DSTO - Defence Science & Technology Organisation

02/15/2024 | Press release | Archived content

In the jump seat for a career in operations research

Could her Masters degree in theoretical physics be put to good use in Defence? That's what Cara Faulkner wondered, as she applied for a position in the 2022 Defence Graduate Program intake.

'I'd been looking at jobs that had relevance to physics and mathematics and the Defence Graduate Program popped up. I hadn't heard of DSTG before, but I thought it might be really interesting.'

Having completed the Defence Graduate Program, Cara is now establishing her career with DSTG as an Operations Analysis Researcher. Over the last 18 months she has indeed been able to put her undergraduate and post-graduate STEM foundations to great use, culminating in her receiving the Gus Schaefer Award for best presentation at the recent DSTG Operations Research Symposium (DORS).

'There are quite a few physicists in the team, so having a physics background does appear to align with the kind of skills used in operations research,' she says. 'I'm finding it is a really good fit for me.'

Cara and her team are using operations research (OR) to enhance maritime surveillance tactics for the RAAF's new P-8A Poseidon and Triton platforms. The work is sponsored by Defence's AIR 7000 maritime surveillance program.

'One of my group's main OR technique is constructive simulation, which we're using to assess current and future technologies and methods and how effective they are in different situations.'

'With constructive simulation, inputs are gleaned from stakeholders in advance and we try as best as we can to simulate the behaviours we expect or actions that the operators have told us they might do.'

'We've also been exploring using the "design of experiments" concept more in our simulations,' she says. 'The idea is that we don't need to run a simulation on every possible combination of inputs because then you start looking at very big parameter spaces. Using design of experiments we make sure that we get good coverage of the problem space and then we narrow it down to points of interest.'

RAAF R&D rotation

Early in her short career as a defence operations researcher, as part of the graduate program, Cara rotated into the RAAF Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), which is situated on the DSTG Edinburgh site. ARDU performs testing on RAAF platforms whenever there's any change to protocol or technology on an aircraft.

'Our team feels that our operations research simulations have quite a bit to offer ARDU. So my rotation served as a way of forming bridges, seeing what they did and familiarising myself with some of the aircraft. It was a very good experience and I got to meet quite a few people in the P-8 world, which has been helpful for this work.'

During her time at ARDU, Cara had a close look at some of the RAAF training simulations and even took a flight in a Poseidon. 'The flight in the P-8 was awesome. We got to do some low-level flying where you get down close to the water and I sat in the jump seat, which meant I could see out the front cockpit window for take-off and landing. That was very cool.'

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