Operations Research: the early period 1955 – 1964
Around the time of the Second World War, a new research field called Operations Research surfaced. Operations Research uses mathematics to support decision-making. In WWII, Operations Research was successfully used by the Brits and American armed forces, for instance, used to reduce losses due to German submarines sinking Allied ships by introducing optimally sized convoys.
In 1950, Professor George E. Kimball and physicist Phillip M. Morse laid the groundwork for operations research with their book ‘Methods
of Operations Research’, in which they give the definition: “Operations research is a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control”.
It took a while before Operations Research became a research area at the Physics Laboratory. In 1955 a task force was established and headed by J. L. van Soest which was dedicated to the optimisation of communication channels where the transmitter and receiver performance had to be maximised and noise had to be minimised. The task force had a lot of freedom. They started to familiarise themselves with the mathematical knowledge needed and extensively studied game theory which was initially focused on information processing and operations research. Operations research, however, is more than just applying game theory. Operations research was considered very useful for Dutch military purposes, especially after the Morse and Kimball literature finally became available. As the origin of operations research lay in radar applications, it seemed only natural to also incorporate operations research to the ongoing radar developments at TNO and also in fire-control systems. Defence started to experiment with operation research techniques for anti-submarine warfare. At the end of 1956, the task force was renamed to “system research” and was also dedicated to signal-processing (noise detection specifically). System research of analogue fire control systems on antisubmarine ships was performed to calculate optimal accuracy. With this data and well known physical limitations of evasive manoeuvres, a misconception of naval warfare which was a remnant of the Second World War was cleared up.
In 1957, a demonstration project produced an electronic tic-tac-toe machine which could never lose based upon hard-wired game theory.
Between 1956 and 1964, the task force solely worked for the Royal Navy. Besides sonar and fire-control systems a lot of attention initially went to optimising the clearing of sea mines. Given known physical limitations an optimal mine sweeping plan was developed. A lot of probability theory was used here due to the built-in activation times the mines possessed.
[With thanks to T. Nooijen for providing the background on Operations Research developments during the years 1947 – 1977 in his publication]