Icon for email, a simple dark blue paper plane
Dark blue phone icon

Lt. Col. Scotty Black, USMC

PhD Candidate, Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation

Lt. Col. Scotty Black is a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Weapons SystemsOfficer (WSO) and Modeling and Simulation Officer. Black’s career includes multiple squadron tours, five deployments, Weapons and Tactics InstructorCourse graduate, science and technology lead for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, and fellowships at DARPA, NIWC Pacific, and the former SPAWAR-SSC Pacific. He is currently a PhD Candidate in the Modeling, Virtual Environments, and Simulation (MOVES) curriculum at the Naval Postgraduate School doing research in machine learning for his dissertation titled “Mastering the Digital Art of War: Developing Intelligent Combat Simulation Agents Using Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning." Following graduation in June 2024, Black will report to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) Wargaming Division to lead science and technology initiatives in support of wargaming.

"By aligning technological development with operational needs and involving our DOD students in prototyping and testing, NPS ensures that the solutions developed are not just practical and effective, but also push the edge in military technological innovation."

How has your experience at NPS, particularly in the MOVES curriculum, shaped your approach to military challenges and leadership? What will you take with you as you move to your follow-on assignment at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and beyond?

My experience in the MOVES curriculum at NPS has indeed profoundly shaped my approach to both how I address military challenges and how I should lead an organization in our rapidly evolving technological landscape. My education at NPS has not only instilled a methodical approach to solving complex problems but, most importantly, has cultivated a habit of curiosity and critical thinking, enabling me to explore new perspectives and solutions throughout my research. Moreover, the opportunities I have been afforded at NPS have allowed me to work closely with fleet forces, government labs, academia, and industry partners from across the world to help address some of the DOD’s toughest challenges. These interactions have underscored a critical lesson: accelerating innovation depends crucially on harnessing collaborative partnerships across a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including operational forces, government labs, academia, and industry. As I transition to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, I plan to carry forward this knowledge and the many insights gained at NPS to enhance the Marine Corps’ approach to wargaming and planning, ensuring we can stay ahead of the rapidly accelerating technological trends and stay postured to quickly adapt to the changing dynamics of modern warfare.

How do you envision your research in AI, particularly hierarchical reinforcement learning, influencing the principles and practices taught at NPS for designing and executing wargames?

I believe that my research in hierarchical reinforcement learning has significant implications for the principles and practices of how we can leverage both simulations and AI to improve our decision-making and planning processes across the DOD. Whereas we once thought that wargaming was too complex of a domain for AI to provide any value, ongoing research is revealing AI's potential in this field. By advancing the science of AI in creating intelligent agents that can adapt to evolving and more complex scenarios, we are learning new ways to tackle emerging problems. This research lays the groundwork to potentially transform how we plan, design, execute, and analyze wargames in the near future. Due to its mission, students, faculty, and partnerships, I believe NPS is best postured within the DOD to explore, design, develop, and implement new wargaming methodologies that can complement our human intellect with machine intelligence. This approach will not only improve the art and practice of wargaming itself but also prepare students to better deal with the increasingly complex problems being presented in real-world operations.

How might your work in hierarchical reinforcement learning be applied to enhance the MCWL’s operational capabilities, particularly in areas that require rapid adaptation and decision-making?

At the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL), leveraging machine learning can substantially enhance operational capabilities, particularly in environments requiring swift adaptation and decision-making. Machine learning excels at learning to solve complex problems without much human intervention. It can adapt to changing conditions and strategies in real time, providing commanders with actionable advice. Additionally, automating routine tasks frees up human and cognitive resources for more complex problems. Furthermore, applying machine learning in wargaming could improve situational awareness by analyzing vast amounts of data to detect critical patterns and anomalies, resulting in quicker and more informed decisions. Thus, integrating machine learning into MCWL’s operational capabilities could provide a significant technological edge in complex, fast-paced environments.

Was there anything you found particularly interesting from the How Wargames Help Us Win panel at Sea-Air-Space? What elements from the discussion do you believe will have the most immediate application in NPS' wargaming curriculum and in the practical training of NPS, USNWC and MCU students?

The panel discussion at Sea-Air-Space offered several intriguing insights into how the different organizations are leveraging wargaming, whether for education, analysis, assessment, force design, or to overall improve decision-making. Most impactful across the different organizations was the value they saw in wargaming in educating our future leaders. Furthermore, the increasing desire to digitize wargames and better leverage advanced analytical tools provides a great window of opportunity to begin heavily investing in developing AI tools to improve our wargaming practices. Incorporating AI in wargaming at these educational institutions could translate into both strategic and tactical advantages on the battlefield. First, these institutions can serve as a testbed for exploring new approaches and technologies to make wargaming even more effective. It would allow our officers not just to be able to play a handful of wargames during their course of study, but potentially be exposed to hundreds of games fighting a broad range of adversaries, from humans to machines to human-machine teams. This will undoubtedly enhance situational awareness on the real battlefield and allow these officers to more rapidly anticipate and counter adversarial actions, and potentially provide our commanders with unparalleled insights.

Given the complexity of modern combat scenarios, can you describe how advancing AI for wargaming translates into a strategic advantage in real-world military operations?

The integration of AI into wargaming has the potential to transform both the training of our leaders as well as the actual decision-making processes they will employ on the battlefield. For example, the impact of AI in games such as Chess, Go and Poker over recent decades has dramatically changed how these games are played. Today, top-level mastery of these games almost invariably involves training against an AI or with an AI, as a human-machine team. For instance, despite millennia of human expertise in Go, and despite Go being characterized as a game requiring strategic thinking and creativity to win, AI has not only reached superhuman levels of play but also introduced innovative tactics and strategies previously unseen. By incorporating AI into wargames, we not only enhance the insights derived from simulations but also challenge conventional thinking. While our training and education systems aim to foster innovative thinking, our culture and promotion systems often inadvertently promote uniform thinking among leaders. Integrating AI can help break through even these limitations, pushing us to rethink strategies and anticipate potential moves by adversaries beyond our usual scope of imagination.

With the rapid scale of AI solutions needed within the DOD, what role does NPS play in ensuring that the workforce can not only understand but also adopt and adapt to evolving AI technologies?

NPS plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the DOD workforce is equipped to understand, adopt, and adapt to rapidly evolving AI technologies. NPS’ technical education programs equip future military and civilian leaders with the expertise needed to leverage advanced technologies, such as AI. While many DOD technologies have commercial-use counterparts, specific applications, such as AI for wargaming, lack direct commercial equivalents. Here, NPS is vital in advancing these domains through targeted research and collaborative development with industry, academia, government labs and fleet forces. This collaborative approach not only accelerates technological advancement but also addresses unique military challenges. By aligning technological development with operational needs and involving our DOD students in prototyping and testing, NPS ensures that the solutions developed are not just practical and effective, but also push the edge in military technological innovation.

Stay Engaged With The Faces Of NPS!

Nominate Someone For Faces Of NPS!

Nominate yourself or another Naval Postgraduate School alumnus, current student, faculty or staff member for consideration in a future Faces of NPS e-newsletter!

Join Our Mailing List!

.iframe-container{ position: relative; width: 100%; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; } .iframe-container iframe{ position: absolute; top:0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }