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Operations Research in the Military

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by AMU Mathematics Faculty
American Military University

Operations Research (OR) was first used during World War II to assist high level decision makers with analyses that could be used to support planning for strategic ground, air, and maritime operations.  Analysis by operations analysts and researchers provided carefully researched and focused data and analyses to provide answers to questions from the senior commanders or to provide them with insights that would allow them to make more informed plans and decisions.

The operations research techniques and approaches expanded in the years since World War II. With the advent of more advanced computing capabilities, operations research techniques have been expanded and are now being employed in government, business, and industry. The military services continue to employ OR to address significant issues facing them in just about all aspects of their operations.

Four American Military University (AMU) faculty members have significant experience using OR in the military and they provide some observations about their use of these powerful, mathematics based methods within their respective branches.

OR in the Army

William Owen is the program director for Mathematics at APUS and is also a retired U.S. Army officer.  He was an operational analyst and employed OR methods and models while in the U.S. Army and at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He notes two primary areas where he applied OR techniques to assist decision makers: operational testing of weapons and equipment and the modelling force-on-force military conflicts. First, he used statistics, test design techniques, and detailed analysis when he provided operational assessments of Army weapons and equipment such as the M1 tank, the M2/3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the Global Positioning System. Secondly, he created, used and analyzed conflict models to support operational decision makers.

His analyses were used by senior decision makers at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff when preparing the strategic and operational plans for the first Gulf War. He also used conflict modeling for strategic movement and logistical planning for future conflicts.

Mike Miner is an associate professor of Mathematics at AMU, and he’s a retired U.S. Army officer who used operations research (OR) in the military. In his experience there was a great usefulness of these operations in military combat.

He said, “The commanders and strategists in Afghanistan needed robust analytic techniques to defeat the Improvised Explosive Devices (or IED) threat that was inflicting casualties to our deployed coalition forces. As an example, one problem that was solved using OR techniques was planning and scheduling of route clearance missions.

“Our ops research approach used a probability based model delineating the IED activities on the systems of roads used by coalition forces. Potential route clearance missions were generated using dynamic programming methods and placed into an integer program that identified the most feasible risk-reduced routes that could accomplish the mission given the availability of vehicles, route clearance teams, and mission requirements. Our recommendations were instrumental is minimizing the risks to our personnel.”

OR in the Coast Guard

Len Kelly is a senior professor of Mathematics at AMU and he used operations research and statistics during his career in the U.S. Coast Guard. As a captain, he commanded numerous ships and was also an instructor at the Coast Guard Academy.

He noted that there are many examples but he spoke of two in particular. First there is an optimization assignment model of Coast Guard Cutters. That model matches personnel with billets during transfer season and assists in developing an initial personnel assignment schedule. This model accounts for the significant limitations with respect to berthing on board the cutters, especially with females afloat.

The second example focuses on assigning the new D7 fast response cutters (FRC) to available homeports. The goal is to find the best cost and operational assignments for the D7 FRC fleet.  This will guide the Coast Guard in determining how many will be assigned to each homeport.

OR in the Navy and Marines

Corey Boyer is a reserve officer and is an operations research analyst working for the U.S. Navy as a cost analyst.

He noted “I use operations research techniques to determine the costs associated with the development, procurement, and operating and support costs associated with Navy and Marine Corps air combat platforms. We develop and use mathematical models that allow us to run real-world scenarios to determine how costs change over time based on factors that affect the program. For example, suppose the budget for a program is reduced.

“My job is to update the model with the latest budget changes and recommend possible courses of action such as reducing the number of aircraft that could be purchased for certain years. I’ve used these techniques for several years and will use them in the future when I move to a new analysis position with the Joint Strike Fighter program.

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