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NEWS | March 1, 2021

Reserve Operations Analysts Bring the Science to Navy Decision Making

By Cmdr. Andrew Gustafson, OPNAV N81 Capabilities and Assessments Reserve

Reserve Operations Analysts are Bringing the Science to Navy Decision Making
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | Reserve Operations Analysts are Bringing the Science to Navy Decision Making The practical skills of Navy Operations Analysts (OA) can be applied to an almost unlimited range of problems, and the Navy Reserve’s growing cadre of qualified OAs are bringing significant academic skills and operational experience to the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) N81, Assessments Division.

WASHINGTON — Great Power Competition is the name of the game, and how to optimize the delivery of combat power against a near-peer adversary is what Lt. Cmdr Kirsten Davis is helping the Navy achieve. 
Davis is one of a small but growing cadre of qualified Operations Analysts (OA) in the Navy Reserve. She brings significant academic skills and operational experience to the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) N81, Assessments Division, analyzing the feasibility of reloading the Navy’s Vertical Launch System at sea — a revolutionary capability that would greatly increase the Navy’s forward deployed maritime strike capability. 

The practical skills of OAs can be applied to an almost unlimited range of problems, and the Navy Reserve’s qualified OAs come from a diversity of academic preparation, civilian experience and designators. 

For Davis, her studies at the U.S. Naval academy and as a graduate student at the University of Delaware shaped her future as a Navy Reserve OA. “I was impressed by how vital this work is across all fields of study,” Davis said. “I wanted to be able to model and solve big picture problems to help make well-informed decisions.”  
Reserve OAs are assigned to Reserve units in fleet concentration areas and within staffs at Type Commands and System Commands where they can apply their skills to some of the Navy’s most important problems. However, the heart of the Navy Reserve OA capability resides within OPNAV N81 in Washington, DC, where Davis is making a difference. 

Vice Adm. John Mustin, Chief of Navy Reserve, has made clear that his number one priority is warfighting readiness. So, how does operations analysis support warfighting readiness? The answer is that it is critical. While the term may invoke images of scientists sitting behind computers, far removed from warfighting functions, this image is misleading. Operations analysis informs decision-making across the spectrum of conflict. 

Modern naval operations are becoming increasingly complex, more reliant on technology, and especially more reliant on large amounts of data that must be rapidly consumed and analyzed to inform critical decision making. The Chief of Naval Operation’s Design 2.0 “Strengthening Naval Power From The Sea” line of effort requires that the Navy “Establish data-driven decisions as a foundation for achieving readiness in our warfighting enterprises.” Quantitative, data-driven analysis is critical to good decision making and it is trained OAs that bring this capability to the fleet.    

As the Director of N81, Rear Adm. Marc Dalton is the Navy’s operations research and analysis capability resource sponsor. 
“N81 is fully aligned with the CNO’s vision and guidance, providing analytic support to inform timely decisions on developing and implementing the way ahead,” said Dalton. “To that end, we continue to champion increased operational analysis capacity and capability throughout the fleet and from the total force — our DoD civilians, contractors and of course our uniformed personnel — both active duty and Reserve.” 
To that end, both the active and Reserve OA community managers reside within N81 and are actively working to grow the Total Force OA capacity. 

The Naval Post-Graduate School defines operations analysis as “the development and application of mathematical models, statistical analyses, simulations, analytical reasoning and common sense to the understanding and improvement of real-world operations.” In essence, OAs transform data into information, and information into solutions that empower decision-makers to solve problems from saving money in acquisitions to saving lives in combat.   

Solving complex challenges is at the heart of what the Navy’s OA community is focused on.   

These challenges range from informing decisions by leaders in the Pentagon regarding force development and force generation, to helping fleet commanders plan force employment to optimize the delivery of combat power. Due to the rapidly changing nature of modern Great Power Competition, the need for robust, quantitative, data-driven decision making has never been clearer. Future wars will be won as much behind the keyboard as they will be at the end of the barrel. In fact, victory in conflict is often as much the result of good decisions made long before the start of conflict as it is in real-time decision making. Good operations analysis is critical to both.  

