Peter Swerling

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Peter Swerling
Swerling portrait.jpg
Born (1929-03-04)March 4, 1929
New York City, New York
Died August 25, 2000(2000-08-25) (aged 71)
Pacific Palisades, California
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Mathematics
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
Cornell University
California Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisor Angus Taylor

Peter Swerling (March 4, 1929 – August 25, 2000) was one of the most influential radar theoreticians in the second half of the 20th century. He is best known for the class of statistically "fluctuating target" scattering models he developed at the RAND Corporation in the early 1950s to characterize the performance of pulsed radar systems, referred to as Swerling Target I, II, III, and IV in the literature of radar.[1]


Early life and family[edit]

Peter Swerling was born in New York on 4 March 1929 to Jo Swerling and Florence (née Manson) Swerling.[1][2] He grew up in Beverly Hills, California, where his father was a very successful screenwriter.[3] Peter had a younger brother, Jo, Jr.[2] Swerling’s father recognized his young son’s intellectual gifts. Granting a tenth birthday request, he introduced Peter to Albert Einstein, who advised the boy to continue his studies in mathematics.[1]


Peter Swerling entered the California Institute of Technology at the age of 15 and received a B.S. in Mathematics three years later in 1947.[1] He went on to take a second undergraduate degree, this time in Economics, from Cornell University in 1949, and was admitted into Phi Beta Kappa.[1] He then attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received an M.A. in Mathematics in 1951 and a Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1955.[1] His thesis Families of Transformations in the Function Spaces Hp was advised by Angus Ellis Taylor,[4] and investigated families of bounded linear transformations in Banach spaces.[2]


While still in graduate school, Swerling worked full-time for Douglas Aircraft Company as a staff member of the newly formed Project RAND.[1] He wrote his landmark report, "Probability of Detection for Fluctuating Targets," for the RAND Corporation (now independent from Douglas Aircraft) in 1954.[2] The paper introduced a set of statistically "fluctuating target" scattering models to characterize the detection performance of pulsed radar systems. Building on the work of Jess Marcum (who statistically subtracted noise from images of steady targets), Swerling accounted for statistical fluctuations of the target itself. The models became known as Swerling Target Models Cases I, II, III, and IV in radar literature.[1][2]

In related work, Swerling made significant contributions to the optimal estimation of orbits of satellites and trajectories of missiles.[2] Working in the fields of least-squares estimation and signal processing, Swerling published papers in 1958 and 1959 on "stagewise" smoothing, the first efforts to exploit the computational advantages of applying recursion to least-squares problems.[1] His work anticipated that of Rudolf E. Kálmán, whose linear quadratic estimation technique became known as the Kalman filter.[1][2]

Peter Swerling was a department manager for Conductron Corporation, in Inglewood, California from 1961 to 1964.[2] In 1966, he founded Technology Service Corporation in Santa Monica, California. With Swerling as president for 16 years, the company grew to 200 employees, had a successful IPO in 1983, and was acquired by Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1985.[2] Meanwhile, in 1983, Swerling co-founded Swerling Manassee and Smith, Inc., in Canoga Park, California; he served as its president and CEO for 12 years from 1986 until his retirement in 1998.[2]

Beginning in 1965, for several years Swerling was an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California; he taught advanced seminars in communication theory and served on doctoral committees.[2] He was a founder and long-term trustee of Crossroads School, a K-12 private school prominent in the Los Angeles area.[1]

Recognition and assessment[edit]

In 1978, Swerling was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering; election to the academy honors important contributions to engineering theory, as well as unusual accomplishments in developing fields of technology.[5] Swerling was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.[2] Technology Service Corporation recognizes its founder by granting the Peter Swerling Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence to select employees who have made significant contributions to the growth and success of the company.[6]

Reviewing Swerling's impact, Solomon W. Golomb wrote that he was "probably the most influential radar theoretician of the second half of the 20th century, not only in the United States, but in the entire world."[2]

Later life and death[edit]

Swerling died 25 August 2000, of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, California.[3] Swerling was survived by his wife of 42 years, Judith Ann (née Butler), three children (Elizabeth, Carole, and Steven), six grandchildren, and his brother Jo.[2][7]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Smith, Jr., Harold P.; Goldstein, Gene (November 2000). "Obituary: Peter Swerling". Physics Today 53 (11): 75–76. doi:10.1063/1.1333308. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Golomb, Solomon W. (9 April 2001). "Obituaries: Peter Swerling". Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Peter Swerling, Radar Expert, Dies at 71". USC News. University of Southern California. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "Peter Swerling". Department of Mathematics, North Dakota State University. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Engineers' Academy Picks New Members". New York Times. 2 April 1978. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Dr. Peter Swerling Award". Technology Service Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Oliver, Myrna (29 August 2000). "Peter Swerling; Radar Technology Expert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 

External links[edit]