PDA

View Full Version : For military: How to generate random numbers in the field?



foo
2004-02-26, 17:55
I have a question for military members or people who have experience with the military.

Let's say that you are out in a war zone and you are interested in generating a random number. For example, with probability 0.2 you want to go left and with probability 0.8 you want to go right.

How would you do this?

A civilian in a civilian setting could flip a coin, or roll some dice, or use a pack of cards, or write a computer program.

What would military personnel do in a similar situation? Can they flip their gun or their backpacks or a military coin?

Thanks for your help....

SGT Rock
2004-02-26, 18:18
I wouldn't even know why I would need to do this in the field. Am I missing something?

foo
2004-02-26, 20:05
Sir,

One reason is that you are randomizing your actions in a SERE maneuver.

There are many other possibilities.

I'm curious to know, sir, if you have any standard equipment that could be used to generate random numbers. Do you carry coins, MRE rations in a tin can, etc.

V/R

SGT Rock
2004-02-26, 23:10
No, the situation where I would need one has never come up.

snowsurfin951
2004-02-28, 22:55
When I'm in charge there are no random choices. I make all the decisions. No coin toss necisary and my authority had better not be challenged by my airmen. (USAF)

You need be a little more specific. Do you just need a number or do you need a decision made by the number?


Note --- all spelling errors are caused by Coors Light

cldphoto
2004-02-29, 18:50
This is a pretty spurious question. I think that, in a tactical situation, you'd want to make the most reasoned decision in order to get the best results. Leaders who flip coins are not leading, the coin is.

I used to be a tanker, and if I was leading a company in a tactical environment and had trouble deciding between two courses of action, I would do one of the following:

- Call higher and ask the boss what his orders are
- Ask my 1SG what he recommended
- Ask my XO what he recommended
- Ask the lead element leader what he recommended.

Missions, courses of action, and the lives of Soldiers should never be decided by the flip of a coin.

If I did, for some reason, need some sort of random determiner for an outcome like a coin flip, I'd do rock/paper/scissors or evens/odds with someone. Hopefully that someone wouldn't instantly think I was a completely incompetent jackass for asking them to do something like this in a tactical situation.

foo
2004-03-01, 10:50
cld,

You are actually mistaken in thinking that you should never make decisions based on the flip of a coin. That is, in fact, the optimal course of action in certain cases.

But... the rock-paper-scissors approach is a good one.

Michael

flyfisher
2004-03-03, 15:48
No idea why I would want to do so, but a simple way to get a random number between 0 and 99, or between 0 and 9999999 is to pull a dollar bill out of my pocket.

R

foo
2004-03-03, 17:35
flyfisher,

Your dollar bill idea is interesting. How does it give you a random number? If you are referring to the serial number (L10815983 G) -- are you sure that is uniformly random?

Also: Do all troops carry dollar bills?

flyfisher
2004-03-04, 15:31
Originally posted by foo
flyfisher,

Your dollar bill idea is interesting. How does it give you a random number? If you are referring to the serial number (L10815983 G) -- are you sure that is uniformly random?

Also: Do all troops carry dollar bills?

Serial number. I have used the last two frequently as a random number between 0 and 99. I presume the least significant 7 places are random, though I would not be very surprised to hear otherwise. I did not include the most significant digit, as I think this may not be from 0 to 9 yet.

I don't know if they all carry a dollar bill. But I normally have one. From that one I can devise all sorts of seemingly random patterns.

To find a random compass heading, use the last two or first two numbers. Put a decimal infront of the first one. Multiply that by 360. Random direction.

CanoeBlue
2004-03-04, 18:31
I have been following this thread with some interest and I am very curious.

Why would you wish to generate random numbers in the field?

txulrich
2004-03-04, 18:50
I've kept a dollar bill in my wallet for years just for this purpose. Funny thing though, I keep generating the same random number.......

flyfisher
2004-03-04, 19:54
Originally posted by CanoeBlue
I have been following this thread with some interest and I am very curious.

Why would you wish to generate random numbers in the field?

To figure out who buys the next round -- "dollar bill game"

Of course that involves bidding, spoofing, and memory as well.

flyfisher
2004-03-04, 19:56
Originally posted by flyfisher
No idea why I would want to do so, but a simple way to get a random number...

R

I do occasionally use random heads or tails when doing operational research...in the field.

flyfisher
2004-03-04, 20:00
Originally posted by txulrich
I've kept a dollar bill in my wallet for years just for this purpose. Funny thing though, I keep generating the same random number.......

Why generate the same one? Just ask the bloke next to you: forwards, backwards, outside-in, inside-out, columns of 2, of 3 of 4, first two , last 2 second three.....

