Peter Swerling; Radar Technology Expert


For his very special 10th birthday gift, the precocious little boy had an odd request: He wanted to meet Albert Einstein.

The child’s father, Hollywood screenwriter Jo Swerling, had the ability to arrange it. So the boy and the world-famous scientist chatted for an hour.

Pursue mathematics, Einstein advised, but never forget the important things--like baseball.


Peter Swerling grew up to become an analytical mathematician who made major contributions in the field of radar and stealth technology. Heeding Einstein’s secondary advice, he spent his leisure hours hang-gliding, bodysurfing, memorizing Shakespeare and listening to Wagnerian opera.

Swerling died of cancer Friday in his Santa Monica home. He was 71.

As an analyst for the Santa Monica-based research and development think tank Rand Corp. and later as head of his own companies, Swerling became known for his work in radar technology. He was lauded for developing a class of “fluctuating target” scattering models in the 1950s to assess the performance of pulsed radar systems.

To describe the models, he coauthored a 1960 monograph, “Statistical Theory of Target Detection by Pulsed Radar.”

Colleagues said Swerling’s target models, referred to in radar literature as Swerling Target I, II, III and IV, became essential tools in the design of practical radar systems.

Less known, because of national security precautions, were his subsequent target models for use with stealth technology. His efforts were crucial in developing weapons technology used in the Persian Gulf War.

A consultant to defense experts throughout his career, Swerling served on a panel of specialists in radar electronic countermeasures in 1975 to assess the vulnerability of the nation’s airborne warning and control system, or AWACS. At that time, committee Chairman Harold P. Smith Jr. called Swerling “the country’s leading theoretician on radar and its applications.”

After 13 years with Rand and a few with Inglewood-based Conductron Corp., Swerling in 1966 founded Technical Service Corp. in Santa Monica. He served as that company’s president for 16 years before forming Canoga Park-based Swerling, Manasse & Smith. He also taught engineering briefly at the University of Illinois and later at USC.

Swerling entered Caltech at age 15 and received a mathematics degree three years later. In the next two years he earned another bachelor’s degree in economics at Cornell University, and then a master’s and a doctorate in math at UCLA.

He was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Swerling helped found and served as trustee of the private Crossroads School in Santa Monica.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Judith; three children, Elizabeth, Carole and Steven; his brother, Jo Swerling Jr.; and six grandchildren.