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The Interrupted Flight

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My first meeting with Anatoliy[1] Kitov took place in August 1956. Then he was the Computer Centre №1 chief’s first deputy (scientific director) at the USSR Ministry of Defence. I myself was one of the fifteen young university graduates appointed as staff of that military computer centre – that time the first and the leading one within the Ministry of Defence’s organisational structure. We all graduated from the faculty of mechanics and mathematics of the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. That year more other young specialists – graduates of various universities and leading institutes[2] were selected to work there. They all were also mathematicians from Moscow, Leningrad, Saratov, Tomsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Kiev, etc. Then, in 1956, Computer Centre №1 of the USSR Ministry of Defence was the biggest one in the country. It was constantly expanding – successful efforts of A.I. Kitov played notable role in that. 

When new candidates arrived to the personnel department of the centre they were received by the special selection commission, consisting chiefly of the leading scientists and administrators – the directors of departments, which needed new specialists. Those meetings were mainly headed by A.I. Kitov, and it was he, who made the final decision on enlisting a new candidate. Besides A.I. Kitov, we – the mathematicians – were also interviewed by N.P. Buslenko and N.A. Krinitskiy the chiefs of some centre’s departments.

That interview was my first meeting with A.I. Kitov, a very competent and energetic person. He was characterised with concrete and pragmatic approach to problems and so were his questions. However, I was impressed with unexpectedly relieving ‘after-effect’ of the talk. The talk with him totally removed our fears of working under conditions of strict military discipline. Later I noticed that it was his typical manner of discussion (no matter how long or short).

A.I. Kitov knew how to value both, his own and his colleague’s time. Then in 1956 we all, the beginning specialists, quickly noticed his rather young age. He was 36 – just ten years older than we, what impressively contrasted with his already high scientific and administrative position at that, very serious and important, organisation and with his military rank of a lieutenant-colonel.

Already in our first months at the Сomputer centre №1 we realised that, in spite of his young age, A.I. Kitov – scientific director of this important organisation– was very respected person, who enjoyed genuine influence and authority among his collaborators. Kitov possessed global and systematised way of thinking; he was very thorough and insisted on high standards at the works trusted to his specialists. 

In 1953, when we were still students, some of us saw Kitov – then a major – speaking before overcrowded ceremonial hall of the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. He was delivering the first lecture on possibilities of cybernetics, then young and practically unknown science. The 1950-s was the formation period for the Soviet cybernetics, computer engineering and programming as well as for development of mathematical methods and their practical applications in various fields of human activity, including the military one.

It wouldn’t be big exaggeration to say that following two principal trends were simultaneously and most clearly defined, almost in the very beginning of that process:

Kitov

1959. Anatoly Ivanovich Kitov – the creator of Computer Centre №1 of the USSR Ministry of Defence. That time that was the first and the biggest computer centre in the country.

A.I. Kitov was a convinced supporter of the first idea. He was very creative person, constantly generating scientific ideas and demonstrating outstanding working abilities. Thus, simultaneously with development of the Computer Centre №1 and the scientific leadership at that first Soviet “applied” computer organisation, Kitov prepared and published four monographs on electronic digital computers and programming( totally Kitov published 12 monographs  ). Those books of high scientific value, soon after were translated into several foreign languages and published in China, Japan, the Great Britain, USA, etc. Nowadays we, the veterans of the Soviet military cybernetics, are glad to know that many books and articles by Kitov have been carefully selected and currently are stored at the museum of the USSR Ministry of Defence Computer Centre №1 (later named, “Central Scientific-Research Institute № 27”).    

High scientific level of Kitov’s monographs reflected generally high level of his demands to the quality of the centre collaborators’ work. They also clearly demonstrated how young scientists were searching solutions for scientific and technical problems concerning our national defence potential. Soon after beginning of my work at the centre –exactly, after six weeks – I applied to Kitov for a month leave, which I needed to pass entering postgraduate exams at “my” department of computation mathematics at the Moscow State University (for remote studying). Kitov frankly expressed his regret for my interrupting the work on an important project but naturally granted me the requested leave.

By the way, the chair of computation mathematics, where I made my postgraduate research, was headed by academician Sergey L.Sobolev, who, same as A.A. Lyapunov, was asked by A.I. Kitov to be a co-author of the famous article “Basic Features of the Cybernetics”[3] , which had been prepared by Kitov some years before. That fundamental article was published in 1955, in the official ideological journal “The Problems of Philosophy” № 4 (the same one, which, three years before published extremely negative articles full of severe criticism against the cybernetic ideas). It was a solid conceptual work, which subsequently played very important progressive role and catalysed successful process of the cybernetics official and public recognition in the USSR.

