AWACS program highlights our enduring values of speed, risk-taking, and agility as we carry out our mission of solving problems for a safer world.
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