The workmanship is better than the materials

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Concept is that which is believed, doctrine is that which is taught, and a model is that which is analyzed, Techniques of Systems Analysis explains:

Broadly speaking, it comprises the assumptions of the study.

Very often staff papers will start with a listing of assumptions. Then one may find upon reading the paper that many of the assumptions that actually influenced the results were not listed while many of the listed assumptions were either irrelevant or were ignored.

If a mathematician or scientist makes a model of a situation, he is generally successful in making the assumptions he is going to use very explicit and then in relating his conclusions to these assumptions in a fairly direct way. It does not follow that he is necessarily better in making assumptions — only that his mistakes will be more evident. One can be technically good at deriving conclusions from assumptions and yet very poor at making realistic assumptions. To quote Ovid, it often happens that “the workmanship is better than the materials.”


  1. I’m fascinated to see you reading and excerpting this document, Isegoria. Finding a PDF version of chapters 1-5 back in high-school was what first interested me in this sort of work. I suppose I can credit it with starting me on the tortuous path to my current career as an operations researcher/analyst.

    If you don’t already have them, the sections on Wargaming, Monte-Carlo techniques, Game Theory, and the chapter on Ten Common Pitfalls, are available on Kahn’s publications page at the RAND website, along with some of his other work on physics and nuclear strategy.

    For the curious, his book Thinking the Unthinkable gives the most developed form of the reasoning and conclusions on nuclear strategy that were initially presented in these papers, updated for the technological situation of the 1980s.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I think you’re going to enjoy the next few weeks, Scipio, as I excerpt Techniques for Systems Analysis, bit by bit.

    I’ve been meaning to reading Thinking the Unthinkable for ages. One day…

    Also, I didn’t realize you’re actually in OR. Are you in defense?

  3. I am indeed. My group works for the US Navy doing a number of tasks associated with naval architecture, concept design, systems engineering, and operations research. We’re a bit of a black sheep because the larger corporation is almost entirely IT-focused.

    I myself am in a bit of an odd niche, doing a combination of OR/OA (shading into what Kahn would have called Systems Design), historical research, and a bit of concept design.

  4. Isegoria says:

    I don’t know if this is intentional Scipio, but “a combination of OR/OA (shading into what Kahn would have called Systems Design), historical research, and a bit of concept design” certainly sounds cool from the outside.

  5. As usual, it probably sounds cooler than it is to do. Lots of poring over archival records or painstakingly building databases of, for instance, every warship in the service of a large group of nations since 1946 plus their equipment. Then there’s the Parkinson’s Laws Gone Mad aspect of dealing with the military bureaucracy and all their many rice-bowls.

    It was a bolt-from-the-blue opportunity to serve as the apprentice to a senior (read: near retirement) person who had been performing this niche role for many years. There had been several attempts at filling the role before, but none of the people they trialed lasted more than a few months.

    I thank God every day that I blundered into it, mainly thanks to my wife suggesting me for an unrelated position in the same group.

  6. Sam J. says:

    My apologies for this off topic comment but…I saw Scipio Americanus comment,

    and I wanted to run an idea by you. It seems to me we are rapidly following the exact path to Defense destruction that Great Britain followed and noted in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Paul Kennedy. This will be a little long, my apologies. The premise is that aircraft carriers have become too expensive and too vulnerable to long range missiles and advanced guidance systems. The low cost of the missiles means they can swarm and defeat with numbers. So even if a carrier is useful, in a general war with an enemy of any sort of sophistication they’re to expensive and frail too be used.

    A solution that’s reasonably simple, and mentioned many times before, is concrete submarines. Concrete can now be made with tremendous strength such that they could rest on the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean and concrete is relatively cheap.

    Here’s a list of things that need to be done to keep cost down.

    1. Low labor cost. If you’re going to build a framework of plywood to form the concrete you’re going to waste a ton of money. To belay this cost you need repeating forms that can be tied or joined together in some form. There’s a guy who works on fabric form-work that has a lot of interesting ideas and technology that is in this vein. The panels could also be made in forms with sprayed concrete, (Shotcrete), on forms that are rapidly mass produced.

    History and overview of fabric form-work

    2. You need to use a reasonably low cost reinforcement that won’t rust. Steel reinforcement will eventually rust and destroy the concrete. There’s new reinforcement made of S-glass, E-glass and my favorite basalt-fiber glass reinforcement.

    3. You pour the floor on a leveled ground covered with plastic or a polymer used for silt fence or water drainage. Rebar, hopefully, basalt, protrudes into the air from the floor. The automated precast forms are propped up to form the inside vertical walls then reinforcement is added. The outer wall forms are added and tied to the inner forms. The roof and it’s reinforcement is added.then the whole of the walls and roof is poured in one pass or in sections.

