A collection of thoughts on thinking & the future. This post will interest people who want to learn about problem solving & military technology. The goal of this post is to stimulate the reader to better evaluate future technology as well as get us thinking about how we solve things. This article will also mention some of the new technologies. Problem solving on the battlefield highlights all the problems that make problem solving difficult in life: for the situation will probably be unclear, have lots of unpredictable dynamics, have a limited time for a solution, have complex relations between parts of the problem, and there may be multiple goals that need to be achieved.
A CURRENT PROBLEM FOR MILITARIES WORLDWIDE: OBSOLETE COMPONENTS. The pace of changes in modern technology is mind-boggling. When a military upgrades to a fantastic new state of the art technology, in order to keep costs viable, components are used from what is available in the civilian world…say such & such type of computer chip, or other computer hardware piece. In today’s world, modern electronic/& computer components rapidly become obsolete and are no longer produced by industry as they move on to the latest thing. Typically, a military (even the U.S.’s) likes to keep their weapons systems & weapons for years…for a much longer time period than the period that the components will be sold on the market. This means the military would have to completely upgrade, and constantly redesign & retest expensive equipment & weapons systems to stay current—something they are hardly able to do. So a modern military must buy up the obsolescent parts at a Last Time Buy and hopefully warehouse enough of the components to last for years. That is one of the problems our military faces…and it helps explain why China & Russia will have a hard time competing with the upgrades by the American military. The standard for state of the art equipment is constantly changing at a very fast pace. It is not a problem of designing the best right now, but a problem of being able to continue designing the best in a fast changing world. But here is a problem from the flip side…having the best state of the art equipment does not guarantee victory!! Germany’s jet fighter was superior to our P-51 Mustang, but failed to turn the tide. I could give many other examples where the force with the best weapons did not win! America’s infatuation with the nicest military toys may have no bearing on who wins the next major war that America fights. Don’t get me wrong…superior weapons can make incredible differences in battle…but not always, especially if the other side has incredible amounts of functional weapons that can overpower one’s limited superior technology.
FUNCTIONAL UPGRADES. Rather than reinvent the wheel, sometimes upgrading a good piece of equipment is a better solution that spending billions of dollars starting over with new research concepts. The American premier attack aircraft for close in ground support—known as the Warthog (A-10/C Thunderbolt II) is an excellent weapon, that has been used for many years with upgrades. The Air force took its first production models of the A-10 in 1975. Technology with its gimmicks is often way over-rated. The Japanese created a low-tech cruise missile by getting Kamikaze volunteers to guide airplanes loaded with bombs to the target…a low budget effective weapon.
PROBLEM SOLVING W/ UNMANNED VEHICLES. In recent times, DARPA has been focused on developing unmanned vehicles for the military. Having got nowhere with a single corporation, they decided to create a competition open to the entire public to develop a viable unmanned vehicle. The original contestants thought of the problem in terms of vehicles and they all failed the first yr. Following that competition came a competitor who thought of the problem as being a software problem…a computer program that could correctly analyze the corrections the vehicle would need to navigate the terrain. It was not enough to sense the landscape, the vehicle needed to correctly adjust to the landscape. They won. And this brings into the discussion how their design thinking was different…it is called backcasting.
BACKCASTING. This method of problem solving even has a Wikipedia article on it. It is also what is called “root cause analysis”. A person using this method defines a desirable future & then works backwards. It is in some ways the opposite of forecasting. More precise wording is that… it is a method in which the future desired conditions are envisioned & steps are then defined to attain those conditions, rather than taking steps that are merely a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future. A workable roadmap to the future may develop from backcasting. Risks & opportunities are analyzed on the map to the goal. Advocates of this problem solving method say it allows them to stop predicting & start solving.