Kitov himself initiated and organised broad spectrum of scientific researches at the Computer Centre №1. They were conducted on various aspects of new applied technologies, especially in the field of the Armed Forces management based on electronic computers and mathematical methods – first of all on mathematical modelling. The work included development of special computers designed for weapon control and operating within numerous military systems. Also a vast amount of computations was constantly performed for maintaining the work of the Ministry’s of Defence higher administration, its departments and services. Thus, special –military– packages of applied programs were produced and large number of information-retrieval systems (IRS) for various purposes was developed. New methods of mathematical analysis and modelling were developed and implemented for virtual experimenting on various combat situations, etc. A.I. Kitov himself was the founder of new scientific subject “Development of IRS” both for the army and the country in general.

When I first came to work at The Centre I received a position at the department of mathematical modelling. It was headed by mathematician N.P. Buslenko – former lecturer of the F.E. Dzerzhinskiy Artillery Academy, whom A.I. Kitov had personally invited to join his centre. Kitov and Buslenko knew each other since 1945, when they met at the Academy and very soon became true friends for long years. During the war they both served in the army field forces as artillery officers. Academy's administration always encouraged scientific work of its students. Kitov and Buslenko were among the most brilliant members of the academy’s Scientific Society. Besides learning at the academy they additionally attended lectures of the world famous mathematician academician A.N. Kolmogorov, and other prominent mathematicians, at the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. That was permitted personally by the general P.N. Kuleshov, the Academy rector. In fact, it was not in the academic rules but Kuleshov was reasonable and progressive person; he also could be 'flexible' when necessary.

 A.I. Kitov – a student of the F.E. Dzerzhinskiy Artillery Academy

A.I. Kitov – a student of the F.E. Dzerzhinskiy Artillery Academy

During his academic years A.I. Kitov prepared several articles on rocket problems. Being written on good scientific level they were published in some secret military periodicals. The most interesting of them were: „Research on Rocket Ballistics at shooting from closed Barrel“ (1949), „Study of active-reactive systems“ (1949) and „Investigation of reactive out-of-battery fire“ (1950).  In 1949 he invented a „Reactive cannon“, which was awarded a USSR state “Author's certificate” (patent) in 1950 (the exact name: “Certificate of „Gostekhnika USSR“, No 10666, from 18.04.1950”). As the invention was of real technical interest it was even reported about to the head of the USSR government – I.V. Stalin

 During his work on rocket problems Kitov even participated in producing of the first Soviet ballistic rocket R-1. Same as the first american rockets of such class, it was similar to V-2 of German inventor Wernher von Braun (no wonder – the same physical principles, the same problems to be solved and the manufacturing technologies were similar on the “both sides”/A.N./). He also reported about his work to academician S.P. Korolev – the chief designer of the first Soviet rockets and space-ships. In 1952 Kitov successfully submitted his dissertation „Programming of the external ballistics problems“, at the military institute N-4, and was awarded the 'candidate of technical sciences' degree. That was the USSR’s first dissertation on pure programming.

Returning to our department of mathematical and compute modelling… it quickly grew into a serious research organisation; its staff totalled up to 40 mathematicians. 

Within a short period of time, 3 – 4 years from the foundation, several scientific schools and also new computation methods have been created at the Computer Centre №1. Among them there were:

These schools were among the USSR first ones in that field. Although they all had been founded at the defence – naturally secret – organisations, their leading scientists were permitted to openly publish the first Soviet monographs presenting the fundamentals of new science and engineering. However, there is nothing strange in it. The interests of national development, first of all scientific and economic needs, demanded broad popularisation and intensive implementation of the advanced scientific discoveries, as well as based on them methods, technologies, etc. The authors of the publications, quite logically, obtained fame as the pioneers and leaders in the field of cybernetics. They were A.I. Kitov, N.P. Buslenko, N.A. Krinitskiy. Besides rather theoretical – mathematical and programming – researches Kitov conducted series of engineering projects under general title “Development of Special and Universal Digital Electronic Computers”.  

