Military Operations Research
ROLE AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF MILITARY OPERATIONS RESEARCH
Early during World War II, a new approach to solve complex military problems was pioneered by the British during the Battle of Britain. Combining civilian scientific talent with military staffs, initially within Fighter Command, to operationalize newly invented radar, multidisciplinary “Operational Research” rapidly gained credibility within the Royal Air Force (RAF) and quickly spread to support the U.S. Army, both ground and air forces, as well as British and U.S. naval forces.
Lessons learned from that era include enduring technology integration principles for new technology. For example, integrating then recently invented radar into combat systems (initially RAF aircraft), operational command and control for the RAF, and strategic air defense during the Battle of Britain. Today we are confronted with a comparable challenge to integrate emerging technologies into combat platforms, systems, and strategies: robotics and autonomous systems; artificial intelligence; micro-electro-mechanical systems and nanotechnology; hypersonics.
The idea for implementing a system of teams with expertise across a wide range of scientific, engineering, and military disciplines, using empirical evidence from ongoing military operations in conjunction with creative mathematical models for rapid learning, defined and differentiated operations research (OR) at its inception. Working closely with, trusted by, and responsively advising high-level commanders and government leaders, all while operating under extraordinary pressures, was the hallmark of OR. Now, 80 years later, following two decades of conflict, the U.S. Army is experiencing another postwar transformational challenge. The Strategic Long Range Cannon project illuminates a broader challenge confronting the U.S. military today. Successfully integrating emerging technologies into weapon systems, operational concepts, and strategic plans is the central challenge confronting military innovation. Better understanding this process and accelerating it in non-intrusive ways requires overcoming bureaucratic risk aversion.
At a time when OR, both the practice and the professional community, appears to be at a crossroads, the trajectory of this unique professional discipline must be realigned to current and foreseeable challenges. Indeed, several ongoing and emerging conditions now warrant a comprehensive evaluation of the current state of OR within the Army. The Army today must learn from its own OR heritage and then fully capitalize on its promise.
RECENT STUDIES AND REPORTS ADDRESSING MILITARY OPERATIONS RESEARCH
This section outlines extracts from reports describing various perspectives the erosion of OR force structure and decline of analytical capacity across the Army over the past two decades.
Previous Defense Science Board Studies
Recent Defense Science Board studies have addressed the lack of OR in several areas, including OR for
- urgent needs for operational capability gaps
- developing cost-effective solutions across DOTMLPF considerations
Decker-Wagner Army Acquisition Review (2011).1 This panel developed recommendations to improve the Army’s acquisition processes, providing a roadmap for systemic improvements to the way the U.S. designs, develops, tests, buys and fields weapons and equipment used by Soldiers. Of 76 recommendations, 63 were accepted for implementation, but implementation progress remains slow or non-existent. Among the 13 rejected for implementation, two pertained to adopting both manufacturing readiness levels and integration readiness levels. An overview of Army Acquisition OR recommendations are below.
Decker-Wagner Recommendation 36: “Reestablish the position of the Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for Operations Research (DUSA(OR)) and staff the office with 9 people, including 3 military analysts.”
Analysis: The Army will benefit from an independent perspective that provides systems analysis as new programs are advocated.
Decker-Wagner Recommendation 37: “Increase the authorizations and fill of FA 49 military analysts needed to support Army acquisition.”
Analysis: Military analysts provide the basis for program analyses of alternatives (AoA), cost-benefit determinations and system tradeoffs. This keeps acquisition programs on cost and on schedule while determining the best value to the Army. There is a need for an increased number of qualified analysts to perform this role in existing and future acquisition programs.
Decker-Wagner Recommendation 39. “Direct TRADOC conduct an in-depth review of the required and authorized Capability Development personnel, including scientists and ORSAs and cost analysts at ARCIC, TRAC and Centers of Excellence with a recommended minimum team of 7 ORSA analysts available at each Center of Excellence’s CDID; and a minimum of 5 cost analysts at the ARCIC.”
National Research Council: NASE BAST Special Logistics Study Force Multiplying Technologies for Logistics Support to Military Operations (2014).2 The study explored capabilities and technologies for distributed operations to meet sustainment requirements for the Army in 2020 and beyond in support of the Joint Force Commander primarily focused on the Asia-Pacific regions. Emphasis was placed on technologies to reduce drivers for logistics requirements and options to enable support to units operating in a global, complex environment and emerging anti-access and area denial security challenges. Relevant OR recommendations are provided below:
1 U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, 2011, “Implementing Acquisition Reform: The Decker-Wagner Army Acquisition Review,” https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/213466.pdf.
