Chris McAndrew

Jun 7th 2020

How the Battle of the Coral Sea Changed Military Technology


The Battle of the Coral Sea was about the strategy of dealing with an unseen enemy. Nearly all competitive strategies have an element of knowing your opponent to gain the upper hand. For centuries, military forces have designated individuals and groups to provide reconnaissance and intelligence on enemy forces. In modern military technology, this is often wrapped up in the acronym C4ISR, which stands for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

Use of Technology

Military powers of the past would employ whatever technology they had available. Take the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval engagement between two fleets that never even saw each other. That battle was possibly due to the use of SIGINT (signals intelligence) by U.S. forces, who located the Japanese fleet using CXAM radar.

This engagement of naval fleets was fought primarily by air from aircraft carriers. The first aircraft into the fight were Northrop Grumman F4F-3, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The F4F fighter plane was a fighting staple of World War II and now has a place in the Smithsonian Museum.

New Military Technology

Fighter plane technology has grown exponentially since the days of the F4F Wildcat. Take, for example, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Packed with the best of today’s stealth technology, the B-21 is an update to the iconic stealth bomber, the B-2, which itself holds records including longest bomber run (44 hours). For those pilots over the Coral Sea during World War II, the aerial endurance demonstrated by the B-21 would have looked like something out of science fiction.

Technology has come a long way, and aviation and naval suppliers require knowledge in a variety of fields. The B-21 is still a work in progress, which means teams of engineers are working to integrate the newest radar and sensing technologies, but the computing power of a single modern bomber today exceeds the total that existed globally during World War II.

One of the reasons for this computational power is the simple need for data processing. Even a commercial surveying unmanned aerial vehicle, used in construction and mining industries, is capable of modeling a full 3-D model of the surrounding terrain. Couple that capability with personnel movement, anti-detection and stealth technologies, and communications systems, and the sophistication just keeps growing. Once airborne, the aircraft of today are outfitted with enough sensing technology that getting lost is nearly impossible.

Even without seeing the ships they were battling, the vessels engaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea built an understanding of their unseen enemies’ movements. This command of intelligence was crucial to preventing damage. Ultimately, the Battle of the Coral Sea ended with both sides suffering aircraft losses.

As a leader in C4ISR, Northrop Grumman enables vehicles and vessels of all types to find their way effectively. From autonomous systems that can make on-the-fly decisions to sensing technology that can pinpoint the location of a threat, today’s military machines are even more refined in the art of automated and sightless combat.

Are you interested in science and innovation? We are, too. Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities to see how you can participate in this fascinating time of discovery.