Lots of seemingly random numbers there in that one serial number.

cldphoto
2004-03-08, 14:56
Originally posted by foo
cld,

You are actually mistaken in thinking that you should never make decisions based on the flip of a coin. That is, in fact, the optimal course of action in certain cases.

But... the rock-paper-scissors approach is a good one.

Michael

I'm still not getting the point here, but you seem insistent that making random decisions in combat can be appropriate. So, I'd like to see some examples of what you're thinking about.

Let's put ourselves in a hypothetical situation. You are the leader of an infantry squad somewhere outside Tikrit, Iraq, and I am an 11B private and a rifleman in your squad. Our squad is frequently sent "outside the wire" on patrols in hostile areas. You carry around your "lucky" 50-cent piece in your BDU pocket to aid you in making snap decisions while on patrol.

Based on this scenario, please give me some examples where you would feel that deciding on a course of action for our squad based on the flip of a coin is appropriate.

Let's take it a step further. Let's say the decision was turn right or turn left, and you flipped your 50-cent piece to determine our next move. You always call heads for left and tails for right. The coin came up heads, and you order the squad to turn left. Turns out that the road was clear to the right, but there was a group of Fedayin guerrillas lying in wait 200 meters to the left. They ambush the squad, and I am instantly killed by the roadside bomb that is detonated at the very start of the ambush. How comfortable will you feel explaining to the chain of command, my parents, and Kelly, my wife of two months, that the course of action that led to my death was decided by your 50-cent piece?

If the situation were reversed, I would not want to be the guy who has to explain why command decisions are left to a 50-cent piece.

foo
2004-03-08, 15:55
Christian,

There are many situations in which randomness is not appropriate and there are many situations in which randomness is not only appropriate but optimal (i.e., if you don't have randomness you cannot implement the optimal tactics).

Consider the following simple situation:

1. A Blue force asset can be in one of two locations, location A and location B.
2. In location A the Blue force asset will survive a Red force attack with probability 0.7. In location B it will survive a Red force attack with probability 0.9.
3. The Blue force asset can change its position (from A to B or B to A) once per day. The change in position occurs at the same time each day.
4. Red forces attack location A or location B (but not both) once per day. The attack occurs at the same time each day.

(The first two points contain the key information. The last two simply mean that the situation will be repeated many times.)

The question is: Where should the Blue asset be? In location A or location B?

Let's say you are the leader of the Blue force asset -- what would your answer be?

Sgathak
2004-03-09, 00:33
My answer, get some friggin intel on the situation.
Call the HQ to get some advise if your not sure.
Make command descisions based on sound judgement.
Fall back on your training.

Flip a coin and your chances of making a mistake increase - but if you insist on flipping a coin, why not use your challenge coin? You have one right? COIN CHECK!

You might consider totting a body bag or two along with your random number generator though, youll probably need them.

foo
2004-03-09, 10:55
Sgathak,

Of course, you are stepping outside of the rules of the scenario. If you had intel, then of course there would be no hard decision to make. And, as I'm sure you know, in practical warfighting situations there is very, very little intel. All of the information that is known is described in the scenario. HQ doesn't know more information than you know. Making a decision based on sound judgment is what I'm asking you to make.

You are incorrect in saying that your chances of making a mistake increase if you flip a coin. As I mentioned before, flipping a coin is often optimal in many tactical scenarios.

Sgathak
2004-03-09, 23:56
I had this big post written out, and I was about to post it and realized it would be a waste of time. From reading back posts you have made, You quite obviously have little to no experience in regards to the training for, or the application of, those skills needed to engage in any manner of realistic survivable combat.

You may want to try assaultweb.net, tey run a message board with people who will spend DAYS debating with you on the plethora of ways to use a wheat penny in combat. It was my understanding that this forum is geared toward lightweight hiking, and so Ill rwefrain from further discussion on tactics - real or cartoonish in design.

cldphoto
2004-03-11, 14:03
Originally posted by foo
Christian,

There are many situations in which randomness is not appropriate and there are many situations in which randomness is not only appropriate but optimal (i.e., if you don't have randomness you cannot implement the optimal tactics).

Consider the following simple situation:

1. A Blue force asset can be in one of two locations, location A and location B.
2. In location A the Blue force asset will survive a Red force attack with probability 0.7. In location B it will survive a Red force attack with probability 0.9.
3. The Blue force asset can change its position (from A to B or B to A) once per day. The change in position occurs at the same time each day.
4. Red forces attack location A or location B (but not both) once per day. The attack occurs at the same time each day.

(The first two points contain the key information. The last two simply mean that the situation will be repeated many times.)

The question is: Where should the Blue asset be? In location A or location B?

Let's say you are the leader of the Blue force asset -- what would your answer be?

