William Schwartz

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Interviewed by
Joan Bromberg
Interview date
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Interview of William Schwartz by Joan Bromberg on 1987 December 16, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4868

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Schwartz worked on lasers at Martin-Marietta's Orlando Division from 1961 to about 1968 and then founded, first, International Laser Systems (later Litton Laser Systems), and then Schwartz Electro-Optics. Here he discusses his responsibilities at Martin-Marietta, and covers in detail Martin-Marietta's development of laser target designators. Then he discusses the founding and the product lines of International Laser Systems.


I shall begin with an overview of my work at Martin Marietta. I joined Martin in July 1961 as manager of a group of departments that included a systems engineering department that was working on new technology for missile guidance. The laser was looked at as one of these technologies. The systems group had about 15 people: my other responsibilities were operations research and human engineering. The systems work was paper studies, not hardware.

In the late fifties, Martin had tried guiding short-range tactical missiles with an optical beam for distances of a few kilometers. The equipment had used a conventional ultraviolet lamp with the wavelength chosen for small optics and narrow beam divergence, and Martin had built some hardware. There had been problems. To get a beam as narrow as 16-18 inches, the diameter of the optics even with ultraviolet was large. In addition, atmospheric attenuation was severe at this wavelength.

Then after Maiman, someone at Martin had said: "Maybe the laser can do this job." We looked at ruby and found it was all right for ranging, but not target designation. (We built one of the first ruby rangefinders in this connection.) Then we went to Nd:glass because it could pulse at a decent rate, at least 10 hertz, and our group was tasked to work on the missile problem with it. The work was done partly with company funds and partly with contracts from the Night Vision Laboratory and the Redstone Arsenal. The person within the army who was the driver for R&D on semi-active missile guidance was David Salonomer.

In about '62-'63, the research director, Hugh Webber, asked if I'd help Martin obtain research contracts. I then became head of marketing for research activities for several years. Lasers were part of my activity and we were successful in getting contracts for them. We probably built the first laser target designator on these contracts.

After this overview, let me go back to target designators in more detail. The people who designed the first illuminator, Guy Morse who did the drawings, Ward Hammond and Jim Murtha, were in the research division, where the hardware work was done. There were about 12 people in this group, which was under Warren Birge. The laser system was substantially different from the incoherent system. The UV had been modulated CW, whereas the laser was pulsed. The tracker, power supply, and proportional detector were different, and had to be designed from scratch. We designed a 4-quadrant silicon detector and part of the problem was to move from what is called a "bang-bang" system to one with a smooth response curve. The key to that was to defocus the spot and develop the proportional logic electronics.

Three companies were making laser target designators in the 1960s, Korad, Westinghouse, and Martin. Texas Instruments and Martin were doing the seekers. Martin was thus the only one doing both. Hughes was important in ranging, but was not a factor in target designators (TADs) until much later. One of the biggest technological challenges was to miniaturize the system for portable use. This required a small capacitor charging power supply to trigger the flashlamps at a high repetition rate. It was a new technology. The Army wanted a man-portable system for use with both bombs carried by planes and missiles carried by tanks. (I should remark that the Orlando division of Martin was only interested in tactical warfare, and did not work on strategic systems.)

We sold one TAD to the Marines who took it to Vietnam; in this way I believe we provided the first TAD in Vietnam. Together with Korad, we outfitted a spotter plane, a Cessna-like plane called 01 and 02, with TADs. After that we made a system, Paveway, for the F-4. It fitted into the rear cockpit with a canopy down over the eyepiece and a joystick. The laser fired into a mirror which the operator also viewed, and he wiggled a joystick to keep the spot on the target.

Capt. Wendy Hull, an Air force officer assigned to Eglin Air Force Base suggested this design to us, reasoning from the joysticks used to adjust automobile rear view mirrors. We thought it impractical to keep spots a few feet in diameter on target from 20,000 ft. in this way, but he went up in a plane with a mock-up and showed he could hold it on target.

The problem with Paveway was that the pilot had to fly a canned maneuver, a slow turn so that the operator could use the laser. Another plane did the bombing. On the other hand, to hit a bridge with a single bomb was pretty neat. Before that, it had taken a whole squadron flying over. My best guess is that this happened in '65 or '66.

The TAD work was accelerated by the Vietnam War. It was not just a matter of money but of getting Dx priority — the highest priority, which accelerates obtaining materials and expedites the contracts. Normally, it takes a time which might range up to a year or more just to get under contract. It is necessary to justify requirements, get competing bids, get through bid evaluation, etc. It can also take a long time to get critical long lead components once under contract, for example, connectors.

In about 1965, Martin decided to consolidate tactical laser programs under a single person. I became manager of Laser Systems. It was then that my group developed the F-4 TAD. Then we did Pave Arrow, a pod mounted laser seeker and display project which led ultimately to Pave Penny, one of today's systems. (Pave was a code name for Vietnam weapons.)