ROBOTS. There is a fascination with robots & machines operated by the human mind. Besides automated vehicles that operate without human assistance, cars & planes are now being driven using human thoughts. The civilian side of this car technology is in Germany & the Netherlands. The Dutch Design Academy Eindhoven created a toy car that is driven by a person wearing a NeuroSky EEG headset. The Freie Universität Berlin and AutoNOMOS Labs have developed the same thing as the Dutch except instead of being a toy, the car is a real car. There is a BBC article “Car Driven by Mind Control” of 22 June ’14 on this. Once a robot (car or other robot like the Triton unmanned aircraft) is developed & operational, the U.S. military then connects it to their 10 Gbit Ethernet network…which serves as a communication backbone. The flow of information will play a major role in the next major war, and AI with the use of algorithms will be important.
TYPES OF PROBLEMS. One common problem is to rate military power based on its “assets on paper” or what some call its paper strength. In ancient times, when Sicily needed military help from Sparta, Sparta did not send an army, they sent one good man, who got the job done! Military hardware can suffer problems with durability, reliability & even whether the equipment functions at all. I’ll give some examples. During the cold war, the Russians built a significant surface fleet that was incapable of surviving the vibrations & shock of naval battle. While the warships were visibly scary, and made the USSR look powerful in charts in the US News & World Report propaganda articles for the US military-industrial complex, the fact is that the Russian ships were one-time throwaway weapons. They could be used perhaps in a surprise attack, after which they had better head for a Soviet port to have their equipment replaced. In other words, the Russians (uncharacteristically) decided it was better to have a cheap scary un-durable navy than nothing at all. The Americans in WW2 started the war with torpedoes that were usually unreliable for half a dozen reasons. At the end of the Oct. ‘42 Battle of Santa Cruz Islands aircraft carrier battle, (which the Americans lost to the Japanese Imperial navy’s carriers), Admiral Halsey ordered American destroyers to sink the damaged carrier Hornet. Two destroyers used up all their torpedoes and failed to do anything, & had to flee leaving the carrier for the Japanese to capture. Not wanting the wreck, the Japanese fired 4 of their excellent torpedoes & sank the carrier immediately. Also in WW 2, is the notable failure of the Italian navy in the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian battleships & other warships were built to look powerful, but they were not equipped with target acquisition equipment & other essential items to really fight. They had been built for show. While many people have lambasted the Italians for a poor performance, the truth is that they performed well considering they did not have ships built for combat.
NEW WEAPONS. When I see pictures of the 2 new American Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyers (while Russia has built a stealth destroyer), I am awed. The Americans are trying to develop satellite guided smart artillery. They have already been using the MTHEL (THEL) Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, which has the advantage of shooting faster than a rocket or artillery piece. High powered microwave pulses (microwave bombs) are waiting to take out an enemy’s computers. Various weapons are designed to disrupt the enemy’s info flow. The Russians & Chinese have been getting good at this. Will anti-matter & anti-gravity weapons be used in the next big war? Will America be able to use the F-22 and F-35B, or will the large sums of money spent on such weapons be unproductive as better weapons are available? Sometimes it seems that American weapons are simply developed to enrich the military-industrial complex. At any rate, problem solving is a valuable skill for all of us, and is definitely what any military needs.
Perhaps looking at the various ways one can approach problem solving will make you realize how intelligent people naturally are(!) as many people naturally use many of these methods:
• Abstraction: solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
• Analogy: using a solution that solves an analogous problem
• Brainstorming: (especially among groups of people) suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until an optimum solution is found
• Divide and conquer: breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
• Hypothesis testing: assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
• Lateral thinking: approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
• Means-ends analysis: choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
• Method of focal objects: synthesizing seemingly non-matching characteristics of different objects into something new
• Morphological analysis: assessing the output and interactions of an entire system
• Proof: try to prove that the problem cannot be solved. The point where the proof fails will be the starting point for solving it
• Reduction: transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
• Research: employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
• Root cause analysis: identifying the cause of a problem
• Trial-and-error: testing possible solutions until the right one is found
That was a lot of food for thought! Have a wonderful day my friend.