While working in the 1956–1960 s. within the scientific program led by N.P. Buslenko I was engaged in development of mathematical modelling methods, which should allow virtual recreation of tank battles in the fields with given concrete geodetic parameters. Then it was absolutely new subject with no experience available, neither were there ready models, examples or any appropriate information. In that project I was appointed as the head of a mathematic task-team, which consisted of three young collaborators: L. Kutsev, A. Chavkin and A. Chebykin. Our work proved to be a full success we managed to work out the world’s first modelling methods for such class of problems. Notably, both the level of the given problems and – accordingly – the level of our ambitions could be well illustrated with the following fact from my biography. In 1957, I was composing algorithms and formalising the tank gun shooting process. Without knowing it, I turned to be the first one in the country to describe it, as the problem of linear programming, in integer numbers. There was no ready solution for it that time, so I attempted to find it myself, making the research a part of my postgraduate study (preparing thesis). I really succeeded in 1958 and my article with the description of integer solution soon appeared in a volume of periodically published collection of the Computer Centre №1 works. A.I. Kitov was its founder and editor in chief. Although being the internal publication of the (secret) military organisation, many of those collections (journals) were openly distributed. They enjoyed interest and recognition of the broad scientific circles in the USSR and, a little later, of many scientists in the East Europe. By that time we received an American journal with two articles on the same subject authored by the US mathematician Ralph E. Gomory, who submitted them just a few months before me.

Although I began my work at the Сomputer Сentre №1 just as a young ’junior scientific collaborator’[4] , A.I. Kitov was very attentive to me and we regularly communicated on various problems of our mathematical modelling of various situations in a course of battle. I really enjoyed that communication, not for his being a „big boss“, of course, and not only because he was a very clever man with impressive scientific and general erudition, but also for his human qualities and broad intellectual interests. No need to say, that I especially clearly realised his human values after his – forced – retirement from all positions at the computer centre and leaving the army. Then I had to work with other administrators. 

Scientists from our mathematical modelling department, guided by the talented leaders Kitov and Buslenko, always worked enthusiastically with genuine interest to the subject. Thus, Yuri Bezzabotnov also modelled various possible situations of the tank attacks and Lev Kutsev was doing that for aircraft charges. In those works we intensively used the software complex, developed under Kitov’s guidance, that included computation program based on Runge-Kutta Method. 

Now, I would like to admit again, that scientific leaders of the Computer Centre №1 Kitov, Buslenko and Krinitskiy, on my personal impression, were true scientific pioneers and very impressive personalities. They did a lot for progress of our country. They really made a great contribution, despite numerous administrative difficulties the first two had to face while making efforts to fully realise their creative potential. One shouldn’t forget difficult conditions, strict regulations and specific unwritten traditions, of the military-administrative system of those times.

Generally speaking, every functioning organisation or system with complex structure possesses complex of qualitative attributes, which could be considered by an observer both as positive and not. Military structure is a clear example of this. Joining it as a civil specialist and becoming later a professional officer I gradually changed my attitude to, and evaluation of what I previously thought to be definitely negative. That change both strengthened and enriched my character, ideology and personality in general. A great deal of the positive influence, which led to my personal progress, came from my first scientific supervisors, first of all A.I. Kitov.

Here is an example from my personal experience. In autumn 1956 popular central weekly „Literature Newspaper“, published an article criticising ‘suspicious’ actions, or illegal manipulations, of some retired colonel in town of Krasnodar, who had been officially granted a plot of land for his building a private house. On having read the newspaper some officers of our department disapproved the critics, thinking it was aimed against the whole army, what finally led us to a great deal of an excited arguing. I, who in fact did bring that newspaper to the centre, insisted that ‘the whole army’ had nothing to do with somebody’s private actions, no matter how silly they were. Finally the discussion brought no results and everybody left it remaining on his own point. Unfortunately that was not all. Someone of the colleagues, most probably of not very friendly personal feelings to my person, conspired against me secretly addressing a letter of complain to the centre’s administration. After a few days I was summoned to the office of political department, where the commander of the Computer centre №1 general P.V. Beresin, scientific director colonel A.I. Kitov and the commander’s deputy on political problems general P.Ya. Golovkin asked me to tell the whole story concerning the discussion on newspaper article, what I did, trying as I could to be maximally quiet and sensible. Then Kitov said some words, prizing me as a competent and promising young scientist and claiming that on his firm opinion such intelligent person with so much commonsense as (his collaborator) G.A. Meshcheriakov  (the “culprit”) simply could not say ‘such things’ of bear ‘such ideas’ (which, as I presume, had been written in the denounce). The two generals agreed with him and their final decision declared, “G.A. Meshcheriakov is not guilty, he has been just slandered, most probably from envy”. Well, soon after I might forget the whole ‘nonsense’ but only due to progressive, honest nature and brilliant intellect of A.I. Kitov, as well as the commonsense and reasonable attitude of general Beresin. No matter how absurd or grotesque all that seems in our days, that time it could have very serious consequences for me, especially in such secret military organisation as was the Computer centre №1.

