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Exploration of Wolfpack Tactics Earns Submariner Recognition in Operations Research

Summer Quarter graduate Lt. Spencer Kitten

Summer Quarter graduate Lt. Spencer Kitten is the latest winner of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Stephen A. Tisdale Thesis Award, recognizing the top operations research thesis focused on operational effectiveness and with the highest potential for near-term impact on the security of the U.S. and its allies.

Advancements in technology towards secure communication between submarines will significantly affect how they could operate in groups, or modern “Wolfpack Tactics.”  This award-winning analysis conducted by U.S. Navy Lt. Spencer Kitten, a recent graduate from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), addresses undersea warfare concepts that support NAVPLAN 2022 efforts to strengthen our nation’s integrated deterrence.

Kitten was one of five graduating U.S. Navy students from the NPS Department of Operations Research (OR) selected to present their theses to a panel of judges, professors and peers for the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Stephen A. Tisdale Thesis Award competition.

When the dust settled, Lt. Spencer Kitten’s examination of submarine force tactics through his thesis, “Revisiting Submarine Wolfpack Tactics Using Computational Methods,” was selected as the winner of the Summer Quarter’s MORS/Tisdale award.

The Undersea Warfare Development Center (UWDC) at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., sponsored and supported Kitten’s research.

“We strongly believe in supporting the next generation of Operations Research trained naval officers and are happy to have had the opportunity to sponsor and help shape Lt Kitten’s research,” noted Dr. Michael W. Kopp, Head, Submarine Operations Research Group at UWDC. “We are exceedingly pleased that the selection committee agreed with our assessment that his work deserved special recognition and look forward to seeing his future contributions to the submarine force.”

“I was humbled to have been selected for this award among so many other excellent candidates,” added Kitten. “When I first came to NPS, I knew that I wanted to work on a project that would have a direct and positive impact to naval thought. This award is a realization of that effort, and I am deeply honored.”

The MORS Tisdale award recognizes a graduating student from the OR department for outstanding thesis research that offers operating effectiveness and has highest potential for near-term impact on the security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Rather than a competition, the faculty in the OR department like to view this event as a celebration of the outstanding work of our students, as well as recognize how much they have learned in two very fast and intense years of study,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Nicholas Ulmer, Operations Research Department Program Officer.

The research Kitten conducted as part of his thesis was a simulation using data farming techniques as well as intelligent experimental design to revisit submarine wolfpack tactics in the modern era.

“Models like mine will be used to inform submarine strategy in crucial battlespaces, specifically on coordination and communication matters,” said Kitten. “Much of the existing literature on joint operations is tailored to a submarine operating in concert with non-submerged assets such as a battlegroup. Usually, when submarines operate together, very specific procedures are issued that are only relevant for the duration of the event. It would be exciting to see more general advice for submarines employed with other submarines.

“I think the most interesting exploration for this research will involve simple changes in the assumption of the simulation design,” he added. “Time permitting, I’d like to continue to explore this subject and to stay involved with the military operations research community at large.”

Ulmer says competitions like the MORS/Tisdale Award are a win/win for the fleet, and all participating students. The Navy benefits from students’ research on real problems impacting the service, he says, while the students get the experience of briefing peers and leaders on those problems while also participating in their discipline’s broader community.

The MORS/Tisdale award is named in honor of Lt. Cmdr. Stephen A. Tisdale, a dual-degree graduate from NPS in 1989. Tisdale perished in a military aircraft accident on March 21, 1991, while serving with Patrol Squadron (VP) 50 off the coast of California. Tisdale’s outstanding and influential thesis, “Assessing Optimal Utilization of Potential Anti-Satellite Architectures,” won the MORS prize for his graduating class, and he was recognized as NPS’ top Space Systems Operations student.


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