Pave Arrow was for an F-100 jet. We modified a government supplied pod with a seeker on the front end. One development on that project, in 1963 or so was this. We had built a prototype, a bread-board tracker with a gimbal, servo, and so on. But to take it from there to something missile-qualified would have been expensive and time-consuming. We were sitting around and talking when the idea came to me: "Can we modify the Sidewinder, the first electro-optic missile, and pull out its infra-red detector and substitute a laser system? Then we could use the same gimbal and drive coil, and just change the detector electronics."

I went to China Lake to see Chuck Smith and asked him for information on Sidewinder. He gave me drawings and hardware which I carried back to Martin. We took out the infra-red detector, substituted a four quadrant silicon laser detector and made it work. As a result, we had a fully qualified seeker a few years before we would have otherwise had one. This allowed Pave Arrow to be finished by about 1966-1967.

Eglin Air Force Base pushed lasers into the Viet Nam war; pushed lasers into the war. Major Bill Kirlin was the driver there. Capt. Wendy Hull was the test pilot. The China Lake persons who championed laser technology were Chuck Smith and Connie Neal.

The group at the Night Vision laboratory was interested in illuminators, not target designators. We built the first system for them, but it never went into production. In about 1967, 1968, I decided lasers were going to be a big market, and I saw an opportunity to get into the field and build a company. Martin Marietta's interests were limited and restricted to tactical missile guidance, whereas I saw a lot of other appealing possibilities. I therefore planned the company and raised money. I couldn't find venture capital, but I had a boyhood chum in Missouri who had worked for a company, Faultless Starch Company, that had money, wanted to diversify, and was willing to make an investment. I also found a group of people in Orlando, friends and acquaintances. In all, I raised $800,000 and founded International Laser System Inc. (ILS) in the fall of 1968.

A team of 12 came with me, 11 from Martin and one from Control Laser. There were 4 scientists, three "super-techs", one designer, an optics specialist, a machinist, an administrator, and I.

We made our own optics, so as to have them available when we needed them, and did our own machine work, so as to have the mechanical parts available. A lot of art and precision was needed for the optical work. Ed Zacharias, our optical person, had built laser optics at Martin.

We started with an improved TAD as our first product. TADs were and remained the lion's share of our business. We set up a production line. We produced the TAD for the Pave Tack pod for the F-4 and F-11 aircraft and the LANTIRN pod for the F-16 aircraft, the TADS/PNVS for the Apache helicopter and the TAD for the OH 58 helicopter and AQUILA RPV aircraft. International Laser Systems became a defense contractor with about 5% commercial business. We carried over Martin's R&D tradition, of having the majority of our R&D funded by Department of Defense contracts. It was the natural way to go since I was familiar with obtaining government contracts.

In 1983 International Laser Systems (ILS) was sold to Litton Laser Systems who still make TADS, producing 10-20 per month at present, each a $100,000 system. They have about 500 employees in all. The work force includes assemblers, who are highly skilled and work in a clean room environment, aligning arcs, for example, to tolerances of seconds.

At ILS we did not invent new lasers, but used mostly Nd:YAG. Our sales were systems, rather than individual lasers. We didn't do basic research, but product development, to make units more compact, for example, or more reliable and efficient. This is quite different from my present company, Schwartz Electro-Optics, where we are inventing new lasers. SEO is also different from the majority of present companies, which tend to take known lasers and use them for applications. At SEO, we are getting government R&D money for inventing. Peter Moulton is in charge in our Massachusetts research facility.

There were 3 or 4 products that ILS tried that didn't work, chiefly for marketing reasons. One was a dental welder. A doctor in town thought it would have advantages over conventional techniques. For example, it didn't deposit heat. He came to us and we worked with him to develop the system. We then joined forces with a dental supply company. They were within weeks of showing the system at a national dental meeting but an in-house fight broke out between the director of research, who favored the system, and the director of marketing, who didn't, and it was cancelled before the show started. We tried to market it our self but had no expertise. This application has never been successful. It was too expensive for dental laboratories. Our unit was $14,000, whereas these laboratories buy $500 items. Even when we could show a payback period of a year, they were unable to bring themselves to spend such sums.

We also developed a line-of-sight laser communication system. We put a lot of effort into this, and sold a few. But such systems are not 100% weatherproof — heavy fog could blank it out — and it never got anywhere. Another product we tried was a sensor to monitor visibility on highways. We got encouragement from the New Jersey highway department, and tested it, but the highway people didn't want to spend the $2-3,000 each unit cost.

We developed a HeNe leveling apparatus for ceiling construction, as did some other laser companies. The Jim Walker Corporation, in the ceiling business paid us to develop this and build a few units. But it came out during a recession, in 1974, and there was no one to buy it.