dimensions in microelectronics fabrication and consequently slow the increase in single-processor clock speeds. On the other hand, growth in computational throughput is accomplished not only through faster hardware, but also through the use of more parallel units in multiprocessor architectures. Any slowing of the growth rate of computational power owing to lithography limitations could be compensated for by parallel hardware.
Optimistically, several multiprocessor supercomputers, planned for operation in the next few years, are already targeting performance levels well above the extrapolated growth curves shown in Figure 2.2. Given the 40 years of consistent historical growth, it seems premature to conclude that this rate will change in the future, for either the better or the worse. For planning purposes today, it is best to assume that the extrapolations validly represent the level of performance that can be expected to be available in the time frame of interest. It should be remembered that these extrapolations do not indicate, and cannot predict, what detailed concepts or technology will permit these levels of performance at any given time. Nor can these extrapolated levels of performance be expected to be achieved continuously. Individual implementations grow rapidly at first to achieve and extend the technology envelope for a while before they reach saturation, as they encounter their limitations. The result is that the actual history of performance exhibits a step-like rather than a continuous growth curve. Since the individual steps are not predictable from past history, the smooth extrapolations must be treated as indicative of general performance capabilities rather than as predictive of actual performance.
Computer technology will be a major enabler of future naval operations. Computers will enable enhanced situational awareness, realistic modeling and simulation, faster warfighting decisions, more effective weapons, lower-cost platforms, and more efficient and effective use of people. The Department of the Navy should exploit the continual evolution of commercial computer technologies into robust computational systems.