Mark 48 Torpedo Certification and Proficiency Firings provided an unusual and perhaps unique laboratory in which the effect of uncertainty on decision-making can be assessed in an environment without direct sensory information. A search of the literature reveals no similar experience that so clearly defines the effect of human nature in a situation which could well be the norm for war in the Information Age. War itself is rare and repetition in war with careful observation is inhibited by excitement and fear. Few peacetime exercises are carefully repeated so as to duplicate similar interaction and few, if any, military forces have the homogeneity which mark American submarine crews. As a result of these rare combinations of circumstances, the influence of human nature in dealing with uncertainty has never been so clearly demonstrated.
Deployment of the Mark 48 Torpedo markedly changed the submarine fire control problem. In a step change without parallel in naval warfare, weapon ranges increased by an order of magnitude. In most situations, the weapons outranged the sensors. Because of concerns with security, paucity of weapons and loss of very valuable property, early in the program shooting was done on constricted ranges which artificially limited the tire control party and the weapon performance. In these early proficiency and test firings, the target was within easy sensor and weapon range as soon as launched. As a result, the maximum target range was well short of half the weapon range and the only thing which really needed to be determined was the classification and the general direction of target motion. Only the weapon settings offered much challenge to the shooters. Nevertheless, even in these environments of shooting fish in a barrel, many shots missed.
With the opening of large instrumented ranges at AUTEC and BARSTR, the environment became more realistic though still constrained by the ranges’ dimensions, exercise torpedo endurance and the need to conduct repeated runs while daylight allowed recovery. Unfortunately, the timidity of weapons designers and operational planners prevented using the exercise weapon in the same manner as the warshot (torpedo run was much reduced) which falsely influenced doctrine for many years. The effect of these artificial limitations was significant but did not ameliorate or disguise the uncertainty aspects of solving the fire control problem.
While not every miss can be attributed to the difficulties arising from dealing with uncertainty, that problem is certainly in the forefront of the submarine fire control problem. When torpedo ranges were one to three miles, and the weapon had no homing or guidance, determining target range was crucial. The torpedo had to be launched one to three minutes before intercepting the target. Small errors in range caused large errors in calculating the interception point. Solutions to these errors were sought by firing spreads (the doctrinal solution) or by closing to very short ranges before firing (the Dealy/O’Kane solution).
The advent of a long range weapon with precision guidance substantially reduced the effects of range error but it was a long time before that fundamental fact was generally recognized. Even when recognized, the impact of the new capability was muted and acceptance of the new advantages delayed. The natural human reluctance to operate on what seems to be guesswork, buttressed by a demand fur engineering precision inherent in training a technical professional, adds to the discomfort individuals and groups feel when dealing with uncertainty. The first evidence in the fire control problem is that submariners always want one more leg.
Unsatisfied with evidence that the target is within weapon’s range and not moving out of it, most Approach Officers remained uncomfortable with proceeding smartly to shooting. Everyone else in the party usually has less experience than the Approach Officer so little coaching or prompting takes place. The Approach Officer’s questions to the Fire Control Coordinator regarding his solution invariably were answered as “One more leg”. The residue of Solution Ready from Mark 14 firings, where accuracy of the torpedo’s course was important and small errors could exhaust magazine capacity to no purpose, remained a drag. For modern weapons, in range is enough to know to get a hit. Reluctance to shoot on an educated guess rather than a precise answer degraded performance rather than improving it.
In most approaches, the natural inclination is to believe the target is closing. While statisticians and PCO instructors argue that this is only a 50 percent probability, if the submarine has been patrolling in an area fur some time, or is in a location where targets are likely to transit and not loiter, the probability that the target is closing is much higher than half-probably close to 90 percent. The manner in which the · submarine fire control solution is obtained can most easily be seen by watching the geographic plot: as the plotter works his speed strips, the predicted target position moves ever closer. The algorithms that solve the problem mechanically are abstractions of the processes exemplified by the speed strips on the geographic plot in a bearings only approach and so they too converge toward zero range. As a result, the problem solution is biased toward closing targets. This bias is present even on a periscope approach unless the target has an obvious angle on the bow greater than 120 (90 is not enough to convince even the best lookers). The result of this bias is that submariners always underestimate the range.