2 National Research Council, 2014, Force Multiplying Technologies for Logistics Support to Military Operations, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Modeling and simulation resources (personnel and tools) are insufficient at Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center-Fort Lee to evaluate, compare, and contrast various science and technology initiatives and their respective impacts on both the force structure alternatives currently under consideration and operational outcomes across the spectrum of operations. Army modeling, simulation, and analytical capacity for conducting strategic logistics is fragmented and is inadequate to provide the cause-and-effect understanding essential for designing the force of the future.
The Army should make an appropriate investment in organizing the Army analytical community to better support the materiel enterprise. Such an investment is a precondition for sustainment excellence. In addition to rebuilding analytical capacity within the materiel enterprise, the committee strongly suggests a more comprehensive assessment of the state of operations research across the entire Army using an evaluation construct that includes analytical capacity, capability, utilization, organization, and contribution.
National Defense Strategy Commission (2018).3 In its final report, the commissioners warned:
Making informed decisions about strategic, operational, and force development issues requires a foundation of state-of-the-art analytical capabilities. We found that DoD struggled to link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs to resources. This [current] deficit in analytical capability, expertise, and processes is intolerable in an organization responsible for such complex, expensive, and important tasks, and it must be remedied. DoD needs a rigorous force development plan that connects its investment strategy [to] key priorities [in order to] compete effectively with China and Russia. Repairing DoD’s analytical capability is essential to meeting the challenges of the National Defense Strategy and giving Congress confidence that DoD’s budget requests reflect its stated priorities.
Under Secretary of the Army Recruiting Study (2019).4 This independent review supporting the Army recruiting enterprise provided three major perspectives on the role and contributions of RSA to recruiting success throughout the years of the All-Volunteer Force: historical, operational, and strategic. Relevant OR extracts are below:
The Army’s abilities to perform, manage, and capitalize on recruiting research, studies and analyses have eroded over the last 15 years to the point where there is inadequate organic capacity left to responsively support fact-based decision-making across the recruiting enterprise. Modeling and simulation resources are insufficient to generate, evaluate, compare, and contrast various initiatives and their respective impacts on operational outcomes across the recruiting spectrum of operations.
Over the past two decades, USAREC PAE (analytical) force structure was initially reorganized into higher HQ staffs, then eliminated due to force reduction measures. With the exception of the “mission” function (retained today by USAREC G2), neither the analytical framework nor any of the RSA functions to provide direct and reinforcing support to USAREC remain. Few residual elements exist today. They are fragmented and preclude unity of effort. A Recruiting RSA Program, an essential core competency supporting USAREC for the past three decades, no longer exists. The Army is not making an appropriate investment in organizing the Army analytical community to adequately support the human capital enterprise, especially recruiting.
Since its inception, the history of the All-Volunteer Force clearly reveals both the necessity for recruiting research, studies, and analyses and their demonstrable impact. Such an investment remains a precondition for recruiting excellence. The net effect of accumulating evidence, overwhelming and compelling in its totality, suggests that the U.S. Army may no longer value OR as an important, much less core competency.
3 United States Institute of Peace, 2018, “Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission,” https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2018-11/providing-for-the-common-defense.pdf.
4 G.H. Parlier, 2019, “Operations Research for the US Army Recruiting Enterprise: Past, Present, and Future Challenges,” Independent Assessment for Under Secretary of the Army, January 18.
CURRENT STATE OF MILITARY OPERATIONS RESEARCH IN U.S. ARMY
The prevailing conditions described above are symptomatic of similar yet more extensive and pervasive conditions across the entire Army. The Army continues to suffer from the post–Cold War decline of military OR professionals, both federal civil service employees and especially the commissioned officer corps. There is growing awareness and understanding of the widespread impact of this loss to both the operational and institutional Army. The U.S. Army has not conducted a comprehensive assessment of OR in over two decades. The need for an introspective, forthright evaluation has become evident, especially given the paucity of existing analytical capacity allocated to various commands and organizations.5 An analytical renaissance is needed and overdue, and a precondition for restoring combat overmatch and significant improvement within all major Army enterprise systems.
United States Military Academy offers an OR major but the focus of this undergraduate program has drifted and no longer consists of the unique curriculum that was once focused on weapon systems design and analysis, combat modeling, simulation, wargaming, and land warfare systems analysis. The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) aligns many academic programs to Service professional development requirements, including weapon systems engineering, acquisition, logistics, and OR. In the past, at the Army’s request the NPS OR department developed specific military OR tracks tailored to FA 49 areas of concentration (AOCs) including combat modeling, test and evaluation, land warfare analyses, and manpower and personnel.
