Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Brain

I am routinely amazed at how the brain works.  It is a complex and spectacular processing device capable of adaptation, invention, appreciation and understanding.  It is used by many to discover new truths, reason out hard problems, solve critical situations, and establish societal value systems.
In my line of work, as a government employee, having a functioning brain does not appear to be a compulsory requirement.  Although it occasionally helps, for example when you are deciding what to do for lunch.  In fact, some the most important people in the government appear to check theirs at the door as they arrive for work each day within the confines of the Washington beltway.  But, I digress!
Today I had the task of dealing with three individuals who by training are electronic warfare specialists.  They are writing a requirement for a new defensive system for our aircraft, and were stuck trying to resolve some comments from our validation authority on how to write something that could be tested and verified.  We spent the better part of an hour talking about the requirement – to put a mark on an electronic map that reflected where the defensive system thought a threat was, and how to write that requirement so we a) had confidence the threat was really there, and b) had a defined (acceptable) margin for error so the system could pass testing even if it wasn’t 100% perfect.
In the course of our conversation we discussed how busy the aircrew were, how we needed to simplify their lives, errors caused by satellites, how electronic jamming systems worked, how something called a route re-planner worked, how the electronic warfare officer needed to pass information to other airplanes and how many samples were needed before a computer could accurately plot something.  They were completely locked into setting some kind of azimuth and range requirements to define the accuracy of a point on the map. 
As a navigator I spent my life trying to guide aircraft to points on maps, and when I was tested on my ability to guide the aircraft to a point in space and airdrop cargo or personnel, my grade was always based on how close I got to the right point.  So this seemed, to me, an incredibly easy thing to define.  There is something called Circular Error, Probable or CEP.  When you airdrop something all the variables may add up to it hitting or not hitting the spot you are aiming for, but you have a standard error range that is acceptable and as long as the load lands inside that range circle it is a good airdrop.  My question to them was why wouldn’t we define the acceptable error for the point on the map exactly the same way?
We must have spent 30 minutes talking about this concept.  It will be interesting in the morning, when they brief the Commander, to see if they figured it out, or decided to go with their solution of Error = π × Φ ÷ ξ, except on Tuesdays.
P.S.  just kidding with the formula thing.

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