I have been trained to a small extent on intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). The IPB process is used to predict enemy locations and to choose places to establish troops. IPB analysis factors in terrain analysis (is there dead space in front of our position that we need to cover with indirect fire and claymores? is there a cliff that will form a natural barrier to assault from a given direction?), effects of weather (will it fog and degrade lasers? is it windy enough that a nonpersistent chemical attack will be dispersed quickly?), most probable enemy course(s) of action, most dangerous enemy course(s) of action, location of other friendly units, land and air avenues of approach (friendly and enemy), enemy assets (do they have chemical munitions? are they limited to short-range mortars for indirect fire or do they have larger, longer-ranging artillery capabilities such as 155mm howitzers?), friendly assets (can we call in a squadron of Apaches or an A-10 flight for close-air support? do we have an MLRS battery at our disposal?), civilians on the battlefield (if we use MLRS, is there a danger of hitting the farm in the valley to our front?), and so forth.

This can even be broken down more simply into analysis of the basic factors that affect any given situation: METT-T. What's our Mission? Who is our Enemy, where are they, and what can they do? How many Troops do I have and what can they do? How does Time factor in? How does the Terrain factor in? Terrain analysis is broken down into OCOKA: how clear is the Observation/fields of fire for both sides, what Cover and Concealment is available for us and for the enemy; what type of Obstacles are there, natural or man-made; what pieces of Key terrain are out there, and what are the Avenues of approach?

You cannot break this down into probability. IPB does not boil down to numbers. I provide support for the US Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, where intelligence analysts from all services come to train, and the instructors I support will tell you the same thing. The map does not have a symbol for 0.7 survivability here and 0.9 survivability there. This is a math problem. This is not a realistic situation unless your numbers for survival probability are explained in real-world terms. If Location B is more survivable than Location A, there is a real world reason for it, not just an additional factor of 0.2, and the decision that a commander makes will be based off those real-world factors and not classroom math problems.

I can't think of any situations where randomness would be optimal in combat. Sgathak summed up the appropriate way to decide: get good intel (IPB), call higher for advice, then use your judgment and training to decide.

I haven't answered your question, but it might not be unanswerable. How about this: Go outside and find two locations for a platoon-sized defensive position, one that you think has a survivability probablity of 0.7 (Site A) and one that you think has a survivability probability of 0.9 (Site B). Write down the physical characteristics of both sites, then write down your reasoning as to why Site B has a higher survivability probability than Site A. Once you have this information, let me know and I'll give you my decision.

Scout
2005-04-24, 07:24
Just to reignite an old fire...


One reason is that you are randomizing your actions in a SERE maneuver.

RANDOM vs UNPREDICTABLE

Being a pilot, I have been through a few SERE training events and never during that training were we taught to be ramdom in our actions. I have additionally been through many ground-based training events and, again, never taught to be ramdom.

Instead, I have been taught to be unpredictable. In any military situation, you want to be unpredictable, but not that doesn't mean random. Be unpredictable so the enemy can't predict and prepare for your actions.

Random is uncontrolled...If you are doing things randomly, you can very easily do the most tactitaclly unsound thing...just as easily as you could do the right thing - 50 / 50 right?

Being unpredictable is the key to military survival.

Think about D-Day, Desert Storm or Iraqi Freedom-the defenders thought they knew how we would attack (through the obvious fronts) but when it came down to making it happen, we were unpredictable...and that made all the difference.

Unpredictable.

KLeth
2005-04-25, 01:35
RANDOM vs UNPREDICTABLE
.
.
Instead, I have been taught to be unpredictable. In any military situation, you want to be unpredictable, but not that doesn't mean random. Be unpredictable so the enemy can't predict and prepare for your actions.

Random is uncontrolled...If you are doing things randomly, you can very easily do the most tactitaclly unsound thing...just as easily as you could do the right thing - 50 / 50 right?

Being unpredictable is the key to military survival.

Unpredictable.
Well put!

I don't think operating on random numbers is very efficient neither - It's possible to use tables with random numbers and it's possible to make random based decition making programs for palms, but I think that most operators wouldn't like to be dictated by one.
Sometimes was a gut feeling and sometimes it was logic or expirience that dictated my actions. But I always tried to be unpredictable and thereby dangerous :biggrin:
Random numbers has its use in e.g. fully automated weapons, to secure a spread in salvos but with a very precise median - At least it did 40years ago :fisheye:

blackdog
2005-04-25, 04:15
Choosing randomly always makes me wonder how the alternatives were picked in the first place and why there are so few left...

Scout
2005-04-26, 03:49
Well put!

Thanks. Maybe if I had read this thread when it began I could have stopped the madness! :damnmate:

rstubblefield
2005-06-26, 10:02
If you want to carry a little extra weight (less than 8 oz), the TI-83 graphing calculator can be easily programmed to generate a random number with any range you choose. Still interested? The details are simple. I'll follow up with them if you are.