The roles and contributions of the former Deputy Under Secretary of the Army (Operations Research) (DUSA(OR)) were unique and impactful:
- Provided broad DA-level oversight and guidance for the military OR analytical communities across the U.S. Army;
- Guidance to ensure various education programs, both internal to the Army (e.g., ALMC ORSA MAC and CEP) and graduate-level ACS, met the needs of the Army and its OR communities, both military and civilian;
- Influenced force structure and manning decisions to ensure OR capacity was sufficient, properly organized and allocated;
- Provided guidance, direction and coordination among Army S&T, T&E organizations, acquisition programs, and analysis communities;
- Supervised the OR professional development programs for both commissioned officer (FA49, DA Pam 600-3) and civil service (DAC 1515);
- Functioned as Chief Scientist and analytical teacher/mentor to the Army’s senior military and civilian leaders.
The DUSA(OR) office transitioned temporarily to DUSA(Business Transformation) before being completely disbanded in 2006. An appropriate investment must be made toward rebuilding analytical capacity and organizing the Army analytical community to better support RDT&E and the force development enterprise. To restore and rebuild analytical capacity, a more comprehensive assessment for OR across all major Army enterprise systems should be conducted using an evaluation construct that includes analytical capacity, capability, utilization, organization, and contribution.
5 G.H. Parlier, 2015, “Operations Research and the United States Army: A 75th Anniversary Perspective,” AUSA Land Warfare Paper #105W, https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/LWP-105-Operations-Research-and-the-United-States-Army-a-75th-Anniversary-Perspective.pdf.
OPERATIONS RESEARCH AND STRATEGIC ANALYTICS
Successful military organizations are renowned for strong cultures. Yet the long history of military innovation reveals those cultures can also become impediments to organizational adaptation. Organizational change has always provoked resistance, especially in large bureaucracies that require conformity. To overcome both bureaucratic inertia and paralysis induced by disruptive chaos, cultures must embrace sources of innovation. Strategic Analytics can provide a mechanism to challenge the underlying logic of current practices, and to also demonstrate better ways ahead that will accommodate graceful transitions rather than catastrophic or slow-motion failures.
Strategic Analytics combines intellectual capacities, strategic planning acumen, diverse analytical capabilities, and brings them all to bear on formidable national and international security challenges. Management innovation often lags technology advances, yet is essential to capitalize on rapidly growing big data opportunities. A Strategic Analytics framework aligns the ends-ways-means strategy with corresponding prescriptive, predictive, and descriptive analytics domains, focusing on the purpose for which an organization exists. Descriptive analyses segment problems, diagnose structural disorders, and identify enabling remedies and potential catalysts for innovation (means). Next, a system-wide integrating perspective addresses the attainment of enterprise goals and objectives (desired ends) using prescriptive analytics. Finally, the design and evaluation phase provides comprehensive road-maps using predictive analytics to create analytical architectures (ways) to guide transformation
Among the enabling disciplines for Strategic Analytics are decision support capabilities, engineering systems, dynamic strategic planning, and “engines for innovation” to enable rapid experimentation, generate insight, climb steep learning curves, and develop strategies around new concepts and technologies.
Although IT solutions have ubiquitous appeal and enormous investment levels, analytical architecture should be included for enterprise challenges. Without OR to focus business process re-engineering on desired outcomes, these IT solutions can result in growing complexity, exceeding the interpretive capacities of organizations. Management innovation will enable better decisions from the growing amounts of information and improved situational awareness made available by advances in information technology (IT). The goal should be effective integration of analytics into management policies for decision-making by incorporating relevant analytical tools (OR) with the appropriate IT. Acknowledging these needs and developing the capacity to address them represent first steps toward Strategic Analytics.
The evolving discipline of engineering systems is expanding our macroscopic understanding of large-scale enterprise systems defined by their technical, managerial, and social complexity. This new and evolving approach represents a paradigm shift in systems design by moving from the traditional focus on fixed specifications toward the active management of uncertainty in the implementation of socio-technical systems.6 Most system design methods generate a precise, optimized solution based on a set of very specific conditions, assumptions, and forecasts. These methods are rarely valid over longer planning horizons as strategic designs for technological systems. In contrast, Dynamic Strategic Planning (DSP) instead presumes forecasts to be inherently inaccurate and incorporates flexibility as part of the design process, by adapting options analysis to the design process. DSP allows for the optimal policy, which cannot be predicted with certainty.
DSP maximizes expected performance by building flexibility into the project to enable adaptability to changing circumstances that inevitably prevail. This flexibility accommodates change over time by adapting to a range of future possibilities. This built-in flexibility creates additional quantifiable value for the system. This optimal solution will change over time due to an inability to perfectly forecast future conditions or the consequences of past decisions that do not always reveal expected results. This capacity for adaptation enables a resilient enterprise that can adjust gracefully as needed rather than suffer slow-motion or catastrophic failure.