Like much of our modern military capabilities and practices, operations analysis matured as a capability during WWII. Its first real application was to the employment and operation of early-warning radar systems. British scientists working at the Bawdsey Research Station revealed a number of previously unknown limitations of the radar network and then devised solutions for mitigating them.  
Later, operations research divisions would be established within the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. They solved critical problems related to Britain’s air defense capability and contributed significantly to the evolution of anti-submarine warfare tactics. Operations researchers also played important roles in optimizing the planning and execution of the strategic bombing campaign and in support of the Army’s massive logistics operations. Training and fielding OAs today will be equally essential to solving the important problems critical to success in tomorrow’s conflicts.  

Early OAs were largely just mathematicians applying their knowledge and skills to operations problems. Today, there are a number of academic institutions that have developed programs designed specifically to train OAs and researchers. The Navy’s OA curriculum was established in 1951 and the Naval Postgraduate school is the principal place from which the Navy’s OAs matriculate. However, there are a growing number of civilian institutions offering similar curricula to meet the demands of industry and government.  

While modern operations analysis is still highly dependent upon rigorous mathematical methods, the advance of knowledge and technology has provided OAs with access to new tools and methods that help address the complexity and scope of modern challenges. Today’s OAs include data analysts, statisticians, wargamers, mathematical modelers, system engineers, computer programmers, cost and risk analysts, and human system integration scientists. The Reserve force consists of a rich and diverse group of people who have significant civilian experience in many of these disciplines. The OA community is the ideal place to bring those skills to bear on the Navy’s most complex challenges.  

OPNAV N81 serves as the central hub of the Navy’s military and civilian OA professionals with the Assessments Division’s stated mission to “Provide timely, relevant and trusted analysis to support Navy decisions, including the requirements and programming needed to maximize naval power and win in combat.” N81, along with its identified analytic leads at selected fleet commands are working hand-in-hand to drive increased operations analysis capacity and capability throughout the fleet. The division is supported directly by the Reserve force through the OPNAV Capabilities and Assessments Reserve unit. This unit consist of 29 officers who are providing direct support to the Navy’s analytic agenda. Members are utilizing their military and civilian skillsets in direct support of N81’s ongoing study activities. Some of these activities include: 

  • Future naval force study and follow-on assessments in support of force structure and shipbuilding plan decisions
  • Campaign analysis — excursions for Western Pacific Great Power Competition scenario 
  • Integrated hard-kill — soft-kill analysis for defeating threat missile kill chains 
  • Analysis of causes of maintenance delays relative to funding and manpower 
  • Analysis in support of Distributed Maritime Operations Concept of Operations (CONOPS) development 

Navy senior leaders have recognized the importance of improving our decision-making processes and Dalton sees the Reserve playing an important part of that improvement. 

“Reservists offer a unique perspective stemming from multiple industries in the civilian sector,” Dalton said. “The wide-range of analytic practices that our Reservists experience, when applied to the defense sector, can only serve to increase data literacy and improve the use of analysis throughout the Navy.” 

Additionally, as the community continues to grow and mature, Dalton sees that increasing capacity and improving capability along with expanding the awareness of its potential and impact, increased promotion and billet opportunities will follow. 

Accelerating the growth of our OA community and the Navy’s decision-making process is a priority in achieving the CNO’s Design 2.0 vision and the Navy Reserve is answering the call by building a managed community of OA professionals. If you have operations analysis experience in your civilian or military jobs and want to apply your skills to some of the Navy’s biggest challenges, then the OA community invites you to join. Any Navy Reserve officer interested in joining the community or pursuing qualification as an Operations Analyst can contact the Reserve OA Community Manager, Lt. Cmdr. Kate Ortman at, or visit the OA Community page on the Navy Reserve Homeport at myNRH | Navy Reserve Homeport