Since 1980, when A.I. Kitov was already a civil university professor, we again worked together; that time at the G.V. Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics (university) in Moscow. I was absolutely happy with our collaboration. Here, he – as usual – was both very active and very modest, and enjoyed enormous respect of all his colleagues. At the academy Kitov headed the chair of computer engineering and also performed duties of the vice chairman of the academic scientific council – special commission on doctoral dissertations. In reality Kitov most often was its ‘executive chairman’ since the official chairman of the council was the academy rector himself – a very busy person.    

In 1984, when I headed the chair of information and computation systems of the academy I married a lecturer who was also working there. Of course we decided that it would be better if she works at another chair but it was not so easy, as the free vacations at academic organisations are always scarce. Then I applied – as usual – to Kitov and he – as usual – again helped me by finding a position for my wife at his own department of computer engineering. Frankly speaking I still do not know how he managed to do it, but she quickly received an appointment there. Until now my wife Natalia thinks of her work there as of a very lucky period in her life. She is always grateful to Kitov, and highly appreciates his human qualities.

Finally I would say that I completely agree with the words of professor I.B. Pogozhev, who recalled A.I. Kitov in the following way, ”…I’ve noticed a trait of him, which I found especially important. While he was engaged in establishing new research programs for the cybernetic studies he dedicatedly struggled for them, making all possible efforts to overcome fierce resistance of various administrators. However, when all the work was already done, there was always somebody, unexpectedly emerging to head the results of Kitov’s efforts. Often those were the same persons who actively interfered with him in the beginning. Notably, Kitov was always quiet at such occasions. I’ve never seen any signs of irritation on him. I believe his family strongly supported him”.

Observing his scientific contribution, pioneer ideas, solutions, project materials and published works one inevitably comes to the conclusion, that Kitov undoubtedly deserved much more recognition and awards then he got in reality. His well known modesty was of course one of the reasons of that, however, he also shared the famous “fortune of the discoverer” (or misfortune /A.N./). It is often so, that a devoted pioneer struggling for his discoveries without compromise wins full recognition of his descendants but not contemporaries. Same thing happened with him. Thus, all his sincere efforts to efficiently improve situation with organisation of computer usage in management structure of the armed forces, finally brought the most shocking result. Anatoliy Kitov was fired from his scientific positions, expelled from the (communist) party and forced to leave the army. The official powers, the administrators of the Ministry of Defence, who – so to say – decided on his fortune, had been fantastically unjust to him.

I think that inside himself Kitov psychologically (or probably spiritually) never fully recovered from the terrible injustice of the officials. Thus, the ‘wings of his creativity’ were injured and the flight of his scientific ideas was somehow interrupted. “They tore the sail...”, as runs the song of Vladimir Vysotskiy – popular Soviet bard and singer. And thirty years later there was already neither the state itself nor its governing system. The system, which, with the huge power of its bureaucratic apparatus cozing up to the „big bosses“, suppressed genuine innovators like A.I. Kitov, who were sincerely concerned about the progress and prosperity of their country. I suppose, that was one of the basic reasons for the USSR general crisis.

Author's certificate

In April 1949, A.I. Kitov invented „Reactive cannon“, which was awarded a USSR state “author's certificate” (patent) in 1950 (certificate of „Gostekhnika USSR“, No 10666, 18.04.1950).

About the author: G.A. Meshcheriakov, doctor of technical sciences, professor of the chair “Mathematical Methods in Economy” at the G.V. Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics.

Notes

1. Another possible spelling - Anatoly

2. The same level as the Western ‘Technical universities’ (A.N.).

3. That article was the first published in the USSR positive material on the subject of cybernetics, which had been severely criticised by official ideologists, being called by them „Capitalist pseudo-science“, or „The science which is assisting capitalists in their exploiting workers“. Generally speaking Kitov needed notable courage to publish an article (the first one) in prize of cybernetics, while it was severely criticised on the official level.

4. The first (lowest) scientific grade/position at scientific research organisations in the USSR and Russia. (A.N.)

 

Edited and translated by Alexander Nitusov
Published in museum, 18.02.2010

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