Incorporating Human Systems Engineering in Advanced Military Technology Development

Patrick L. Craven, Patrice D. Tremoulet, and Susan Harkness Regli


Human factors (or ergonomics) has been defined as

The scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. (International Ergonomics Association)

This field is generally considered to have originated during World War II (Wickens & Hollands, 2000), though it has its roots in the industrial revolution in the early 1900s (Boff, 2006). Prior to this time, humans were trained to fit the machine instead of designing machines to fit humans (Gilbreth & Gilbreth, 1917; Gilbreth, 1914; Taylor, 1911). The early pioneers who looked at human factors in equipment design included researchers under the leadership of Sir. Frederick Bartlett at the Applied Psychology Unit of Cambridge University (Bartlett, 1943; Craik, 1940). With the start of World War II, members of this group switched from studying pilot selection and training to the development of flight instrument design. Many advances in human factors were due to military necessity, such as the widespread adoption of airplanes in combat, which created a need for methods to rapidly select and train qualified pilots (Meister, 1999). The greatest impetus for a change in design philosophy came from the vast number of men and women needed to fight the war, which is estimated at 16.1 million American and 1.9 billion worldwide (World War II Foundation). This large number of warfighters made it i mpractical to select individuals for specific jobs, and instead there was a shift toward designing for people’s capabilities. At the same time, technological advances first outpaced the ability of people to adapt and compensate for poor designs, as evidenced by highly trained pilots experiencing crashes due to problems with control configurations (Fitts & Jones, 1947a) and instrument displays (Fitts & Jones, 1947b).

Military R&D played a pivotal role in technology development, which also fueled commercial development in personal computing. DARPA’s investment in network technologies enabled the creation of the Internet (Perry, Blumenthal, & Hinden, 1988), as well as advances in graphics, artificial intelligence, timesharing, and massively parallel processing (Norberg, 1996). This infusion of research paved the way for advancements in commercial capabilities, which were included in new cutting edge defense technologies. The result was widespread use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computers and technology across the military (DoD ESI/Navy Enterprise Licensing Agreements Team, 2014). Computing technology became a critical component of the military’s forces, and systems were developed with increasingly complex technological capabilities. However, complexity can lead to confusion, which can have catastrophic results, as evidenced by the U.S. Navy’s accidental shooting of Iran Air Flight 665 (New York, 1988) and a similarly tragic outcome for Air France Flight 447 (Echo, 2012).

The definition of human factors emphasizes the importance of studying not just the human but also the interaction among humans and systems (Dul et al., 2012; Russ et al., 2013). In the early 1980s with the advent of more widespread computational devices and more users interacting with them regularly, the field of cognitive systems engineering (CSE) was pioneered by researchers such as Norman (1981), Hollnagel and Woods (1983). This new field focused on the design and engineering of a cognitive system, as opposed to systems engineering with a cognitive tilt (E Hollnagel, 2016). In developing or engineering new technologies it is important to note that CSE accepts that the whole may be different than the sum of its parts (E Hollnagel, 2016). This field more strongly focuses on the cognitive rather than physical or mechanical aspects of human factors. It has been defined as the “study of cognitive work and the application of this knowledge to the design and development of technology” (Endsley, Hoffman, Kaber, & Roth, 2007).

Although the authors’ work predominately focused on cognitive function, it also included the broader effects of physiological and affective influences. It is for that reason that the work described in this chapter can be most accurately described as human systems engineering. The goal of this engineering discipline is to provide equal consideration of the human along with the hardware and software systems as part of the overall technical and management process for systems engineering (ODASD, 2016).

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