These common problems lead to the third and most easily observed result of the discomfort caused by uncertainty. Even though the target is probably farther away than the fire control solution indicates, and even when a courageous or knowledgeable (not mutually exclusive attributes) First Control Coordinator or Assistant Approach Officer prompts that further legs are not necessary, most Approach Officers are reluctant to commit until comfortable with the situation or pressed into desperation. The result is that submariners generally wait too long to shoot.
Once the weapon is underway, new concerns arise on the adequacy of the solution. Because of lingering uncertainty in the accuracy of the solution, by expecting the target to be closer than it really is, and by waiting too long too shoot, the party watches its weapon getting closer and closer to the target’s assumed position without indications that the weapon has sensed the target. Any target zig-real, suspected or undetected-adds to the anxiety. The temptation to improve things is overwhelming-particularly if someone in the party offers an opinion that the solution used is in error. The most common temptation is imagining the weapon has enabled too close to the target so that the target is outside of the torpedo’s cone of acquisition. (See submariners always underestimate the range above).
Anxiety mounts as the weapon continues to progress without sensing the target. With concentration of almost all members of the party on the weapon/target intersection, and with the ability to influence this intersection available, submariners invariably steer too soon and too far.
The activities which alleviate these problems are training and experience. Approach Officers see the results of their actions, as they gain confidence in themselves, their sensors and the party individually and collectively, everyone of these biases and the temptations inherent in them decline. However, they never disappear! Uncertainty is the bane of the commander’s existence and improvement in sensors, communications and decision aids only add to the difficulty of understanding and coping with uncertainty. Officers who do not have a good knowledge of how their machinery works in sensing the target, building the solution, and ordering the weapons are most susceptible to the errors arising fro these natural human tendencies.
Solving the fire control problem is a multi-faceted process requiring confidence that the limits of uncertainty are understood by many members of the party. Such comes only from experiment from cerebration. Fire control parties become constipated with calculations attempting to achieve certainty. On the other hand, practice builds confidence, sets expectations and generates understanding of the machinery, the people and the process. Just as Michael Jordan does not plan his foot movements as he approaches the basket, a good fire control party does not overtly think through its activities. Both just execute a well understood pattern of actions that has been thought through and practiced beforehand.
Recognition of these tendencies and biases are the first step in compensating for them. Just as operators of the Mark I Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) learned that there were u “… an infinite number of tracking solutions in the machine … ,” and thereby never put excessive trust in the answers shown, officers must be wary of overconfidence in the solutions generated by their fire control equipment. These panels are not like the Maneuvering Room where data displayed is data sensed. Believe your instrumentation also includes knowing what is being sensed, by what, how long ago and within what degree of precision.
The observations cited above were so universally true that instruction of the fire control party before any shooting took place reduced the errors caused by these factors but the underlying causes were so pervasive that instruction could never eliminate
them. The Commanding Officer of the Submarine School recently confirmed that these observations remain relevant-some twenty years after their original annunciation.
While these observations might seem to indict submarine officers, they in fact offer conclusions applicable to almost all tactical situations in the information age. In fact, submarine officers have been operating in the information age for many years. In the January issue of Proceedings, Commander Michael Loescher, a cryptologist and the inventor and mouthpiece of Copernicus Communications Architecture, suggests that submarine officers are best qualified to command in tomorrow’s environments where sensors and instrumentation are remote from individual platforms because submariners have long been accustomed to dealing with uncertainty which comes from diverse and remote sensors or partial information.
While observation of other situations may not have yielded similar adages, the fundamental problems expressed in these four maxims about uncertainty will apply in some fashion to every tactical decision. Training and experience build knowledge and confidence that uses such maxims to condition behavior to reduce anxiety and improve performance. Duty on staffs, in the Pentagon and at War Colleges do not enhance the tactical expertise needed to understand enough about the problem to deal with uncertainty easily. On the contrary, long tours at sea or in the field are the bedrock of such expertise.
As overheard at the back of a Control Room, the payment comes when the Old Man announces “Firing point procedure” to the surprise of the rest of the Fire Control Party.
“What’s he shooting at?” the Ensign said under his breath. Came the whispered reply, 111 don’t know, but he always hits it!”