Over the past five years, the United States shifted its strategy away from the Middle East to focus on China and Russia, its peer competitors. The military followed suit and is modernizing for strategic competition. For this reason, the Navy must innovatively employ legacy capabilities, rapidly deploy emerging technologies, and prepare for multidomain combat.
These imperatives require a targeting system with a sophisticated decision-making architecture that integrates the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war and orchestrates forces to deliver effects from the Navy’s limited number of platforms. Sailors will need to feed such a targeting system. However, who will arbitrate the pairing of targets with effects in real-time across naval forces participating in a joint construct? Enter decision scientists.
While most fields of research focus on producing new knowledge, decision science is uniquely concerned with making optimal choices based on available information.1 Decision science explores how humans make decisions in high-stress environments, provides structure to the decision-making process, and improves outcomes—especially in situations in which only difficult choices exist.
In Navy distributed maritime operations, the maritime operations center (MOC) resides at the operational and highest level of tactical warfare. The joint force maritime component commander uses the MOC to issue mission type orders, enable mission command, and direct forces to service the targeting strategy. As articulated in Navy Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures–Maritime Operations Center (NTTP 3-32.1), the Navy empowers the MOC to manage the theater’s maritime targeting strategy across all types of warfare.
Strategic competition will magnify the interaction between intelligence and operations. The Navy’s process to identify, prioritize, and select targeting effects will face shortened decisional timeframes. The fleet would benefit from tactics, techniques, and procedures and standard operating procedures that close gaps and expedite decision-making across a disaggregated force.
A Decision-Science Staff Director
Like staff directors for intelligence (N2) and operations (N3), a staff decision scientist would independently consume information about the battlespace and shape the way the staff ingests the information and acts on it. The explosive growth in information places an increased demand on intelligence and operations staff to prioritize collection, parse information flows, manage information overload, perform assessments, and craft optimal courses of action for the commander. This process includes decisions at every level that create second- and third-order effects, either increasing or decreasing the speed of decision-making and ultimately enabling or constraining the commander. Decision scientists are a quality-control mechanism for decision-making, especially during the targeting process in time-sensitive scenarios in which the fleet must engage an adversary who has more attack platforms and capabilities than the fleet has munitions.
Training for decision scientists could mirror what students receive at the year-long Joint Advanced Warfighting School (JAWS) at the U.S. Joint Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. The course teaches individuals how to plan at the operational through strategic levels and awards a master’s degree in joint campaign planning and strategy. The Joint Staff College teaches with a combination of classroom instruction, written papers, practical exercise, and a thesis.2 The military typically predetermines where students will go after JAWS, often to planning billets at combatant commands.
The Navy could copy the JAWS approach and construct a similar course to establish a cadre of decision scientists. It could educate these officers and then assign them to the MOCs to assist the MOC director and fleet commander in making various decisions. The Navy could run the course through the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, or the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
Military strategists are enthusiastic about the prospects of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, hypersonic and directed-energy weapon systems, and smaller yet more capable satellite systems. These advancements will expand the military’s ability to target adversaries from greater distances, increase the acquisition and synthesis of information, and automate some combat decisions. The Navy needs decision scientists to ensure individuals or small groups of people can make increasingly complex decisions at the right levels and in the right manner to achieve combat objectives. Decision scientists would play a key role in the MOCs to maximize these capabilities while ensuring fleet decisions appropriately support operations during peace or war.
Current maritime operations require decision scientists to ensure effective and timely decision-making across all levels of warfare. However, decision science will be even more critical when the Navy employs sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies. Future military operations would benefit from decision scientists to ensure humans and not machines remain paramount in decision-making. The Navy should waste no time in training decision scientists and placing them in MOCs and other important decision-making staffs and commands.