Entering a new era: In 1986, when the Defence Signals Directorate acquired the Cray X-MP/22

In 1947, the Australian Government established a permanent signals intelligence agency, initially called the Defence Signals Bureau, to maintain the intelligence capability established during the Second World War.

By the 1950s, the now Defence Signals Branch (DSB) needed powerful and adaptable machines to solve analytical problems. DSB’s derived its first computer, INFUSE, from the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters COLOROB device. Many Australian women joined the workforce during the Second World War and played an important role in our history of cryptology and intelligence analysis. Women cryptanalysts continued on to became ground-breaking programmers for DSB's first computers.

In 1986, the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) acquired a Cray Research supercomputer, bringing DSD into a new era of complex and high volume data processing. At the time, the Cray was the most powerful computer in the southern hemisphere. It was at least ten times more powerful than the machine it replaced. With two processors running at about 100MHz and 400+megaFLOPS, this computer opened up a whole new world of capabilities, enhancing ASD’s sharing of tools and techniques with Australia’s allies. This capability was an important milestone as it significantly decreased the time taken to share and communicate intelligence to allies, therefore resulting in a more immediate response to global events.

The Cray required a large cooling system, incorporated into a bench seat. It took up a significant amount of space and weighed 4.5 tons. 

As it cost more than AU$2 million, Federal Cabinet had to approve its purchase. There were also other government departments involved. The Department of Public Works was engaged to organise installation, while the Department of Housing even had to approve the colour scheme!

ASD initially ordered a single-processor Cray X-MP, but was offered a refurbished two-processor X-MP that had been used for meteorological modelling and prediction in Europe.

Despite its place as the most powerful computer in Australia at the time, the Cray was significantly less powerful than a modern smartphone, and only came with 32 megabytes of memory. Delivered to DSD Melbourne in 1986, it was decommissioned in 1993.

Releasing records about the Cray is an important part of our declassification program. This is the first time we have declassified materials about the information technology we use, rather than records relating to our history or specific military events.

Read more information about the Cray X-MP/22, in our Declassified section.

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Acknowledgement of Country
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connections to land, sea and communities. We pay our respects to them, their cultures and their Elders; past, present and emerging. We also recognise Australia's First Peoples' enduring contribution to Australia's national security.

Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra