The idea of creating time in warfare is not new. Employing operational art, a Western concept dating back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, commanders have sought to balance the operational factors of time, space, and force to their advantage. Of these three operational factors, time is unique in that lost time can never be regained. Time, however, can be created by successfully balancing it with another operational factor, such as force. In this case, the effective application of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) represents the operational factor of force. Review of a historical example, in this case the efforts of Station Hypo during World War II, best serves to illustrate the idea of creating time.
Station Hypo, headed by Commander Joseph John Rochefort and located in Pearl Harbor, collected and decrypted the Japanese naval code, known as JN-25. The code consisted of approximately 45,000 five-digit numbers, of which each represented a word or phrase (Ballard and Archbold, 34). Decrypting such an extensive code, without the aid of computers, took a great amount of time, effort, and ingenuity. Successfully exploiting Japanese naval communications, however, would prove critical to the U.S. Navy’s victory in the Pacific. By May 1942 Station Hypo’s exploitation of Japanese naval communications was sufficient to provide daily intelligence reports and assessments of Japanese force dispositions and intentions. These reports were provided to Naval operational commanders, to include Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Commander in Chief Pacific Ocean Areas. It was around this time that Station Hypo detected an impending Japanese naval operation.
On May 13, 1942, Navy operators intercepted a Japanese message directing a logistics ship to load cargo and join an operation headed to “Affirm Fox” or “AF.” Rochefort almost immediately recognized the significance of the message and the importance of the codeword “AF.” Station Hypo linguists had equated “AF” to Midway in March after the Japanese seaplane attack on Hawaii (Carlson, 308). While Nimitz was satisfied with Rochefort’s analysis, the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King, suspected a follow-on Japanese attack on Hawaii and was not convinced. Rochefort had to determine a way to confirm his suspicions and convince Naval leadership in Washington. On May 19, following orders from Hypo Station, Midway’s radio station broadcast in the clear that the island’s desalinization plant had broken down. Just one day later, a Japanese message, including the objective’s codeword, reported that a water ship should accompany the occupation (Parshall, 93). Station Hypo, employing communications deception, was thus able to confirm Midway as the objective of the upcoming Japanese naval operation. According to Parshall, “Just as American cryptographic prowess had allowed the U.S. Navy to thwart Inoue’s thrust into the Coral Sea, so too it had revealed Yamamoto’s intentions concerning Midway (92).”
Station Hypo’s efforts would prove critical to the U.S Navy’s victory at Midway. The efforts of Station Hypo created the time necessary for Admiral Nimitz to prepare for an impending attack on Midway, estimated to take place as early as June 2, 1942. King had directed Nimitz to keep Halsey and his carriers in the Southwest Pacific, but armed with new information Nimitz was able to convince King that Enterprise and Hornet should be brought back to the Hawaiian area. With Enterprise and Hornet available to thwart the Japanese attack, Nimitz ordered that necessary repairs of Yorktown, originally estimated to take three months, be completed in just three short days (Parshall, 94). Following a valiant effort at Pearl Harbor Shipyard, Yorktown headed back to sea on May 30, 1942, joining Enterprise and Hornet already en route to Midway. Station Hypo was also able to give Nimitz the time and location of the Japanese attack point, 315 degrees, 50 nm from Midway, and that attacks would commence at 7:00AM (Carlson, 352). This allowed Nimitz to position his forces at the right place, designated Point Luck, northeast of Midway, placing the U.S. fleet on the flank of the Japanese (Carlson, 354). According to Parshall, “…Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was given enough warning, just barely, to assemble his forces in time to defend the island (92).” Had Station Hypo’s efforts failed, Admiral Nimitz would not have had enough time to thwart what might have been a surprise Japanese attack.
Station Hypo set the standard for Naval Cryptology, and the proud history of our community continues to this day. While the efforts of Station Hypo are the most visible, Naval cryptologists, cloaked in necessary secrecy, continued to provide operational commanders with enemy intentions, allowing them to make informed decisions and giving U.S. forces the advantage. In the words of RADM Ned Deets (Ret) at the Cryptologic Community’s 76th Anniversary Ball, “For 62 years our cryptologists have been in the back of airplanes going in harm’s way. For 76 years our cryptologists have been in ships and later in submarines, and on foreign soil risking their lives for all we hold dear.”
In a similar vein, the response of the cryptologic community to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was equally laudable to the accomplishments of Station Hypo. Members of our community deployed in large numbers to the Middle East, flying airborne reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan and Iraq or serving at sea in the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Many applied their skills from remote sites in a manner unheard of during the days of Station Hypo. Others served on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, augmenting the Army as Electronic Warfare Officers. A select few participated in high-risk, Naval Special Warfare operations, some making the ultimate sacrifice. All of them “created time” for the operational commanders conducting operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM. While we often look to our success at Midway as a defining moment in our community’s history, we must not forget the present and future legacy we continue to write.
Today, while technology has evolved, the essence of applying the core skills of SIGINT, Cyber, and EW is the same and the goal has not changed. In the information age, applying our core skills has never been more important. And in the rapid-fire environment of modern warfare, time is of the essence. Whether operating ashore or afloat, in the air or under the sea, Cryptologic Technicians follow in the footsteps of those who preceded them. In the spirit of Station Hypo, the efforts of the cryptologic community continue to focus, first and foremost, on creating time for the operational commander.
Ballard, Robert. Return to Midway. Washington, D.C: National Geographic, 1999.
Parshall, Jonathan. Shattered Sword : The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway. Dulles, Va. Poole: Potomac Chris Lloyd distributor, 2007.
Carlson, Elliot. Joe Rochefort’s War: the Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 2011. Print.