things done.” They are the organized, often repetitive activities and/or tasks carried out by firms, agencies, the military, or virtually any other organization in support of its mission. Examples include the steps involved in the production of manufactured goods, the servicing of customers in call centers (or restaurants or hospitals or online), the determination of routes and schedules for delivering parcels (e.g., FedEx) and/or people (e.g., the airlines), or the planning of terrorist attacks (and countermeasures to prevent such attacks).
As will be elaborated below, the scientific study of operations reflects the methods of physical science, which is not surprising because the founders of OR were physical scientists. Early studies focused on establishing the physical principles underlying the mainly military operations in question via the analysis of operational data, the formulation of (often simple) mathematical models from first principles, and the design and analysis of experiments to test the results of such models. Over time, however, the formulation and analysis of mathematical models became the hallmark of operations research studies, while the mathematics underlying such models developed to the point where today, the term “operations research” is as likely to refer to the mathematical methods involved as to field studies of actual operations.
The rationale for studying operations is not only to understand them (which is the usual goal of scientific investigation), but also to use such understanding to make better operational decisions. “Better” refers to improving matters in terms of the organization’s fundamental objectives: What decisions lead to higher (if not maximal) profits, lower (if not minimal) costs, increased numbers of infections averted, or reduced numbers of successful terror attacks? Thus, perhaps a more complete definition of OR is the scientific study of operations to make better decisions.
For intelligence analysts, operations research offers powerful tools for understanding and analyzing certain classes of problems. However, OR is by no means a “one-size-fits-all” approach to solving intelligence problem sets. Questions that address the operations, capabilities, or procedures underlying adversaries’ (or sometimes allies’) “systems of interest” can be studied using mainstream OR ideas, while operations research can assist in the study of questions that focus more on an adversary’s intentions by complementing other methods such as game theory (see Fingar, Chapter 1, and Bueno de Mesquita, Chapter 3, both in this volume).2 As an example,
As will be discussed later, the interdisciplinary field of decision analysis focuses on individual and group decision making; this field includes some operations research ideas, but also relies heavily on research in psychology, economics, and statistics. Intelligence questions addressing intentions can, in principle, be approached via decision analysis and related game-theoretic models, but most OR methods are better suited for studying operations per se.