Wolfpacks and U-Boats
The wolfpack is an evolutionary adaptation that facilitates the capture of larger prey such as Moose and Bison. How does the team organize when they form an attack front? Early research on wolf social dynamics accepts the idea of an ‘alpha dog’ that exerts control over his social group. Mirjalili et al used this paradigm to develop a computer algorithm called the Grey Wolf Optimizer. This ‘meta-heuristic’ is a flexible set of equations that has since been applied to building electric power systems in China.
Newer findings suggest that an alpha is optional. A team of scientists in Spain led by C. Muro built a mathematical model that produced wolfpack behavior without a social hierarchy. The team adopted techniques from particle models and assigned each agent in the simulation an identical set of rules that govern position and movement. These rules include moving closer to the prey when it tries to escape, and standing back from other wolves in the pack to evenly distribute space. The collective behaviors carried out by each individual create emergent properties that we associate with wolfpacks, such as encircling behavior, ambushing, and relaying.
20th Century naval commanders studied wolf dynamics to gain advantage over their enemies. In the early years of World War II, German admiral Karl Dönitz coined the ‘Rudeltaktik’ strategy to denote group formations of U-boat submarines. These fleets sunk numerous British convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic. British intelligence groups at the Bletchley Park Mansion decoded German relays to predict the directionality of German wolfpacks, using the data to reroute their supply lines. Dönitz’s consistent beacons from a centralized command center made U-boat fleets vulnerable to counter-attack, especially after British intelligence decrypted German security measures.
The United States also experimented with wolfpack tactics in the Pacific campaign to sink Japanese convoys. American submarine formations were modular compared to the German’s. Headquarters in Pearl Harbor gave initial commands and subsequently transferred control to an on-site commander who changed the strategy as he saw fit. This bottom-up approach mimics Muro’s mathematical model of the wolfpack. The wolf reacts to the position of the individuals around her, instead of defaulting to a social hierarchy. The effectiveness we attribute to mammalian predatory groups emerges from the multiplicity of individual agents, rather than a single leader.