    4. The entry ways to the sub should be conic sections that fit into the roof with caps. The could be concrete also. They could have a connection to the floor level inside the sub. The whole of this section would raise up, operate as an elevator, when the sub was surfaced. It would be strong enough to carry a plane. You could have one, or more, at one end of the sub to take off and one at the other end for the plane to go down.

    5. Cables could be embedded into the forms before pouring and then post tensioned to make sure none of the concrete structure is ever exposed to tension forces. This is done in floors, slabs and large concrete structures now. A link explaining.

    6. To vastly lower the cost of installing structures throughout the interior of the concrete structure you need something like unistrut installed in the walls.

    Except you wouldn’t use metal. You would use a wedge shape channel formed into the concrete forms that you mass produce. The wedge would have the thinnest opening towards the interior of the sub and the thickest towards the exterior and would be open to the interior. This would make it easy, like the unistrut, to make a simple mass produced bracket with nut, bolt and other type holders that could be wedged into the channels with friction to hold whatever structure, equipment, pipes, electrical conduit, that need to be installed.

    7. Another way to reduce cost would be to use standard industrial electrical systems instead of non-standard stuff.

    The key to all this is to lower cost and to lower the vulnerability of aircraft carriers. Think of the cost of welding together many sheets of metal compared to automated spraying of forms and mass pouring. They could be made big as the biggest aircraft carriers. Designed as a catamaran they could be stable on the surface but could submerge to hide or sneak up on the enemy.

    Heinz Lipschutz worked on this a lot and had some patents on concrete subs.,6510.0.html?PHPSESSID=0eukagstunveuuf375q8gm4125

    A short paper on concrete test done on sphere’s at deep depths here. They did these test for long periods of time and the results are online.

    The thing to do would build a small model of one of these and test it.

  7. Sam, give me a little while to develop a substantive response for you; I’m going to be very busy for the next week or so.

    As a first step on the cost rather than the vulnerability front, despite the thought you’ve put into the engineering I’m worried you’re focusing on reducing the wrong cost. The hull of a modern warship is a small proportion of its expense (usually no more than 12%). The biggest wedge of the pie is generally associated with fancy electronic equipment, mainly things like radar, fire control, and battle management systems.

    Also, I think you would be very interested to read Pugh’s The Cost of Sea Power, the book I recommended to Isegoria a little while ago. It’s expensive on Amazon but you might be able to find elsewhere.

  8. Isegoria says:

    One reason Pugh’s The Cost of Sea Power is so expensive on Amazon, I’m afraid, is that I picked up the last reasonably priced copy.

  9. Isegoria says:

    This post on design constraints seems apropos.

  10. And before you, one of our clients in the Navy bought five or so to pass out to colleagues. USNI needs to get off their behinds and produce an edition.

    I found a decently priced one on Ebay.

  11. Slovenian Guest says:

    Start a blog already, Sam, will you?

  12. Sam J. says:

    Scipio Americanus,”… I’m worried you’re focusing on reducing the wrong cost. The hull of a modern warship is a small proportion of its expense (usually no more than 12%). The biggest wedge of the pie is generally associated with fancy electronic equipment…”

    I get this, I really do. Notice #7. I’ll bet, though I have no certain knowledge, that subs use electrical systems like aircraft with 400Hz. The reason they use this on aircraft is the transformers are smaller and the whole electrical system is lighter. We don’t need this any more as all the power supplies can be switching.

    I also believe that with the larger size, especially the openings to enter and retrofit it would save huge amounts of money. We could build several of these more as haulers than highly sophisticated one off platforms. Some of these I’m thinking we could land 747′s on.

    Survivability. Well you probably could see them, unless they were very deep, from space but this is really not much different from any other good sized sub. Looking at concrete bunkers from WWII they were blasted massively and are still there. It would really hurt our enemies ability to use smart weapons of great speed but less punch. It would take specialized bunker busters to get through the walls.

    If we had the numbers I could even see building the basic shells of the ships and swapping the expensive equipment. The hatches would be big enough to drive trucks into them.

    This is actually a kind of ploy to change military structure too. I’m personally against the vast massive military bases we have spread all over the planet. I see this as one way of getting rid of them, keeping global superiority, (you never know the future and if some sort of panic comes up…) and lowering cost over all while not completely throwing out the whole game like after WWII.

    There’s also the idea of fooling Congress a little(not like they don’t know what’s going on but…). Build a bunch of the plain bulk carrier type models in a mass production basis for cheap then nickel and dime them to death with outfitting for more capability.

    I did look for Pugh’s “The Cost of Sea Power”. No way I’ll get that any time soon. Maybe I can get it inter-library loan?

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