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Industry Spotlight – The Military

Abraham Wald, a persecuted Jewish mathematician who fled Austria just before World War II, led an analysis of allied bombers returning from missions. Hitherto, the Air Force had focused on reinforcing areas that showed the most damage on return. Wald convinced them instead to focus on the areas that consistently showed no damage. He reasoned that damage in those areas proved fatal, so the only bombers returning were those undamaged in those areas. Wald was instrumental in a general flowering of operations research and computer science during World War II. British code-breaking operations helped launch the era of modern computing, and scientists fleeing Europe lent their statistical and analytical skills to the U.S. war effort.

Today, analytics is a core part of military operations. Text mining performs automated analysis of intercepted communications. Network analysis and entity resolution helps identify bad actors. Simulation modeling helps specify scenarios and likely outcomes. Dynamic programming (decision trees in the older operations research sense) helps leaders make optimal decisions under uncertainty. Image recognition and machine learning helps drones navigate, and helps identify targets.

The field of analytics in the military has its own society, the Military Operations Research Society, as well as its own section in INFORMS, the general society for operations research.