And the Naval Postgraduate School OR Network
by Sam Savage
US Air Force Academy June 17-20
I just returned from the 87th Symposium of the Military Operations Research Society at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. ProbabilityManagement.org had a proud showing. Shaun Doheney, PM Chair of Resources and Readiness Applications, Connor McLemore, PM Chair of National Security Applications, and I gave a total of four presentations. Despite being on the last day of the conference, Shaun and Connor delivered two sessions on Readiness Modeling: Changing the Question from “Ready or Not?” to “Ready for What?”, which drew standing room attendance. See Shaun and Connor’s recent blog and access their slides and models on PM’s Readiness page.
The field of Operations Research (OR) grew out of the application of mathematical analysis to the tremendous resource allocation problems of World War II. After the war, OR took on additional names, such as Management Science, Analytics, and others, but it all boils down to analyzing your options and figuring out mathematically how to do the most with the least. The primary professional societies are INFORMS (the Institute For Operations Research and the Management Sciences) and MORS (the Military Operations Research Society).
My father, L. J. Savage, was in the thick of war time OR at Columbia’s Statistical Research Group. In the early 1940’s he worked with future Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman and George Stigler. They tackled such problems as determining whether a fighter should carry six 50- or eight 30-caliber machine guns, and the best strategy for hunting enemy submarines. My own PhD research was on the Travelling Salesman Problem, a classic OR problem.
But back to the symposium. The meeting made me realize just how heavily Military Operations Research has been influenced by the incomparable OR Department of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California. The school provides active duty military and other government employees as well a few international students with rigorous graduate education, mostly master’s degrees and some PhDs. Areas include Engineering, International Studies, Computer Science, Business, and OR. I first visited the NPS OR department in the early 1990’s when my dear friend and former department chair, the late Rick Rosenthal, invited me down from the Stanford OR Department to give a talk. I found it unlike the typical academic programs in OR, which are often quite theoretical and PhD-dominated. First, NPS students start out with military discipline so they all pay attention. Second, they are learning through the solution of real military problems, for which doing the most with the least may have life or death repercussions. Here is a place where there is every reason to stay and work because the results matter. And with its spectacular setting on the shore of Monterey Bay, there is no reason to go anywhere else. It was love at first visit.
NPS OR has played an outsized role at ProbabilityManagement.org. Shaun and Connor are both grads, and Connor also taught there, introducing SIPmath. Phil Fahringer, a Lockheed Martin Fellow and the nonprofit’s primary contact at that organization, has an OR degree from NPS as well. In Colorado Springs I reconnected with many others from NPS whom I have known over the years and realized what a powerful intellectual network they represent. I also had the pleasure of an extended conversation with Doug Samuelson, a prominent OR Analyst whom I had only known peripherally. I proposed that the OR department at NPS was the Harvard Business School of Operations Research. Doug disagreed and said I was being charitable to Harvard.