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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Operations Research education makes officers better decision-makers

Been doing some thinking about littoral warfare and wondering about the factors of speed of surface ships, quantity and firepower (and you might want to read this post at The Belmont Club which covers a lot of inshore matters, the Heart of Darkness and Thomas Barnett, too). Before digging Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat off my bookshelf again, I thought I'd do a little research on Capt. Wayne P. Hughes,Jr, its author.

Found a quote herethat is interesting:
According to retired Capt. Wayne Hughes, "OA is the curriculum for the line officer who aspires to command."
"You use OA when you are at sea or ashore," Hughes said. "It disciplines the way you organize your thinking, gather information, consider alternatives, see relationships, make forecasts and estimate the effectiveness of your decision -- or the decision you recommend to the boss."
OA is, of course, Operational Analysis, also known as Operations Research. And,it has useful, if sometimes counter-intuitive, applications:
Although foundations were laid earlier, the field of operations research as we know it arose during World War II, as military planners in the United Kingdom (including Frederick Lanchester, Patrick Blackett and Frank Yates) and in the United States looked for ways to make better decisions in such areas as logistics and training schedules. After the war it began to be applied to similar problems in industry...

...Blackett's team made a number of crucial analyses which aided the war effort. Britain introduced the convoy system to reduce shipping losses, but while the principle of using warships to accompany merchant ships was generally accepted, it was unclear whether it was better for convoys to be small or large. Convoys travel at the speed of the slowest member, so small convoys can travel faster. It was also argued that small convoys would be harder for German U-boats to detect. On the other hand, large convoys could deploy more warships against an attacker and also the proportion of merchant ships sunk by a U-boat would be lower. Blackett's staff clearly showed that:
-large convoys were more efficient
-the probability of detection by U-boat was statistically unrelated to the size of the convoy
-slow convoys were at greater risk (though considered overall, large convoys were still to be preferred)

In another piece of work, Blackett's team analysed a report of a survey carried out by RAF Bomber Command. For the survey Bomber Command inspected all bombers returning from bombing raids over Germany over a particular period. All damage inflicted by German air defenses was noted and the recommendation was given that armour be added in the most heavily damaged areas.
Blackett's team instead made the surprising and counter-intuitive recommendation that the armour be placed in the areas which were completely untouched by damage, according to the survey. They reasoned that the survey was biased, since it only included aircraft that successfully came back from Germany. The untouched areas were probably vital areas, which if hit would result in the loss of the aircraft.
Just an interesting Sunday side excursion...

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