To better understand how innovation can be accelerated in a controlled way to minimize the debilitating effects of disruption, an Engine for Innovation (EfI) is needed to provide a synthetic, non-intrusive experimentation environment and evaluation of creative ideas and concepts. This synthetic environment can guide and accelerate transformational change along cost-effective paths, and provide the analytical glue to integrate and focus disparate initiatives and fragmented research efforts. They can be leading sources of socio-technical innovation,
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2021, Engineering Systems, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/series/engineering-systems.
and critical components to expand organizational capacity for social ingenuity. They illuminate likely impacts, quantify the cost-effectiveness of alternatives, identify implementation issues before they are adopted as policy and institutionalized across the enterprise, then guide and accelerate transformational change along cost-effective paths. An EfI generates technological and managerial initiatives consistent with the organization’s vision, “incubates” and rigorously analyzes them within a non-intrusive test bed, then rapidly transitions into actual practice those selected as most promising.
The EfI functional design includes the three organizational components that comprise mission essential tasks:
- An R&D model and supporting framework to function as a generator, magnet, conduit, clearinghouse, and database for good ideas
- A modeling, simulation, and analysis component that contains a rigorous analytical capacity to evaluate and assess the improved performance, contributions, and associated costs that promising “good ideas” might have on large-scale logistics systems and global supply networks
- An organizational implementation component that then enables the transition of promising concepts into existing organizations, agencies, and companies by providing training, education, technical support, and risk reduction and mitigation methods to reduce organizational risk during transformational phases
Feedback loops accommodate better understanding as knowledge is generated, and for subsequent model refinement and calibration. These components:
- Encourage and capture a wide variety of inventions
- Incubate great ideas and concepts within virtual organizations to test, evaluate, refine, and assess their potential costs, system effects, and contributions in a nonintrusive manner
- Transition those most promising into actual commercial or governmental practice
The EfI can guide project planning and execution by providing a crawl-walk-run sequence from engineering analysis, to analytical demonstrations, then to field testing with appropriate feedback loops to accommodate better understanding as knowledge is generated, and for subsequent model refinement and calibration.
The Efi process sustains continuous improvement through experimentation, prototyping, field testing, and rigorous analysis. Innovation engines accelerate organizational learning while encouraging both technological and social ingenuity as foundations upon which U.S. national power can be generated and sustained in the future. In recent years, the application of Strategic Analytics to Army enterprise challenges shows Efis can be a successful organizational mechanism for pursuing transformational strategies. Central to these endeavors was the extensive application of OR, data sciences, and management innovation for improved performance. Although their fundamental natures were vastly different (defense resource planning, sustaining the All-Volunteer Force, and materiel supply chain transformation) they all required an ability to organize, manage, lead, and develop highly talented multi-disciplinary teams.7 These new concepts and methods for Strategic Analytics should now be extended and applied more broadly across many other national security challenges.
One recurring observation from applying Strategic Analytics to enterprise challenges is confusion between the ends (what to achieve) and ways (how to achieve it) can be uncovered and resolved. This framework incorporates creative ways to address persisting problems and seemingly intractable national and global security challenges. To capitalize on advances in information technologies and data sciences, the complementary power of OR, data sciences, and management innovation will be essential. Strategic Analytics integrates the intellectual capacities, strategic planning acumen, and diverse analytical skills represented across the OR profession, and focuses them on formidable national and international security challenges.
7 G.H. Parlier, 2020, “Strategic Analytics and the Future of Military Operations Research,” Chapter 20 in Handbook of Defense and Military Operations Research, N.M. Scala and J.P. Howard II, eds., London, UK: Chapman & Hall/CRC Press.
OR, with its rigorous problem-solving paradigm, emphasizes identifying, formulating, and understanding the fundamental nature of any challenge. A powerful byproduct of this approach is OR’s ability to differentiate between issues that can only be managed and problems that can genuinely be solved. OR can provide the glue to coordinate, orchestrate, and pull defense enterprise organizations together to keep them focused, continuously improving and learning while under increasingly greater pressure, precluding chaos and decline during a period of disruptive transformation. The Army must develop and integrate relevant analytical capacity as a core competency for military operations, defense strategy, and international security policy. OR can provide a crucial source of American power and Strategic Analytics can be used to illuminate better ways ahead for Army modernization. Today, however, Army enterprise-wide modeling, simulation, and analytical capacity for conducting Strategic Analytics is fragmented and inadequate to provide the cause-and-effect understanding essential for designing, acquiring, managing, and sustaining the Army of the future.
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